Kick It Up a Notch!

Project Culinary Arts Demonstration Kitchen Lab and Lecture Theatre at Humber College, Toronto, Ontario

Architect Gow Hastings Architects

Text Ian Chodikoff

The business of cooking schools is highly competitive. To attract the best students, sometimes design really does matter as in the case of the new Culinary Arts Demonstration Kitchen Lab and Lecture Theatre at Humber College. Through a bit of ingenuity, common sense and new ceiling technology integrating kitchen exhaust, lighting and diffusers, Gow Hastings Architects have created a dynamic learning environment for aspiring chefs. But Humber College’s Culinary Arts Program is not alone in offering such an education and the competition amongst other schools in the Toronto area is intense. Therefore, the architects’ main challenge was to renovate an existing space into one that could satisfy the requirements of the roughly 250 students enrolled in the program.

After graduating from the University of British Columbia in 1994, both Philip Hastings and Valerie Gow worked in Vancouver and then London before returning to Canada in 2000. Hastings formed Philip Hastings Architect in 2002 and Valerie joined Philip in early 2003 to form Gow Hastings Architects. One of their immediate strategies was to pursue smaller projects with large institutional clients that would not likely be sought by more established architecture firms. Through this approach, Gow Hastings Architects were able to secure clients such as George Brown College and Humber College. These initial projects involved minimal interventions such as repairing a series of leaky, outdated windows or designing a template for a women’s washroom. While such projects may be small, the clients are nonetheless large, and gaining their trust is important. The development of a good working relationship with an institutional client like Humber College has enabled Gow Hastings Architects to engage in projects with increasingly large budgets and complex programmatic requirements.

Since 2003, Gow Hastings has ostensibly become the “village architect” for the Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning with over 30 projects to their credit. The list ranges from barrier-free retrofits to more significant undertakings such as the Federation Amphitheatre or the Canadian Plastics Training Centre. Located on a remote site in northwest Toronto, the campus was originally laid out in the 1960s. Today, it is home to over 10,000 full-time students. As the campus continues to expand, its facilities have become outdated and with the many layers of renovations and expansions throughout the campus, the task of producing coherent design solutions becomes much more difficult.

Demonstration kitchen labs are traditionally noisy environments. Teaching staff bark instructions through microphones as students collide with each other in tight quarters with bulky cooking vents suspended to 6-6* above the floor, obscuring sightlines. Additionally, the necessity of wearing the traditional chef hats further reduces visibility. When all this is combined with open flames, extraneous noise and hot liquids, accidents can happen. Reducing the risk of danger in a teaching kitchen while making the overall learning environment more pleasant and productive were the architects’ primary objectives.

Renovating an existing classroom into an advanced Demonstration Kitchen Lab and Lecture Theatre required a flexible space that could function either as two individual classrooms or as one large demonstration lecture theatre. The two classrooms can be easily separated by a hand-operated acoustically sealed folding partition equipped with dust-free whiteboards on the kitchen side and traditional blackboards on the lecture theatre side. Its 52-seat classroom is constructed of molded birch plywood to match the sound-absorbing birch-panelled walls and stainless steel reveals. The floor is raked, allowing maximum visibility of the demonstration counter while the shape of the curved ceiling increases acoustic effectiveness. Automated audio and video projection equipment enhances the usability of the space. When a larger demonstration is needed, the folding partitions disappear behind a birch-panelled pocket door.

But the true finesse in the facility’s design is experienced in the kitchen itself, consisting of six stainless steel workstations and a chef’s demonstration counter. Hot and potentially dangerous cooking equipment– ranges, ovens and giant kettles– are contained in the central island. Throughout the kitchen, the stainless steel fabrication is designed to be cleaned easily as well as to maximize efficiency.

Both the lab and lecture theatre utilize a relatively new stainless steel ventilation and lighting ceiling system manufactured by Vent Master, a company based in England. The first of its kind installed in North America, this ceiling exhaust system provides a uniform ceiling height throughout the entire kitchen resulting in clear sightlines and improved student satisfaction. With unimpeded sightlines to the back of the kitchen, flat-screen televisions can be viewed from anywhere in the room. The technology surrounding ventilated ceilings were developed approximately a decade ago in Europe and are applied where concealed ventilation hoods were required. Using a stainless steel modular cassette-type system, the kitchen ventilating system is capable of accommodating grease-extracting units, diffusers, light fixtures, perforated units or dummy panels, but had to be approved by the ULC (Underwriters Laboratories of Canada). Vent Master obviously had an interest in seeing their technology realized in Canada, and as a result, they sent a representative to Toronto in order to work with local building code officials to get the necessary approvals. The proprietary modular cassette and gridded ceiling system is customized for each project and is engineered for light- and medium-duty commercial cooking applications. Each cassette can be removed for cleaning and maintenance. The one-foot-deep exhaust plenums extend across the entire kitchen space, and both the exhaust and supply air ducts exist above the flush-mounted ceiling cassettes. Only the fire suppression nozzles descend to where the vent hoods would normally exist, and have yet to find themselves discreetly located flush with the ceiling and out of view. Applying an integrated design approach in this new kitchen and teaching facility has allowed Humber College to continue offering a competitive culinary arts program while providing a new standard in the design of demonstration kitchens.

Client Humber College (Carol Anderson, Director, Facilities Management and Don Mcculloch, Manager, School of Hospitality, Recreation & Tourism)

Architect Team Philip Hastings, Valerie Gow

Ventilated Ceiling Vent Master (Joe Profenna)

Structural Robert E. Brown and Associates Ltd. Consulting Engineers

Mechanical Enso Systems Inc. (Jacqueline Reuping)

Electrical Decaria Engineering Ltd. (Allan Demmings, Project Engineer)

General Contractor Compass Construction

Area 820 M2

Budget $1.2m

Completion 2004

Photography Tom Arban