A friend invites you to a winter festival in Hawrelak Park. You agree and she suggests a great meeting spot. It's something called a "warming hut" on the far side of the lake. As you head down to the park you're surprised to see that it's bustling with people! You discover a few little buildings clustered around the rink's entrance. They're full of people getting on their skates, and having a quick snack. It's crowded but you find a place to sit down. You feel relieved that you didn't have to be a victim of an icy bench and freezing wind while you do up your skate laces. You find your skating legs, and begin to work your way around the lake. On the far side you notice another hut. It looks toasty warm. This must be it! The walls even seem to glow a little, like the embers of a comforting fire. And, oh look, there's a hot chocolate stand! You grab a cup of cocoa and head towards the hut. As soon as you reach the vestibule you exhale. No more windchill! The hut is warm, with the sun coming right in the big windows. The sun-warmed bench is comforting to sit on, and you sip your cocoa as the solar rays begin to warm you too. After a few minutes your friend enters the hut, her face is red from effects of the wind. She joins you on the bench and you both warm yourselves as you prepare to go back out and enjoy the rink. Now that you've warmed up, you're ready to brave the cold again for a few more laps out in the frozen landscape.
Edmontonians seem to have mixed feelings about winter. To some, the sight of the first snowfall makes them vibrate with excitement and anticipation of the season to come. To others, that same sight conjures memories of tormenting blizzards, and it causes them to look around because they could swear that they just heard the sound of a scraper on a windshield. The weather can be nasty and it is often difficult to see the positives of our long, dark winters. However, the cold temperatures and snow bring an abundance of activities. Winters can be fun, we only have to get out and enjoy them! To make Edmonton a more livable Northern City, and to improve our quality of life, we must embrace the cold.
By increasing accessibility, safety, and enjoyment during the winter months, we can begin a cultural shift towards a new winter narrative. This can be achieved by creating inspiring winter experiences that ignite Edmontonians' desire to get out into the winter.
Our city currently lacks winter infrastructure to help people stay outdoors longer. Dressing for the weather is only one part of the equation. By having innovative winter infrastructure that temporarily shields us from the elements, we can reclaim the season. Like a small alpine hut in the mountains, warming huts can create spaces in Edmonton's parks and river valley for people to discover on a cold winter day.
These warming huts use engaging design to attract users and to give context to broader winter infrastructure issues. In addition, the huts are intended to be aesthetically pleasing, and mobile. On the outside, the huts use an architectural language that conveys the inner physical warmth and draws people in.
The huts use passive solar principles for heating. This means that they can gather and retain heat from the sun without the need for electricity. The main windows are pointed south so that the hut captures the heat and retains it in the thermal mass of its concrete floor. They are also highly insulated and well sealed to keep this heat from leaking back out. We are also developing a heated version that can be used at night for winter festivals when the parks remain open late.
I believe that by placing these huts strategically through the river valley park system, by multi-use trails and we can lay the foundations for wider implementation. Looking at the bigger picture, a city-wide warming hut system will reconnect Edmontonians with nature year-round, changing our relationship with our longest season. Not only will this engage people with their city, but it can have large implications for our physical and mental health.
My intention for 2016 is to build two more warming huts (we already have one) and place them at Hawrelak Park during the SilverSkate Festival. Then in 2017 my goal is to attain more funding, build more warming huts to begin the network and run a longer pilot project in Hawrelak Park for 12 weeks. Specific locations are still being determined, but the best places for these huts are at multi-use intersections, meeting points along trails and around the skating rinks. We intent to eventually create a network of huts that spread out from Hawrelak Park's skating rink, along cross-country ski and walking trails to increase accessibility. These warming huts will provide locations for Edmontonians to warm-up, as well as create new destinations and gathering points for citizens to discover.