Page D2.2 . 14 February 2007                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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    Canadian Contemporary


    The center is designed to accommodate leading-edge research and teaching in computer science and electrical engineering for the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Arts and Science at the University of Toronto. Its design is intended to accommodate an academic community supported by technological innovation.

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    The building is shaped to exploit the many constraints of an eccentrically configured midblock site, bordered by seven university buildings and a 105-foot (32- meter) height limit. The first three floors, occupied primarily by undergraduate programs, are bisected by two arcades.

    A three-story skylit arcade aligned east-west through the center of the plan provides the principal point of access to lecture theaters, seminar rooms, and computing labs. A north-south arcade opens to a south-facing interior court and cafe. This axis extends south across a new outdoor quadrangle, along ramps, stairs, and fountains and eventually establishes a new southern gateway into the university precinct.

    At the interior crossroads of these two axes, a vertical "landmark" stair rising through eight floors surrounds a glass tower of shared meeting rooms and lounges. The glass stair cylinder is skylit and forms a translucent lantern at night, drawing light deep into the center of the building, forming a place of meeting and connection within the research community. The building is clad in pale ivory, hand-laid brick, with aluminum and frit glass sunshades.

    The building uses an innovative under-floor servicing system for the distribution of all data, power, heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning. This supports program flexibility as well as displacement ventilation, resulting in a 50 percent improvement in air quality.

    Other sustainable design features include: a complete recovery of stormwater for use in irrigation and other water features; extensive solar shading to reduce the cooling plant; use of daylighting deep into program areas; and use of recovery waster heat to provide 92 percent of the required heating and reducing energy use to 53 percent of the new Model Energy Code of Canada.

    Strawberry Vale

    Strawberry Vale by John and Patricia Patkau, of Patkau Architects, arguably the finest school built in Canada over the last 15 years, pushes the limits of spatial complexity and expressive detailing achieved in a public institution. The design has some of the most wonderful classrooms I have ever seen; flooded with natural light, geometrically orthogonal but with the most remarkable feeling of free-form space.

    Strawberry Vale is a Victoria, BC public school containing 16 classrooms and support areas for students from kindergarten to grade seven. All classrooms are oriented toward the south to optimize natural light and to maximize the connection to the adjacent Garry Oak woodland.

    The classrooms are located on grade, grouped in pods of four, providing direct access to the outdoors and the possibility of an extended program of teaching. This arrangement of classroom pods creates a series of in-between spaces, both interior and exterior, suitable for individuals or small groups.

    A meandering circulation spine provides access to each classroom pod and to the remaining components of the program. The irregular configuration of the spine creates small-scale common spaces that support a variety of activities and interactions, both spontaneous and planned, providing an architectural basis for a greater sense of community.

    The school was developed within the context of environmental sustainability. Heating and lighting systems were designed to optimize the use of solar energy and daylight, while materials were selected to maximize environmental quality and minimize the amount of embodied energy. The hydrology of the site was carefully developed, integrating building systems with natural ones.

    BC Cancer Research Centre

    Richard Henriquez, of Henriquez Partners Architects — long a proponent of such literary tropes as metaphor and narrative in his architecture — uses images abstracted from DNA, chromosomes, and even the Petri dish to infuse specific meaning into his design for the British Columbia Cancer Research Centre in Vancouver.

    This is the latest, fully integrated, state-of-the-art cancer research center in Canada. It includes facilities for the Genome Sequence Centre, the first of its kind, dedicated to cancer research across the country. Located across the street and connected to the BC Cancer Treatment Centre, the facility will support "benchtop" to "bedside" research and treatment, allowing a faster turnaround of information related to promising new therapies.

    The center is conceived as a two-building complex where researchers' offices are expressed as one building and the laboratories as another. The project will house 600 scientists and staff and is the first of two phases that will transform the entire city block.

    Laboratories are the heart of the building and make up 65 percent of its area. They are arranged in an open plan with modular bays — two or more typically used by each principal investigator and his or her team. The building also includes interstitial floors for ease of maintenance and flexibility.

    Offices and support spaces make up 20 percent of the space that includes a 220-seat lecture theater, seminar rooms, library, staff lounge, bicycle storage, and shower facilities. The remaining 15 percent of the building consists of a large vivarium and support spaces.

    A dominant feature is the set of large circular windows that flood the interior with natural light. Each window focuses on a group of researchers working behind their respective metaphorical "Petri dish." This becomes an expression of the cellular nature of individual research projects; each with a definite specialized focus but contributing to the main goal of finding a cure for cancer.

    The office block is composed of two-floor suites serving each lab floor. Offices look out to ocean and mountain views through thin multicolored vertical strips. This colored window treatment is an abstraction of a sequence of Chromosome 8, a subject of study in cancer research. A spiral "DNA" stair joins the office floors together.

    At the foot of the stair are small meeting rooms designed to encourage collaboration between researchers. Apart from its iconic function, the spiral staircase is envisioned as the setting for a proposed fundraising event, the "DNA Grind," inspired by Vancouver's popular outdoor exercise trail known as the "Grouse Grind."

    Canada has a tradition of integrating a variety of often competing demands into a richer, more nuanced architecture. We also have the advantage of our history to inspire us: the precedent setting, socially conscious, and adventurous work of the "sixties." Perhaps this is where the attention of Canadian architecture will shift over the next generation, once again producing work that is at the leading edge.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Andrew Gruft is professor emeritus in the School of Architecture at the University of British Columbia. His field of interest and expertise is contemporary Canadian architecture and urban design.

    This article is excerpted from Substance over Spectacle: Contemporary Canadian Architecture, copyright © 2005, available from Arsenal Pulp Press and at



    ArchWeek Image

    The Bahen Centre for Information Technology at the University of Toronto by Diamond + Schmitt Architects.
    Image: Diamond + Scmitt Extra Large Image

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    Strawberry Vale school, Victoria, BC, by Patkau Architects.
    Photo: Patkau Architects

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    Spatial complexity at Strawberry Vale school.
    Photo: Patkau Architects

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    Sections, Strawberry Vale school.
    Image: Photo: Patkau Architects Extra Large Image

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    BC Cancer Research Centre in Vancouver by Henriquez Partners Architects.
    Photo: Henriquez Partners Architects

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    Round windows of the BC Cancer Research Centre.
    Photo: Henriquez Partners Architects

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    Lab in the BC Cancer Research Centre.
    Image: Henriquez Partners Architects

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    Substance over Spectacle: Contemporary Canadian Architecture.
    Image: Arsenal Pulp Press


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