A 19th-century textile factory in St. Catherines, Ont. that was converted into a multi-purpose university facility has received a prestigious award from the National Trust for Canada. The Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts at Brock University was awarded an Ecclesiastical Insurance Cornerstone Award for Building Heritage.
The former Canada Hair Cloth Company facility was completed in the 1880s. The five-storey brick and timber-frame building and two large sheds dating from the 1920s have been preserved and fully upgraded to provide space for students of music, dramatic and visual arts.
The centre houses state-of-the-art studios, digital labs, performance halls, recital areas, lecture halls and design and workshop spaces. It features original wood flooring, metal columns, stone and masonry walls, all of which contribute to the palette for contemporary finishes as well as a newly built structure that is home to a 250-seat flexible studio theatre, art gallery and lounge. The facility complements the adjacent First Ontario Performing Arts Centre, which was also designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects. Together, they create a new cultural hub for the Niagara region.
“We sought to create a 21st-century learning environment for the arts that retains a strong connection with the past and that also integrates with the renewal of downtown St. Catharines,” said Joseph Troppmann, an associate at Diamond Schmitt Architects.
A millrace that used to direct water from the Welland Canal into the building to power the looms was uncovered and reinterpreted as a pedestrian pathway.
The Cornerstone Award recipients were chosen by an independent jury based on nominations from across Canada. The program celebrates projects that have “successfully and creatively renewed and adapted historic places in ways that enhance community, local identity and sense of place,” said Natalie Bull, executive director of the National Trust for Canada, in a press release.
The 95,000 square-foot building is designed to Facility Accessibility Design Standards, which exceed Ontario Building Code requirements. Accessible features include wide halls and automatic doors, low signage, fire alarms and water fountains, ramps, double railings, talking elevators and large bathroom stalls.
In addition to the arts space is a learning commons, computer commons, seminar rooms and a 75-seat smart lecture/praxis space for innovative teaching for the Centre for Studies in Arts and Culture program.