Creative Collide

Creativity flourishes when different disciplines collide. This is the intent at MacEwan University in Edmonton, where fine arts and communications students are encouraged to converse in a new building designed with culture and collaboration in mind.

The new 430,000-sq.-ft., $143-million Allard Hall is situated on the university’s downtown campus. Designed by the late Bing Thom in association with Manasc Isaac Architects, the educational facility is clad in high-performance tempered glass with bright green accents on its exterior.

Located at the entrance to MacEwan University’s campus, Allard Hall is clad entirely in high tech tempered glass with energy-saving tints and fritting.

While giving a presentation at the Business of Design Week in Hong Kong in December about current and upcoming work, such as the Surrey Central Library outside Vancouver, Washington D.C.’s Arena Stage and Kowloon’s Xiqu Opera House, Venelin Kokalov, design principal at Revery Architecture (formerly Bing Thom Architects) described how each of the stairways in Allard Hall descends from a balcony area to create gathering spaces which the design team calls playful and colourful ‘nests’ woven into the main atria.

“Our design starts with people. We draw a person, and then we draw another person, and another, and suddenly you imagine a nest,” he said. “The nests are places for the birth of ideas and zones to nurture cultural connection. Most architects would have hidden away the fire stairs, but instead we made the nests, bridges and angled stairs the heart of our layouts.”

At centre is a multi-story skylit double atrium crossed by dramatic angled pedestrian bridges, with cultural production and instructional spaces arrayed around them, faculty offices at the perimeter.

The atrium not only provides important daylight and connection between spaces, he says, but it also stimulates mixing and cooperation between people and disciplines, and most importantly “stimulates dreams.”

“The stairs do more than just connect the various levels of the building. They create meeting points that bring students of different disciplines together, resulting in infinite opportunities to activate the space,” said Kokalov.

Inside, angled staircases crisscross like branches on a tree, forming nest-like nooks where students can sit, study and socialize.
The design team recognized the need for a variety of creative spaces, and established the nests as a series of unconventional areas outside of the traditional classroom.

Though the building originally had a curvier exterior, its façade was streamlined to meet budgetary needs. “Some changes to the design presented challenges during construction, but our team was resourceful and resilient,” says Andrea Flynn, project manager at Revery Architecture. “We were able to bring the project to realization with its main spirit still intact.” To bring fluidity from the revised exterior to the rest of the building, the design team included similar shades of green inside.

In addition to an art gallery and recording studio, the building contains a 419-seat theatre, 215-seat recital hall, and a sky-lit atrium that doubles as a performance space. “The intent here was to entice professional artists and members of the public to visit the building,” says Flynn. “The informal performance space brings exposure to the students and serves as a platform to showcase their talent.”

A new urban home for the formerly suburban Faculty of Fine Arts and Communications, its galleries and multiple theatres will see extensive evening use by the general public.

Named after the Allard family, long-time supporters of the university, Allard Hall marks one of Bing Thom’s final projects with the firm. A celebrated Canadian architect and urban designer, he passed in 2016. From the outset, Thom’s vision was to fashion a building where students could exchange ideas. His legacy will undoubtedly prevail through the inclusive and educationally supportive Allard Hall, where creativity and collaboration thrive.

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