Canadian Architect


Architecture in Progress: a Catalyst for Experience

Student Award of Excellence

December 1, 2007
by Canadian Architect



In an age where mediated experiences filter out meaningful moments, this project attempts to readdress meaning by concentrating on the dialogical relationship between people and things. By exploring an incomplete architecture that is dependent upon the active participation of the subject to complete its construction, the objective is to render architecture as background, and instead, advocate for a platform in which human activity becomes the focal point. By proposing a field of open-ended opportunities rather than one of finite engagements, architecture can become a catalyst for a renewed consciousness and for generating meaningful experiences.

A College of Naturopathic Medicine was chosen as the vehicle to test this initiative because of three main factors. First, the discipline sees the body as comprised of an entity of parts, all interrelated and interconnected. Thus, healing begins with a search for the root source of the problem rather than simply treating the symptoms (substance vs. surface). Second, the program requires a mixed-use facility, fusing and uniting binary oppositions such as education and practice, residential and commercial. And lastly, at the heart of naturopathic medicine is nature, and its role in the understanding and curing of the body.

The site occupies a block bordered by 4th and 5th Streets and 12th and 13th Avenues SW within the urban core, in a community termed the Beltline. Its location within the urban fold provides a unique opportunity to explore the shift between binaries such as public and private, commercial and residential, and its subsequent influence internally within the program, between practice and education. The thesis project is sited adjacent to Central Memorial Park and Library, and allows for the focus of nature (derived from the program) to set up a relationship between the building and Calgary’s first “park” and “library.”

The design focuses on the understanding of experience on three concurrent scales: the individual, the architecture, and the city. First, a tactile and tangible quality embedded through materiality; second, a rigour through plan that focuses on a permeability and intensification of space through both movement and occupation; and lastly, how architecture can erode boundaries and consider not only the specificity of the site but also the generation and reconnection of experiences beyond its extents.

The parti models represent an abstract construction of this main focus. They represent the tangible essence of the project through its exploration of materiality. The models themselves are comprised of an entity of parts, hinging together through a central hub in order to create a unified whole. As one investigates even further, pushing and pulling the assemblage of parts, the inherent thresholds between individual parts are tested, both internally and externally.

Following the parti models, the concept model begins to formulate an architectural language, addressing concerns for movement, quality of space, and site. More importantly, however, is the articulation of the varying thresholds tested and tried in the parti models, but in a more concrete fashion. These modelling studies provided a theoretical and material platform for the evolution of the final design of this College of Naturopathic Medicine.

By turning the building into a landscape, the landscape elements (courtyards) become an object embedded within the architecture. The architecture itself becomes a topographical field in which human experience can take centre stage.

Daoust: The project defines an architectural system offering multiple spatial experiences. The building street faades and the carving out of internal spaces offer different scales and volumetric definition. But does the complexity of the inner networks and spaces formalize an adequate environment for teaching alternative and soft medicine?

Kearns: While this project appears to be strongly influenced by the project for the Berlin Free University (1966-70) by Candilis Josic Woods Schiedhelm, the integrity of thinking is high and the adaptation of this type of “system architecture” as a landscaped topographical field proves to be quite successful.

Ostry: This project gets a little lost in theory after stating its hypothesis that architecture can become a means for catalyzing and enhancing meaningful human experiences. Although the goal and objective of most architects, this project raises the question of the relationship between design intent and success in meeting that intent. How do you measure the value of experiences that are influenced by the built environment? How do you measure those values in design?

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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