Claude Watson School for the Arts

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Architype Dialogue presents Phillip Lehmann and Alain Fidenza, Architects What was the single hardest issue to predict about working within this building type and/or the most unexpected challenge that......
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A landmark, at once urbane, accessible and distinct Claude Watson School for the Arts provides specialized training in both Fine Arts and the Performing Arts and facilitates a conventional Toronto District School Board curriculum for grades 4 through 8. Students attend from all over Greater Toronto and must audition for the programme. The school is a symbol of the highest aspirations of applied cultural and primary education. The building is sited alongside a suburban secondary road which is adjacent to high density, high rise residential buildings. In response, the project is a simple and compact form with a strong street presence while presenting an image of performance and accessibility. A 50,000 square foot programme includes staff and technical facilities, conventional classrooms, music rooms, drama rooms, art rooms, a small gymnasium and a multi purpose room. This variety of space sizes is accommodated through a lateral shift of the corridor between the floor levels. On the lowest level, the hallway is located along one side, thereby freeing up room for the gymnasium and music rooms. By sinking this level slightly into the ground, higher ceilings are accommodated and overall massing proportions from the street are maintained. The second level corridor shifts to generate parallel zones for administration, service rooms and special programme areas. Views into the double height space of the gymnasium below showcase the clear-span truss structure. On the top level, a central corridor creates a conventional double loaded classroom arrangement which leads on axis, to the library. Expressed as a floating volume, the library projects out and protects an outdoor performance space/bleacher below. The prevailing tectonic feature of the building is the aluminum brise soleil which protects the library from direct southern exposure. The hexagonal structure also alludes to “the hive”, a clear analogue to the collective, creative activities of the students. The design takes advantage of natural lighting and boasts views over a park. Circulation spaces are wide and robust, designed to accommodate the exhibition of student work as well as the spontaneous desire to gather and perform. The Claude Watson School for the Arts is proving to go beyond the expectations of its users and the building has quickly become a significant landmark in Toronto’s northern precinct.


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