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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
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.

McEwen School of Architecture in Sudbury, Canada by LGA Architectural Partners

February 25th, 2018 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: LGA Architectural Partners

LGA Architectural Partners designed Laurentian University’s McEwen School of Architecture to prepare young architects for the critical design issues of the 21st Century. McEwen is not your typical architecture school – its curriculum emphasizes architecture and fabrication techniques focused on the traditional and evolving aspects of life in the north, including Indigenous culture, wood construction, local ecologies and resources, and design for the impact of climate change.

Guided by Ted Kesik, LGA collaborated with many stakeholders to develop a “Sustainability Design Manifesto” to address the conditions of the northern environment and ensure that the school is highly sustainable, going well beyond LEED. For example, the new building was massed and oriented to optimize heating, cooling and natural ventilation to conserve energy and minimize reliance on the mechanical system. Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

  • Architects: LGA Architectural Partners
  • Project: McEwen School of Architecture
  • Location: Sudbury, Canada
  • Photography: Bob Gundu
  • Client: Laurentian University, Capital Projects – Michel Seguin, Director
  • Consulting Team

    • Engineers: AECOM
  • Landscape Architect: Robert Wright Landscape Architect
  • Sustainability Consultant: Ted Kesik
  • Contractor: Cy Rheault (Phase 1); Bondfield (Phase 2)
  • Budget: $26M
  • Size: 72,849 SF
  • Timing: Spring 2018 Completion

A historic telegraph building housing the administration offices is connected to the new steel and concrete structure by a raised walkway, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

Canada’s first new architecture school in 40 years, McEwen is situated in a unique context, literally and figuratively at the heart of things: in downtown Sudbury, at the crossroads of the Trans-Canada Highway and the Canadian Pacific Railway. Sudbury is a mid-sized, northern city known for nickel mining, with vibrant English, French and Indigenous communities. And while Sudbury is not extremely remote in latitude, its distance from other cities, and its separation by water, rock and forest makes it feel quite remote. And so the design challenge was to realize a school that would be responsive to this place: a teaching laboratory for the advancement of sustainable, community-driven design in northern climates; a stimulus and vibrant think-tank for downtown Sudbury; and an educational hub with a mandate to serve a tri-cultural community.

Unlike most architecture schools that are located in large cities, the McEwen School is positioned in a northern community, bringing issues of localized design to its forefront. The design team was challenged to create a school that is at once a teaching laboratory for the advancement of sustainable, community-driven design in northern climates, a stimulus and vibrant think-tank for downtown Sudbury, and an institution with a mandate to serve a tri-cultural community. Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

The McEwen School is comprised of four connected buildings of different typologies: two adaptively reused historic structures (timber and masonry) and two new ones (steel/concrete and CLT). Each wing acts as pedagogical tool for students by showcasing its building science. Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

LGA worked closely with founding Director Terrance Galvin to lead visioning exercises with stakeholders and the local community. The outcomes guided architectural priorities and a curriculum based on northern-related topics. There were plenty of unusual challenges: for example creating a building and a program that could mitigate the stress experienced by many students moving away for the first time from isolated and rural communities — particularly Indigenous ones. Other concerns included designing with an appropriate response to the region’s limited local labour force and extreme seasonal shifts, while instituting efficient sustainable construction methods. The team felt that LEED criteria did not provide the right metrics for this environment, and developed a bespoke tool: a “Sustainable Design Manifesto” specifically addressing the northern context.

institutional example of CLT. This material enabled the team to reduce the time, carbon footprint and cost of construction with panelized offsite fabrication. This approach improved the building’s quality, minimized its construction duration, and will have a positive long-term impact on required maintenance, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

LGA developed a “plug and play” approach to the campus, in which the infrastructure is exposed and labeled, enabling a quick swap when a better or more efficient piece of equipment is brought to the market. Similarly, they conceived of a “skin and bones” framework for the building. Using the analogy of the body, the skeleton (structure) is kept warm by the skin (building envelope), Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

In every way, LGA conceived of the campus as a didactic instrument from which students could learn about the making of architecture, and particularly how it could address sustainability, climate, and culture. The resulting mini-campus unites four different building typologies around a central courtyard. The first phase of the project adapted two historic structures: a timber rail shed turned market building into the “FabLab,” where traditional and contemporary building methods are explored, and a former masonry Canadian Pacific Railway ticketing and telegraph office that now serves as faculty offices. In the future, its ground floor will become an added resource to the community as an architectural storefront for the exchange of knowledge and public consultation.

