Canadian Consulting Engineer

SCHREYER AWARD & AWARD OF EXCELLENCE Canadian Museum for Human Rights

October 1, 2014

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is envisioned as an iconic symbol of Canada – a magnificent and unique structure, and an inspiring place for the human rights debate. Initiated in 2003 by CanWest founder Dr. Israel Asper, the museum...

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is envisioned as an iconic symbol of Canada – a magnificent and unique structure, and an inspiring place for the human rights debate. Initiated in 2003 by CanWest founder Dr. Israel Asper, the museum is located in the geographical centre of Canada, at The Forks of the historic native lands by the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The architectural design by Antoine Predock was selected in an international competition that included 62 submissions from 12 countries. CH2M HILL was selected to provide the structural engineering consulting services.

A true team effort combined with the latest advanced technologies were the only feasible options to satisfy the challenges posed by the complex architecture. Building and constructing this building involved real-time collaboration between interdisciplinary groups in different geographic locations (40 companies located in eight cities in North America and Europe). The teams used high-tech technologies and tools to model, design, document and construct the building structure.

The resulting magnificent building is a testament to the importance that Canada, as a nation, places on human rights.

Exceptional structural complexity

Predock’s architectural vision for the structure recalls natural forms such as Roots, a Mountain, Dove’s Wings, and a Cloud. There are also rationalized geometries in the Tower of Hope, Garden of Reflection, and Hall of Hope with its long span ramps.

The architecture translated into exceptional structural complexity. The building includes large column-free spaces, unconventional load paths, long spans and extreme cantilevers. There are highly stressed connection points between the steel forms and at concrete walls, and delicate detailing in the glass facade.

The only way to advance the structural design forward was to break it into separate components that could be modelled independently and sequentially integrated into the overall scheme.

Design and construction of the Mountain Galleries proved to be the most challenging. The Mountain consists of a randomly stacked array of stone clad diagrid forms of irregular shape, suspended above the ground floor and cantilevering 16 metres over the atrium. A disproportionately small back span required the floor diaphragms at the top and bottom levels to act as a horizontal couple to supplement the structure’s resistance to overturning. The connection to the concrete core was also challenging, requiring complex tie-in connections.

Maintaining the location of key structural elements during construction was difficult because it was taking place in a region with an extreme climate. It necessitated using temporary shores, controlling the method of steel erection and the sequence of concreting, and cambering the steel frame.

Virtual modelling and BIM tools

The use of high tech collaboration tools and computer generated models helped the team to clarify unknown issues, improve efficiencies and mitigate risks.

For the complex three-dimensionally curved and sloping geometric forms CH2M HILL developed a workflow using software programs more commonly used by the industrial, automotive and aircraft industries. These models were used as contract documents along with conventional 2D drawings.

Various components of the building such as the Roots, Mountain, Cloud, and Tower of Hope were broken out and individually translated from design concept into structural components using commercial and proprietary computer programs, then manipulated back into the master BIM geometric model.

Today the advantages and disadvantages of BIM (Building Information Modelling) are well documented. At the time the museum design was initiated, however, BIM was relatively new and forced a cultural change among the design teams.

Ultimately on this project the benefits of BIM were realized in excellent 3D visualizations, the sharing of information for coordinating work, and clear contract documents.

Many other innovations were introduced into the design of the building’s steel, glass and concrete structure. The principles of sustainable design were also applied and will be extended into the building operation. The project is presently pursuing LEED Silver certification.

Positive impacts

Officially opened on September 19, 2014, the museum will bring positive energy, and new economic development and recognition to Winnipeg and the province, which is home to many First Nations people. Over the coming years the visitors who enter its walls will hopefully be changed by the experience and the exhibits, so that the building will fulfil its great purpose: “To explore the subject of human rights, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, in order to enhance the public’s understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others, and to encourage reflection and dialogue.” cce

Name of project:

Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Winnipeg.

Award-winning firm (structural engineer):

CH2M HILL (Neb Erakovic, P.Eng., Crispin Howes, P.Eng., Bill Coupe)


Smith Carter Architects

Design architect:

Antoine Predock

Other key players:

The Mitchell Partnership (mechanical); Mulvey + Banani (electrical); PCL (construction manager); Walters (steel); Joseph Gartner GmbH (glazing), Ralph Applebaum (exhibits).


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