Laurier Brantford YMCA

At a recreational facility in downtown Brantford, past and present merge into a conspicuous new design.

When the YMCA partnered with Wilfrid Laurier University to erect a new facility in downtown Brantford, the chosen site — a steep hill nestled between two parallel streets — revealed a rich and exciting past. Some 400,000 artefacts dating as far back at 500 BCE were uncovered, marking Ontario’s most significant archaeological discovery in nearly three decades.

In more recent years, the plot was home to 41 (now-demolished) historic row houses, adding another level of character and interest to the site.

To pay homage to this multi-layered history, the project team, led by CannonDesign, opted for a contemporary yet considerate approach. “Although the building is distinctly modern, it blends into its existing neighbourhood,” says James Lai, associate vice president at CannonDesign and project lead on the Laurier Brantford YMCA. “It showcases the community’s past through thoughtful reflection of its historic surroundings.”

The project — delayed 18 months due to an extensive archaeological dig — is meaningful to its site as it replaces vacant row houses and is integrated into a sloped hillside to ensure it is visually pleasant and appropriate.

On the exterior, the 120,000 sq.-ft. facility is defined by its dual bar body and pristine curtain wall mullion façade. Inspired by the themes of memory, movement and landscape, Lai says the team “studied the appearance of the row homes and developed a pattern reminiscent of their skyline,” drawing upon their once prominent rhythms and integrating their essence into the design. Inside, gym spaces with retractable stadium seating, fitness class studios, weight rooms, a large aquatics centre, health clinic, student lounge, daycare, youth centre and inclusive change rooms are littered throughout.

Also inside is a central staircase that softens the dramatic height differential brought on by the sloped site — a 35-foot drop, to be exact. In addition to bridging access between the two streets, the staircase features a vantage point that “provides unique horizontal visual connections across the entire interior of the 445-foot long structure,” says Lai. Soon, a selection of the uncovered artefacts will be on view in this central space.

The 120,000-sq.-ft. building is characterized by abundant natural light and open views inside and out and houses multiple spaces.

Realized through nearly $40 million in funding from the Government of Canada, Ontario Government and City of Brantford, the facility is said to be the first-ever jointly owned and operated by a university and the YMCA. It also marks a significant milestone in Laurier’s ongoing plans to expand into Brantford’s downtown core. “It’s not just another typical YMCA,” says Lai. “It creates partnerships and houses services unique to this project and is an exciting model for others to follow.” Clearly, the project sets precedent in its present, while still recognizing its esteemed past.

Photography by Adrien Williams


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