It was a near impossible task. Take a building with an outwardly fortified appearance and transform it into a welcoming space that inspires learning.
It was the challenge assigned by the University of Windsor to CS&P Architects’ Craig Goodman and his team: overhaul Windsor’s downtown Armouries into the new School of Creative Arts.
“The original building is a classic heavy, late-19th-century Romanesque structure which evokes a really solid presence in the city,” Goodman said, a principal architect with CS&P. “Now walking by on the sidewalk, you’ll be able to look inside and see big, lofty studio spaces teeming with activity and it’ll be really inviting.”
Anchored in the city’s core, the Armouries’ original purpose was to train the area’s men and women heading off to war.
Soon, that fortified building will transform into a captivating space that inspires today’s students and prepares them to head off into a variety of creative careers.
“The Armouries has now been re-developed for a new role in service of our country, that of providing a space where creativity for our country's future can be fostered,” said UWindsor president Alan Wildeman. “It’s a fabulous place that we think is going to be one of the most exciting academic creative spaces in Canada.”
Over the last four years, workers have rebuilt the 46,000-square-foot edifice into a 66,000-square-foot hub for creativity.
That creativity will flow out of the building and connect to the newly constructed 20,000 square-foot companion building on the adjacent site of the former Tunnel Bar-B-Q.
Every square inch of the Armouries has been carefully considered to pay homage to the building’s historic past as it ushers in the future.
The interior of the Windsor Armouries is pictured in this June 2017 photo.
The bricks that line the interior of the building have had layers of paint scraped away while nearly every brick in the structure has had to be repointed. Twelve thousands bricks from the 1935 south addition were dismantled, cleaned and re-installed to clad the new addition that wraps around the new lecture and recital hall.
New windows were custom built to match the original look of the building, and the grand oak doors at both entrances have been restored and repurposed. Goodman said the doors are too large and heavy for everyday use, and so they are installed to be permanantely open within the building while the entrance openings are enclosed with glass vestibules.
A steel spiral staircase that once connected to the second floor no longer meets building code and will be suspended from the ceiling as a piece of art.
“Most of the shell work is done and really where they are heavily engaged right now is pulling all the wiring and finishing all the mechanical and audio video systems,” Goodman said.
The School of Creative Arts (SoCA) amalgamates programs of the school of music, the school of visual arts, Visual Arts in the Built Environment (VABE), and film production.
Both buildings are slated to open this fall, and Dr. Wildeman said the SoCA is another step in the university’s effort to enhance students’ learning experience.
“Social work and the arts are both educational experiences that benefit from connecting with those communities, and a lot of the stakeholders are located right downtown,” Wildeman said.
The new School of Creative Arts is pictured in this June 2017 aerial photo.
The new school will position students to work alongside the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, have immediate access to the Art Gallery of Windsor, Capitol Theatre, the Windsor International Film Festival along with other partners in the arts community.
“A vibrant arts community helps define the country, and Canada’s 150th has helped to remind everyone that art is a real and important part of our community,” Wildeman said. “The arts are foundational to the well-being of the community, and it is exciting to expand the University’s footprint in the downtown to make the arts at the frontline of that expansion.”
About 500 students, faculty and staff will move to the new Armouries and Tunnel Bar-B-Q location. The new building on the Tunnel Bar-B-Q site will boast film production studios, editing suites, a sonic art studio and making studio for sculpture, metal and woodworking.
The Armouries will house 12 practice rooms for musicians, a performance and practice hall, a library, classrooms, offices, a keyboard and computer lab, photography and painting studios, and the V studio.
“We are all excited about seeing this come to fruition,” Goodman said. "We feel personally connected to most of the faculty with over four years of working on this project, and we are really excited to see them join the students in bringing a new creative energy to this place and downtown Windsor."