Award of Merit: Bird Studies Canada Headquarters and National Research Centre

Port Rowan, Ontario

Montgomery Sisam Associates Inc. Architects

This project incorporates new office, research and educational facilities for Bird Studies Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to the study and conservation of wild birds and their habitats throughout the country. The site is a former farm that overlooks the inner bay of Long Point peninsula on Lake Erie, a habitat for millions of waterfowl and migrant land birds that has been designated a World Biosphere Reserve. The new buildings surround the farm–which dates back to 1797–to form a contained court, forming a multi-use arrival and service space and providing a large gathering space for summer events.

The orientation of the various building elements takes advantage of passive solar heating and wind conditions at the site. A butterfly roof collects rain water and controls runoff, which is directed into an adjacent pond. The glazed pavilion located at the corner of the court frames a view to Long Point and acts as both the entry to the new buildings and a gateway to the larger property. The low cubic volume of the west wing houses a lecture hall, meeting room, kitchen and washrooms. The lecture hall can be opened onto the observation deck to a view of an adjacent marshland, which is an important element of the organization’s work. A stair tower in the south wing, which houses the Bird Studies Canada offices and research facilities and provides workers with operable windows and direct views to Long Point, acts as a glowing beacon at night and provides a separate entrance for field staff.

Materials include vertically oriented dark cedar cladding, clear anodized aluminum for windows, and stained horizontal pine siding on the stair tower. Sandblasted and lacquered structural steel columns and beams support a second floor and a Douglas fir timber roof deck. The floor on the ground level is coloured polished concrete, and a service room bar and stair cores are finished in bright colours.

Caruso: I was impressed by the modesty of this project, which seems entirely in keeping with its site and its purpose. The idea of making the defining feeling of the place out of a grouping of buildings rather than with the image of a single building is a powerful idea, having a long tradition in simple agricultural and industrial settlements. I like the simple plans and bald shapes of the new buildings and the simple surface of the court. I was disappointed, however, as I looked closer at the project. Not enough is made of the engagement with the existing buildings, indeed they are shown as blank silhouettes in the view of the courtyard. I think that an opportunity was missed by not making formal and tectonic connections between the new buildings and the existing ones. This would have been another substantial way to insinuate the new structures into this place.

Kapusta: We were impressed by the modesty of this bird studies headquarters building. Its strongest points are how the site plan creates a well-proportioned, farm-like cluster of built form around an informal entry plaza, and opens itself on the other side to a marsh and long view out to the UNESCO heritage site of the Long Point marsh beyond.

Saia: Three elements come together to give form to this project: the presence of migratory and aquatic birds, the exceptional landscape of Long Point on Lake Erie, and the local farms. It comprises first of all the observation deck–at once entry and circulation, reception and look-out, and the enclosed core between the newly constructed wings–the caretaker’s house and the storage. All this is brought together in the simplicity and skilfulness of the plan. The presentation reveals and reinforces these characteristics with great moderation and clarity.

Client: Bird Studies Canada/tudes d’Oiseaux Canada

Architect team: Terry Montgomery, Christian Klemt (principals), David Agro, Chris Burbidge, Amin Ebrahim, Julie Finkle, Roberto da Silva-Ribeiro

Contract documents: Eric Connelly Architect (Eric Connelly, Doug Matthews)

Structural: Blackwell Engineering Limited

Mechanical: Tou & Associates Limited

Electrical: McDonnell Engineering Incoporated

Site services: MC Engineering

Budget: $1.5 million

Completion: April 2002