Canadian Architect

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Ivey League Ideals

Hariri Pontarini Architects builds on its reputation for creating sophisticated business-oriented spaces.

July 1, 2014
by Adele Weder

The main entry is topped by a cantilevered glass box containing meeting rooms, and is framed by a sunken auditorium to the left and a formal dining room to the right. Nikolas Koenig

The main entry is topped by a cantilevered glass box containing meeting rooms, and is framed by a sunken auditorium to the left and a formal dining room to the right. Nikolas Koenig

PROJECT Richard Ivey Building, Ivey Business School, Western University, London, Ontario
ARCHITECT Hariri Pontarini Architects
TEXT Adele Weder
PHOTOS Nikolas Koenig unless otherwise noted

The erstwhile concept of a business school is a fusty, dark-panelled gentlemen’s club tinged with cigar fumes. In recent years, architects have been reinventing the image. On the West Coast, Acton Ostry Associates overhauled the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia (see CA, November 2010); in Toronto, KPMB Architects took on the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business (see CA, November 2012) and Hariri Pontarini Architects (HPA) revamped York University’s Schulich School of Business (see CA, March 2005). And at Western University in London, Ontario, Hariri Pontarini has now designed another benchmark with the Richard Ivey School of Business. Each project infuses a stark steel-and-glass corporate palette with distinctively warm notes and a sense of architectural humanism.

This approach manifests throughout the work of KPMB, the professional alma mater of HPA principals Siamak Hariri and David Pontarini. Hariri and Pontarini extended the style further when they struck out on their own with fellow KPMB associate Michael Taylor. Though Taylor has since departed, the firm continues to expand its portfolio with formally distinguished work, from the Niagara Falls-evocative Ontario pavilion at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games to the ambitious Bahá’i Temple of South America in Santiago, Chile.

The Ivey School of Business’s more direct antecedents are HPA’s related projects in Toronto: the Schulich School of Business and the downtown headquarters for McKinsey & Company (see CA, February 2001). These are buildings for a subject field that is famously unsentimental, but they are laid out with keen attention to humane features, including generous daylighting and visual richness. McKinsey’s offices require extreme discretion–its staffers draft white papers for high-level government and corporate clients. But instead of officiously bland Pentagon-style interiors, HPA made emphatic use of brick, stone and wood, imbuing the courtyard building with an almost domestic ambiance. And although the users’ influential texts and reports are created with the highest levels of security and privacy, the architecture suggests light and transparency.

A view of the main lobby, which opens up to the courtyard in fair-weather months. Nikolas Koenig

A view of the main lobby, which opens up to the courtyard in fair-weather months. Nikolas Koenig

So it is with HPA’s transformation of Ivey, but it has been a daunting feat to match the school’s architecture to its reputation. Established in 1922 and renowned internationally, Ivey is Western’s flagship school. The new three-storey, 274,000-square-foot project is sited on an expansive green lot in the centre of campus. The former business school building was rather dark, and its auxiliary buildings were scattered around campus–a significant drawback in a field for which compelling visual branding and pragmatic efficiencies are especially important.

The end users of business schools are, ipso facto, business-minded individuals: entrepreneurial students and staff who, by and large, have selected a profession that promises high remuneration with a correspondingly high-calibre environment. Students pay tuitions north of $25,000 a year at this public university; faculty are lured away from private-sector positions. This is the kind of building where not only productivity and material comfort–but also the semiotics of success–comprise an unspoken heart of the design brief.

Inspired by the academic cloisters at Oxford, Cambridge and Massey Colleges, the business school surrounds a landscaped courtyard. Study rooms, lounges and overwide hallways encircle the courtyard, producing pleasant spaces for students to meet and engage in informal conversations.

Inspired by the academic cloisters at Oxford, Cambridge and Massey Colleges, the business school surrounds a landscaped courtyard. Study rooms, lounges and overwide hallways encircle the courtyard, producing pleasant spaces for students to meet and engage in informal conversations.

Ivey’s design scheme is a contemporary take on the Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge) academic cloister: three storeys of glass, wood, steel and stone wrapped around a landscaped courtyard. The exterior façade is defined by a push-and-pull of volumes and voids. The jogged walls of the interior courtyard  façade suggest a quieter expression of this same gesture. On the ground floor, the rhythm continues through alternating opaque and transparent bands, with concrete bays anchoring strips of wood window glazing. The variegated articulation breaks up the severity of the wall face and also generates strategic moments of privacy. The overall massing–an emphatic Cubist sculpture–suggests motion, dynamism and multifaceted viewpoints. As with McKinsey, a voyeur strolling around the perimeter enjoys the illusion of transparency–it seems as though you can see right through the building–but in reality, the reflective and tinted properties of the glazing lend visual discretion to the activities inside.

