Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.
University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Ontario, Canada by LGA Architectural Partners
September 28th, 2016 by Sumit Singhal
Article source: LGA Architectural Partners
The University of Waterloo School of Architecture at Riverside is a conversion of a 100-year-old silk mill located in Cambridge. The existing building is 85,000sq/ft over three storeys and is a steel and wood structure with mill deck flooring. The building was funded by donations from all levels of government as well as the local business community. A unique aspect of the project was the modest budget coupled with an extremely aggressive timeframe: $100/sf and one year to design and build, ready for occupancy. We developed a fast-track schedule to allow for the design and building activities to happen simultaneously. The project was delivered on time and on budget in September 2004.
The municipality is working at revitalizing the downtown core of Cambridge, and the design of the school was developed to allow for the integration of the community and the school, opening up the institution to its neighbourhood. We developed a “street” on the ground floor which connects the municipal river walk through the school and over to the main square.
The design is based on a process we call “excavation and intervention.” This strategy aims to transform old buildings by carefully integrating distinct architectonic elements while preserving and celebrating the existing building’s unique character.
A new three-storey atrium was carved out of the middle of the plan, linking street to river and serving as a global orientation device for all entering the school. Two monolithic steel stairs hang in the atrium space and form the main social and circulation hub where students and faculty meet. The adjacent ground floor Lecture Hall was excavated from solid bedrock; the Library, teaching spaces and offices occupy the second floor; while the studios and “loft” occupy the top storey and share spectacular views of downtown Cambridge and the Grand River.
Relocating from the University of Waterloo campus to the century-old Riverside Silk Mills in Cambridge Ontario, the new School of Architecture has repositioned itself as a model for the instruction of architecture, sustainable design and urban renewal.
Anchored on the bank of the Grand River, the School is a beacon within Cambridge’s downtown core. A formal rhythm between the regular brick and masonry piers of the historic façade and the new steelframe windows is emblematic of the architectural strategy of re-presenting the existing structure with contemporary details that redefine the building.
On the interior, the former factory’s expansive floorplate translates into dynamic, open studios and critique spaces. The architects carved out a central atrium that establishes an airy, three-storey hub punctuated by blackened-steel cantilevered staircases, providing sweeping views of the river and the surrounding activities. Adjacent to the atrium are key amenities such as the ground floor auditorium, the second floor library and mezzanine lounge and the third floor critique space. Since it is impossible to move through the School without passing through the atrium, this space continuously offers itself as a place of interaction and collaboration. The School’s “students first” philosophy manifests itself in the privileged positioning of student spaces such as the café, gym and library overlooking the river.
By design, the School of Architecture is a didactic model of building assembly. Exposed connections and mechanical systems demonstrate their own utility and construction. Porous spaces frame views of things being made. A conscious decision “not to design too much” renders most surfaces raw and durable, suited to exhibition, intervention and creativity. Even bathroom stalls are fabricated from pin boards. Distinctive spaces such as the auditorium and the library are elevated by employing finer materials and craftsmanship.
Waterloo’s emphasis on the craft of architecture is highlighted though select details such as the custom-designed glass canopy over the main entrance that casts the word “ARCHITECTURE” underfoot and along the old masonry wall, the reverse treads cut into the feature staircases that emphasize a sense of descending into the sunken auditorium and the new fenestration and concrete panel exterior at the river face.
Practicality and sustainability were driving factors for all design and material selections, reinforcing the notion that quality design can no longer be skin deep. This also minimized the amount of new material required and construction waste produced. A budget of $30/m2 and 14 months to design and construct, established a “maximum reuse” architectural parti, allowing construction to begin immediately while the design was still underway.
Funded by local businesses as well as all levels of government, the project is a model for public-private partnerships. It augments the University’s facilities and serves as an instrument of knowledge and experience for the profession. It has enabled Cambridge to remediate a prominent brownfield site, extend its downtown core, reconnect its “Riverwalk” promenade and provide the public with access to a riverfront café, a design gallery and an auditorium that hosts community functions. The staff and students have instantly invigorated the local economy and since the school operates day and night, it continuously animates the City.
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