Text description provided by the architects. Made possible by a generous donation by Dr. Robert Fitzhenry, a McMaster alumni, the addition and renovation to existing studios and classrooms at McMaster University's School of the Arts (SoTA), honors Robert’s late wife, Andrée, a painter and art collector. dpai was awarded the project on the strength of a compelling process and a profound understanding of the importance of engagement with the arts to preserve a sense of vitality and cross-disciplinarity in the higher learning experience.
Envisioning the project as a much-needed link between SoTA, the McMaster community at large, and the now-established Hamilton arts scene, the objective was to engage community practitioners, alumni, faculty, staff, and students in the design process to understand what the needs, potentials, and caveats of the project were to be. Over the course of an intensive day-long charrette, participants and guests facilitated by dpai staff were able to synthesize diverse voices into a set of ideas - both concrete and abstract - that were then given spatial representation. The propositions put forward at the charrette had considerable bearing on the finished form of the project.
The result was a design deeply informed by end-user input that focused on functionally reconfigured and expanded studios, a new light-filled exhibition space, clear and accessible circulation, and the creation of a strong street presence and identity for SoTA, a faculty that had been difficult to access and navigates. The new addition provides vastly expanded floor space and amenities for more equipment-intensive media — printmaking and sculpture — including facilities for lithography, etching, and silkscreen, as well as wood- and metal-working, and one of Canada’s few remaining metal casting facilities housed in a University fine arts facility.
Once-windowless studios for upper-year students have been expanded, and flex-studio and new media facilities balance the use of traditional media with an understanding of the shifting nature of creative practice with the emergence of new tools. Gentle north light pours into the double-height painting studios and the addition of a 25’x25’x25’ glass-enclosed atrium (“the Cube”), provides a powerful environment for critique, exhibition, and performance.
The SoTA’s new urban prominence has strengthened connections with other faculties so that art students can offer their unique perspectives to engineering and humanities students, and vice versa. Because of urban connections at two levels, the highly transparent “cube” is now in frequent demand as an event space on campus, while broadly showcasing the work of students and faculty members during both working critiques and final exhibits.