Ivey’s mode of teaching is based around seminars discussing case studies, rather than conventional lectures. Case-based education relies heavily on active conversations, both formal and spontaneous. The design ramifications are significant. Classrooms are sized for small groups, with horseshoe-shaped tiered seating that surrounds the instructor or case leader. The sense of a theatre-in-the-round is further emphasized by the ceiling’s curving bulkhead that follows the line of the seating below. The refined wood-accented finishes provide a suitable ambiance for a conversation-based approach to learning, which is at the heart of the case-study method.

The high-end material palette includes fine-grained concrete walls topped by walnut balustrades. Nikolas Koenig

The high-end material palette includes fine-grained concrete walls topped by walnut balustrades. Nikolas Koenig

In the same vein, the students and faculty walk on floors of Algonquin limestone, past bulkheads and columns of smooth-as-silk concrete. They grasp dark wood handrails and ledges; they gaze over and up at soaring curtain-wall glazing with walnut mullions (signifier of the promised trappings of wealth) and glulam beams (signifier of campus coffee-shop hipsterdom). They glimpse courtyard foliage and limestone cladding through expansive windows. These gestures help break down the conscious role of “student” and reposition each inhabitant more generously as “high-end thinker.” Outside of the classrooms, the over-wide hallways and piazza-like main foyer effectively serve as spontaneous breakout areas for informal exchanges; the light-filled beautifully articulated surroundings actively encourage this kind of post-class interchange.

Inside, the defining gesture is a double-level wood-and-concrete balustrade that frames the cavernously wide foyer and then bends like a ribbon to connect the entire construct to the stairway and sections beyond. The dominant finishes are walnut and ultra-fine concrete–materials whose refined surfaces bespeak the culture of the school while injecting a sense of warmth and flair. Walnut is featured throughout the project, snaking across the library and up the stairs all the way to the support-staff and faculty quarters. The only questionable decision is the extension of the walnut all the way into the floor of the library’s spiral staircase: this is a soft wood that dents easily; even after just a few months of active use, it was already beginning to look roughed up. Sometimes, a material leitmotif can be taken a bit too far.

Faculty offices are faced with translucent walls that offer shadowy glimpses of activity inside. James Brittain

Faculty offices are faced with translucent walls that offer shadowy glimpses of activity inside. James Brittain

Embedded rather discreetly on the second floor is the faculty wing, consisting of double-loaded office corridors. Ingeniously, translucent walls let students and other prospective visitors know when the resident professor is in his or her office; but the professors, if they so choose, can shift away from the shadowy zone of visibility. It’s a deft configuration for allowing optional solitude. Less convincing is the relegation of support staff to the central corridor’s dark and windowless confines. There are reportedly no staff complaints yet, according to Hariri, but it’s hard to see that long-term work in dim conditions can be healthy for work or spirit. It’s also hard to imagine that job-conscious support staffers would risk managerial hostility by complaining about the lack of daylight.

The students, at any rate, seem to enjoy architecturally optimum conditions. Their classrooms are designed as tightly as the cabins of a ship, but with the bonus of generous daylighting. Their bre
akout areas are open spaces in the building’s large and opulently finished corridors. For an added jolt of fresh air and greenery, the tree-studded courtyard is just steps away. The building was designed and constructed to LEED Gold standards. It is set back considerably in its large and flat expanse of green lawn, a siting that initially seems counter-ecological, but the positioning reflects the university’s future intentions to expand in situ.

A ground-floor breakout space provides a sunlit spot for group study.

A ground-floor breakout space provides a sunlit spot for group study.

While they wait for the possibility of that commission, Hariri Pontarini is garnering more academic projects. Their University of Toronto Faculty of Law transformation is now under construction, its sweeping curvilinear geometries set to further embody the firm’s contemporary humanistic ethos.

Meanwhile, faculty and students have much to enjoy. Former Ivey School dean Carol Stephenson, who spearheaded the project, wanted the new building to reflect the “quiet confidence” of the School’s personality. It does, she asserts: “When I walk into this building, I feel that there’s a soul here.” CA

Adele Weder is an architectural curator and critic based in British Columbia.

Client Western University | Architect Team Siamak Hariri, Michael Boxer, Doron Meinhard, Siva Thirumvampalam, Jeff Strauss, Howard Wong, Patrick Cox, John Cook, Michael Attard, Dominique Cheng, Michael Conway, Gustavo Corredor, Jimmy Farrington, Joanne Heinen, Andrew Jones, Caroline Kim, Sam Laffin, Rico Law, Norberto Rodriguez, George Simionopoulos, Marco Travaglini, Eric Tse, Rolando Valentin | Structural Halcrow Yolles Partnership Inc | Mechanical/Electrical Smith + Andersen | Landscape Janet Rosenberg & Studio | Interiors Hariri Pontarini Architects | Contractor EllisDon | Costing A.W. Hooker Associates | Acoustical AECOM | Code David Hine Engineering | Site Servicing Development Engineering | Sustainability Enermodal Engineering | Elevator KJA Consultants Inc. | Water Feature Dan Euser Waterarchitecture Inc (DEW) | AV Engineering Harmonics | Area 24,455 m2  | Budget $100 M | Completion September 2013




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