CLT is both the structural material and the interior finish of the library and auditorium wing. Blackened steel elements such as screens and handrails sharpen the interiors and highlight the warmth of the wood, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

The CLT building showcases the aesthetic and structural possibilities of an engineered wood product that could be locally manufactured in many parts of northern Canada, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

The school’s second phase realized two new buildings: a steel and concrete wing that houses the “Crit Pit” and design studios, and a cross-laminated timber (CLT) building for the auditorium and library. These were developed with a “skin and bones” construction system: a panelized “skin” offered efficient assembly with minimal waste, from materials that capture sun heat in the winter and passive ventilation in the summer, and “bones” from simple, large-span structural systems, (steel and wood respectively) that allow for highly flexible, open-plan interiors. The CLT building immerses students in this relatively new product that is poised to have a tremendous impact on local construction. South facing and sheltered from prevailing winds, the courtyard serves as an outdoor classroom and making space, with a ceremonial fire pit that enables students and the local community to participate in local First Nations traditions.

Immersed in wood, students can understand CLT’s benefit as a warm and, “living” material, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

The materiality of the CLT wing appropriately responds to the local, The materiality of the CLT wing appropriately responds to the local, characteristics of Sudbury: natural, robust and directly reflective of the local timber industry, with a modesty and domestic quality that makes it feel warm and welcoming, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

“As a discipline, architecture embodies the ideologies of optimism and determinism: the belief that our physical environment both shapes and influences who we are and how we will respond to the world,” says Janna Levitt, a founding partner of LGA Architectural Partners. “For this reason, creating a new school of architecture — one that is northern in identity, demanding a dialogue between site, climate and cultural inclusion — was an exhilarating design opportunity. Our approach is very Canadian and also universal in perspective.”

A flexible space, the sunken Crit Pit is used for student reviews, as well as for large- scale performances, lectures, speaking engagements and meetings hosted by both the school and the Sudbury ommunity, Curious passersby on the street can pause to look inside, connecting the institution with the city, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

According to the McEwen’s incoming Director David Fortin, “While the full identity of the McEwen School of Architecture will unfold over many decades as we expand and mature, I sense that the infrastructure for this ‘northern’ school, both pedagogically and architecturally, has met its initial challenge. This is already a school of architecture like no other, and it’s just getting started.”

Amphitheatre style seating descends into the Crit Pit, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

The open concept design studios are both visually interesting and spatially complex, Tiered floors provide sightlines across multiple levels into the atrium, mezzanines and staircases, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

About McEwen School of Architecture

Laurentian’s School of Architecture is the first new school of architecture to open in Canada in 40 years. It is also the first school of its kind in Northern Ontario and the first in Canada outside Québec to offer courses in French. The McEwen School provides an immersive educational experience that conveys the inherent necessity of pairing technical expertise with a full understanding of the spirit of landscapes, and the people who inhabit them, in order to design smart, sustainable and functional buildings. In its first three years of existence, its students have already won numerous national and international awards, including a first place win at the Bergen International Wood Festival in Norway in May 2016.

The aim of the design studios was to create visual connections within the school, and to showcase how architecture can inspire when it breaks free from the conventional box, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

As the 12th School of Architecture in Canada, the School was conceived as a venue for students from the North to be able to study architecture in their region; it will also encourage recent graduates to stay and become a part of the growing design community in the North. The McEwen School will be recognized for its research and design with wood, its research into indigenous architecture, and its expertise in studying the Sudbury Basin as a source for design.

Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

Structural elements such as the steel braces supporting the mezzanine, and exposed mechanical and electrical systems turn the school into a visual teaching tool, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

A custom perforated steel screen in the studio adds visual interest and, provides a magnetic surface for students to pin up their work, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

The interior of the raised walkway, which connects the design studio building to the, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

What was originally a rail shed and later a market building was repurposed as McEwen’s ‘FabLab’, made up of a classroom, a digital fabrication area, wet labs, a metal shop and a wood shop, Image Courtesy © Bob Gundu

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