On the main thoroughfare through the commercial district of Winnipeg, Manitoba, a series of metal boxes protrudes from the 1904 facade of the Avenue Building like a cluster of Donald Judd sculptures bursting from the windows. Shimmering in the purple-gray light and ambient snow of the winter sky, the mirrored rectangles set the building apart from the Neoclassical facades and modern corporate buildings that line Portage Avenue. "It was important in our context for the architecture to have a presence on the street," says Johanna Hurme, a principal of 5468796 Architecture, the young firm with a difficult-to-remember name that converted the former office building. "We had to show that there is a new act for the old body."
The six-story, timber-and-steel-framed Avenue Building housed offices above street-level retail space for much of its life. But suburbanized Winnipeg has long had a surplus of downtown commercial space, and after its last occupants moved out, the building sat abandoned and blighted for nearly 16 years. The city took steps to clean up the pigeon-infested edifice several years ago, but was unable to find a buyer until Mark and Rick Hofer came along.