A Parks and Recreation Building built on a city dump site, which uses wood, masonry and steel in innovative, sculptural ways to humanize an otherwise banal building. A municipal single-storey ‘Yard’ building in an industrial setting with the normative linear rectagon as a basic model from which a new centralized internal organization is developed. A ‘tech’ industrial shell gives way to an organic, more human, curved-wood interior. (Winner, Governor General’s Award for Architecture / Winner, North York First Award of Excellence) (Published: Nationally and Internationally; Featured on the cover of International Contract)

Programme: A 20,000 SF single story municipal building, in the service of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department for facility maintenance, and comprising essentially workshops, garages offices and amenities.

Site /context: The site is a city dump(with soil venting requirements) at the edge of a suburban industrial district, bordering on a metropolitan thoroughfare. A quonset and a brick structure share this site.

Precedent: The traditional type of maintenance building is a brown brick box, single story where it contains offices, amenities and workshops, with a higher rear portion for garages. A longitudinal corridor through the middle of the low section commences at the front entry and ends at the garages. 

Solution: By entering into the side, a new centralized organization is created within the traditional rectangular format. This format was retained because it is the most economical for the building, and specifically for the grid of 50 foot deep piles which carry the “suspended” floor slab at grade; it thereby frees up the budget for architectural sculpture and detailing, while generating the tightest plan. A primary dialectic, between the rectagonal building metaform made of silver metallic components and the natural wood and brick curvilinear walls, sets up a counterpoint between tectonic armature relating to a tough industrial site, and warm, organic elements relating to human users. A parallel dialectic between the 3D structural grid system and all other building components, individually expressed, sets up a kind of dance, or musical counterpoint with the structure as “basso continuo”. The structure’s special role is conveyed through its pure yellow colour, the only material of ‘unnatural/ finish: brick walls and apron plinth(the latter yet unbuilt) are clay colours, concrete block is uncoloured; concrete slabs copings, and column and wall bases are clear sealed; steel and aluminum skins are silver of various textures are silver; plywood sheathing,  doors and windows are protectively stained ‘wood’ colour; glass is clear and frameless wherever possible; drywall is white. The front wall, released of its conventional facade and entry roles, can become abstract sculpture: a reclining nude is conveyed by the hourglass shape, the brick ‘skin’ effect, and the eye/apperture. The front yard landscape, yet undone, will contain a 50 foot diameter seating area. with pavers set in grass, from which will rise in a rough circle, on five sinewy steel supports, individually coloured and styled  letters spelling ” EMERY”: the nude’s five suitors. The middle of the principal longitudinal elevation then functions as a front facade containing logia, visitor and staff entries and windows. This wooden anthro/zoomorphic middle section of the building acts as a kind of belly containing all the more human and amenity functions: offices, meeting room, lunchroom/training room, lockers/washrooms, etcetera. This area is symmetrical about the building’s heart, the multipurpose lunchroom, which itself takes a torso-like shape. An alternating figure-ground relationship occurs in this central area between the rooms and the halls. The halls are skylit at their confluence, over an alcove containing water fountain, bulletin message center and punchclock. These halls, whose terrazzo floors are speckled yellow, white and black in a green epoxy base, from which rise the undulating wood walls, envelope the visitor, in a sylvan metaphor. The garage beyond is a space vaulted by a curved silver plane, which is supported by bowstring trusses, and which floats at its edge on continuous, frameless glass.

  • In the Utilitarian, there can be grace, and the project for Emery Yard gives not only a meaning to the surrounding area of the city, but also a texture to the purposes of a municipal maintenance building. The treatment reaches into urban reality and changes the mind-set about what “should” be. In both cases the attention to scale, materials and certain element of surprise create a dialogue which is both engaging and reassuring.

    Adrienne Clarkson former Governor General of Canada