Community spirit

Friday 26 Feb 2010

Signer Harris Architects completes mixed-use facility for students with special educational needs

Within the Adolescent Center’s envelope is 28,000 sq ft devoted to numerous student activities and the faculty and administrative spaces that support them, including a 15-unit dormitory with expansive common area, kitchen and dining facilities, and a roof terrace. There are also eight classrooms, a gymnasium with regulation-sized basketball court, and two amphitheaters - one corresponding with the building’s ‘Grand Stair’, and the other terraced into a dominant hill on the campus.

The expansion is dominated by two primary architectural forms. The pale, sandstone coloured 'box' houses the gymnasium, and is punctuated by an enormous sliding door which opens to integrate the interior and exterior spaces; the horizontal bar-like structure is comprised of classrooms and a residence hall, articulated architecturally to reflect functional differences – while the residence hall is clad in brick, the classrooms below are finished in sandstone-colored blocks. These two forms meet at a central lobby at contrasting angles, creating a strong linear expression, where warm natural wood defines the shared gathering spaces and primary circulation for the building.

The Adolescent Center is equipped with occupiable circulation and interstitial spaces – the indoor and outdoor amphitheatres – which help constitute and reinforce a spirit of community. By locating these community-oriented spaces at the crossroads between major program pieces, granting them commodious proportions relative to private spaces, and finishing them to a high level of detail with a palette of rich materials, the design telegraphs St. Ann’s commitment to crafting a vibrant and connected community.

The mixed-use program benefits the school by creating a unique and specific 'campus' experience built around the Adolescent Center’s overlapping programs and community spaces and around its siting.The design supports an integrated learning experience and creates conditions for efficiency and synergy between programs. Locating classrooms within a residential building has several advantages: not only does it allow these spaces to be re-programmed in the evening to support a variety of student activities, from club meetings to tutoring, it has the consequence of reducing the square footage needed to satisfy the institution’s programming requirements by optimising each classroom’s hours of use. The project was completed in May of 2008.

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