James Stewart Centre for Mathematics, McMaster University

Hamilton, Ontario
Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects

The new James Stewart Centre for Mathematics involved the adaptive restoration of Hamilton Hall, one of the oldest buildings on the McMaster University campus (circa 1929). The primary design challenge was the creation of a new architecture within an existing historic framework. It was designed through an intensely collaborative effort with the mathematicians to develop an interior concept that would offer a balance of collective and individual space.

Situated at the northwest corner of the campus quadrangle, the stone faade of Hamilton Hall is Collegiate Gothic in style. The renovation of the historic faade involved the creation of a new insulated envelope to preserve the stone cladding and the character of the original windows, and to update the building’s energy efficiency. An abstract contemporary interior was created by inserting a new architectural language into the framework of the existing concrete structure.

To connect the four floors of the building and the various functions within the department, a vertical and horizontal zone of floor openings and skylights was created. This linear, east-west zone–an ‘architectural void’ at the heart of the building–visually and spatially connects the spaces of mathematical teaching and discussion, and reflects the spirit and identity of the department. The blue glass walls connect the different program areas, and define shafts of natural light that filter down through the building.

Located along the building’s perimeter are private faculty offices and graduate study areas. The offices are generously sized and acoustically isolated, and each features an original stone-framed Gothic window. Glass clerestory windows on office fronts and between offices provide glimpses of the large Gothic windows from all areas of the building, and draw natural light into hallways from the perimeter openings.

Chalkboards are woven through the office and public spaces, and are intensively used by students and faculty for recording mathematical notations. Public corridors are oversized and furnished with tables, benches and chalkboards to encourage group study, collaborative thinking, and discourse. On the ground floor, the Math Caf featuring a long bar and a series of hinged chalkboard panels can be easily transformed into teaching or lecture space and is designed to accommodate a crowd for special events.

The project balances the users’ need for quiet, private offices that are conducive to solitary contemplation, and active public spaces for formal and casual social interaction.

Andresen: In re-housing the Mathematics Department the design strategy for this muscular adaptive re-use project has been to contrast the older fabric with the new. In places the starkly contrasting architectures meet on the interior; for example, where each office is organized around a stone framed gothic revival window.

Teeple: This “interior” project fundamentally alters the nature and organization of the existing structure, expressing an evolving pedagogic position with the Math Department. New relationships amongst students, and between teachers and students are created through the transformation of the existing structure.

Client: Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Faculty of Science, James Stewart Centre for Mathematics, McMaster University

Architect Team: Bruce Kuwabara, Shirley Blumberg, Luigi LaRocca, Kevin Bridgman, Bruno Weber, Garth

Zimmer, Simon Haus, Katya Marshall, Dianna Liu

Structural, Mechanical, Electrical: Stantec Consulting Ltd.

Building Envelope: Halsall Associates Ltd.

Environmental: Pinchin Environmental

Area: 49,000 sq. ft.

Budget: $8.5 million

Completion: September 2003