University of Windsor Downtown Campus – Progress at the Windsor Armouries Revitalization
by Craig Goodman, Chief Architect, CS&P Architects Inc.
New Campus Downtown
The University of Windsor has taken proactive steps to become a vibrant partner in the revitalization of Downtown Windsor by creating a new downtown campus. The proposed interdisciplinary academic and arts facilities offer vital opportunities for partnerships in advancing the City’s ongoing revitalization strategies, while capitalizing on the iconic qualities of multiple properties including some with heritage features. Last September, the School of Social Work and the Centre for Executive and Professional Education (CEPE) moved into the dramatically transformed former site of the Windsor Star at the corner of Pitt and Ferry Streets. In a little more than a year from now, this downtown student population will increase with the relocation of a new hybrid faculty known as the School of Creative Arts (SoCA) offering a new home base for students in the visual arts, digital arts, film, multi-media, visual arts in the built environment (VABE), music and art history. The new home for the School of Creative Arts (SoCA) will be anchored by the major transformation of the historic Windsor Armouries landmark historic property.
The existing Windsor Armouries building is a composite masonry structure on the prominent downtown corner at University Ave and Freedom Way made up of a shed building originally built in 1902, along with a mutli-storied addition at the south end built in 1937. The original building is a striking two storey red brick Richardson Romanesque building featuring a unique octagonal castellated turret at the north-east corner relating to the primary street intersection. Cut limestone features embellish the feature entrances. The existing building provides a total of approximately 46,400 sf over 3 levels. After this major transformation is complete it will offer more than 66,000 sf of unique studio and support spaces and will also be enhanced by an entirely new 19,000sf studio building across the street on the former TBQ Restaurant site. As shown in other urban centres, this downtown campus project will serve as an economic catalyst to initiate a vibrant arts precinct, one that will assist in increasing activity and vitality within the downtown Windsor core, along with the other new downtown presence of St. Clair College and the new City recreation and performance facilities.
Maximize area, retain the visual openness of major interior space.
The Armouries building footprint is approximately 30,000 sq.ft, and the new SoCA programme required to fit within the Armouries and TBQ sites is approximately 85,000 gross sq. ft. In order to maintain the sense of openness and volume, while fulfilling the programmatic requirements and adjacencies for the building, a key design strategy is to reduce the requirement for full floors above grade by creating an additional floor area in the basement with appropriate programme assigned to that level. This in turn will allow the remainder of the programme to be distributed on the ground and second floor employing a ‘porous’ building strategy requiring partial floors only, while ensuring a sense of openness for the main building volume.
Construction activity has been fully engaged at the Armouries site for a full year now. This may be less than apparent for those that pass by the site, but this is due to the unusually hidden nature of this unique construction process. To achieve the valuable expansion of well-needed studio space, the design solution has been to expand downward rather than to despoil the sublime qualities of the existing 1902 drill hall. Several site and legal limitations impacted the construction methodologies, so the construction expansion downward was limited almost entirely to access internal to the building shell. Hence, the quiet invisibility of this unique and adventurous construction process that is working through a critical “chrysalis” phase towards a transformative existence.
So far, to date, the full 1937 south addition has been mostly demolished, but not until more than 19,000 existing bricks were carefully dismantled and stored for re-use in the final build out. At this current moment, we have several key heritage elements, such as doors, hardware, spiral stairs and the 19,000 bricks, stored carefully in a series of Toronto warehouses. Each of these items is in the process of cleaning, prepping, refinishing and adaptation for the return trip to Windsor.
Before any construction could start, the building was shrouded in protective enclosures while all interior surfaces were stripped of the 9 layers of lead paint. The beautiful red clay brick, fully hidden by paint since 1902, is once again exposed.
Since last October, when the concrete slab-on-grade was removed from the drill hall, we have seen the layers of historic earth removed in very modest and strategic layers, as the massive masonry shell was supported through a complex web of underpinning to define a fully supported new 20,000sf basement level at 13 feet below the original ground floor level. This process is now complete and the gears are now reversing as new structure is gradually infilling to start the process of rebuilding the new home for SoCA. New foundations, buried concrete tie beams, 23 perimeter 60 foot caissons and a series of complex steel dwydags (steel shoring ties invented for the mining industry) are all in place as a solid foundation to start receiving new steel superstructure for the new addition on the south end as well as new studio plateaus within the drill hall.
Ensure optimal daylight and visual connectivity.
The beautiful large volume space of the Armouries is its major heritage asset, and is retained as open space, both to preserve the building’s integrity and to take best advantage of its unique spatial quality. The Visual Arts programme has spaces such as studios, which are well suited to take advantage of the openness and spatial characteristics of the Armouries. By deploying programme spaces onto appropriate floor plates which have been designed for double and triple height volumes, the design will achieve spatial continuity between floors for multi-level viewing and optimal daylight penetration throughout the building. The provision of generous daylight through fully replaced new windows through all levels of the building, including the new lower level, will be its essential life-blood, and will help bring the building to life and energize its students.
Perhaps the most important opportunity presented by this project, one which is critical to any creative work, is to foster multi-disciplinary collaboration between students from each discipline, music, film and visual arts. To encourage and support this goal, the design has created a dynamic and amenable public realm both outside and within the buildings, which is comprised of daylit lobbies, public walkways, bridges, lounges, and other social meeting spaces. These social spaces will link together as a coherent whole and in turn interconnect the programme spaces located within the original building.
Over the coming summer months the construction will become more visible as the steel superstructure will emerge out of the ground at the south end to define the new multi-purpose recital hall. This new addition will stand taller than the existing ridge line of the Armouries drill hall. Simultaneously, the steel framework for the studio plateaus within the drill hall will become apparent. Ongoing restoration work will be visible around the existing exterior bricks and stone, and a new metal roof will appear later this year.
Action will also become apparent on the TBQ restaurant site, as the foundations for this new building will be emerging out of the ground in August and September. New power supply and fibre optic connectivity will be integrated through the streets over this coming year as well in readiness for the arrival of the students in fall 2017.