Industrial Design

Sandra Ainsley Gallery, Distillery Historic District, Toronto
KiiA Architecture Inc. Architects Architectural Design Consultants

The designers used archaeology as a guiding metaphor for the presentation of the spaces that comprise the Sandra Ainsley Gallery for contemporary art. The gallery was the first tenant in the renewed Distillery District, the national historic site precinct of the Victorian industrial Gooderham and Worts buildings made up of the 1859 stone distillery and the brick malthouse, kilns, warehouses and shops dating from around 1900. These buildings have undergone a revitalization and renaissance for residential, retail and commercial uses. The archaeologically informed intent included the cleaning and reparation of materials with a view to revealing the original structure and the evolution of the building in question. The reclamation of architectural details in this building, formerly an open-air cooperage (a yard space where barrels were rolled into the adjacent maltings vaults) located on central Trinity Street includes the revelation of “flaws” in order to respect the artistry of past users and architects, and to imbue a certain drama to the space where the art is displayed.

Walls vary in construction and condition; some are exposed brick while others carry vestiges of paint or lathe and plaster. A new concrete topping was poured to level the floors and provide some visual uniformity to the space, some of which can be quite large with disproportionately smaller spaces. These spaces form several small niches and alcoves that the visitor discovers by walking through the exhibition space that presents itself as an itinerary of quasi-rooms created through the aversion of altering the existing floor plan. This exploitation of existing spaces through a simple and effective lighting strategy means that nooks for the installation and exhibition of various pieces provide opportunities for visitors to experience both open and intimate qualities of the gallery’s scale, along with the inherited textures and surfaces of the gallery’s interior.

A minimal addition of a series of Halo track lighting, placed two feet away from the existing walls, heighten the sense of drama with highly focused light, as does the blocking out of daylight from existing windows. The area around the glass showcases for jewellery located at the front of the gallery provides a spatial intensity that is heightened by the simple lighting strategy. In contrast, the remainder of the gallery space is expansive, allowing the industrial remnants in the ceiling and on the walls to give a sense of history.