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Envelope of St. Clair College’s Health Sciences Building adds architectural character

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St. Clair College’s new Health Sciences Building is designed to blend into the landscape around it. And, at 108,000 square feet and three storeys, the rectangular building could have had an obtrusive block appearance.
Envelope of St. Clair College’s Health Sciences Building adds architectural character

FOCUS | Building Envelope

WINDSOR, Ont.

St. Clair College’s new Health Sciences Building is designed to blend into the landscape around it. And, at 108,000 square feet and three storeys, the rectangular building could have had an obtrusive block appearance.

But it won’t. The building designers have added a number of architectural details to break up the monolithic structure, which will add to St. Clair’s main suburban South Windsor campus.

The $32 million building is funded through the federal-provincial Knowledge Infrastructure Program, part of stimulus funding to create construction jobs and build technologically-advanced research and teaching sites at Canadian post-secondary campuses.

Definitely no bland box structure, this building’s exterior is broken up by colour, airy vertical stairway shafts, modular corners, exposed brick, spandrel shelves and vertical mullions, and glass — lots of glass.

“They’re architectural expressions,” Architect Dan Amicone of Windsor’s Architecttura Inc. Architects said. “We kind of wanted to modular-up the building and scale down the massing because it has such a large presence to it.” He also said the designers wanted “a little bit of light, a little bit of randomness, in the way the building façade looks.”

The architects designed it to LEED standards, though there won’t be an official application.

Accordingly they will, for example, make the most of natural light. The long north and south sides will be curtain walls, made up of colourfully glazed panels interspersed with two rows of transparent ribbon windows which are there for flexibility, Amicone says.

If, in the future, the college wanted to reconfigure a classroom and cover up some windows it could easily do so by covering them with opaque panels and simply adding to the decorative wall. That’s considerably different from the inconvenience of masonry.

“If you made any change to the floor plate you may lose some of the glass,” Amicone said. This way, “you can adjust the size of rooms on the inside and still gain the maximum effect of light, and it won’t affect the exterior skin.”

The curtain wall is the building’s greatest design feature. How to assemble it, though, has yet to be decided.

Amicone said it doesn’t matter whether a sub-contractor can install the wall in unitized form, or with pre-glazed panel sets, or even by stick frame construction.

“If they can meet our schedule as well as cost and it doesn’t give us any delays in construction, that’s fine.”

The building must be finished by March 31 of next year to receive the government funding.

The building will be wrapped with a combination of solar shading and aluminum light shelves distanced three feet away from the façade.

These will reflect the sun’s light into the building, providing as much natural light as possible and maximizing energy efficiency by shading the exterior glazing and taking advantage of daylight harvesting, reducing the use of artificial lighting.

The same goes for the east and west side vertical fins supported by curtail wall mullions, which will also reflect the sun and guide the diffused light inside.

Colours, yet to be chosen, will offset various design features, such as alongside the stairway shafts or on the modular corners, which will be clad in composite aluminum.

Those stairway shafts, with ground-to-roof transparent glass, are designed to show off the building’s “inter-professional” nature, Amicone said.

The interior will consist almost exclusively of labs for as many as 700 students studying to be medical and dental technicians, paramedics and nurses.

A.M. Razak, president of Windsor’s Oscar Construction Company Ltd., said the building, exclusive of exterior design, is not entirely different from many of the numerous educational complexes he has constructed previously.

A difference between this building and some others is that, with the exception of the basement, it won’t be a poured-in-place concrete structure, but one made of structural steel. That’s largely to accommodate the accelerated construction schedule. Footings were poured in early April.

“There’s quite a bit of work inside, but once we get rolling we feel comfortable that we can get it done,” Razak said.

by Ron Stang

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