Steel Study

A recently-held student design competition has paired architecture students with steel suppliers and fabricators to produce designs that explore the small-scale possibilities of steel in the form of a bus shelter. The 2001-2002 academic year saw the inauguration of what will become an annual design competition for architecture students in Canada sponsored by the Steel Structures Education Foundation (SSEF).

The competition was intended to provide students of architecture in Canada with a unique opportunity to enter into a design process that brought together, of necessity, concept and reality. Students were challenged to conceptualize and realize in detail a single span space of not more than seven metres to house a public bus shelter. The competition guidelines called for buildable details, primarily utilizing structural steel, to be developed through collaboration with the steel fabrication industry. This was an important component of the competition, as one objective was to expose students to both the opportunities and restraints inherent in realizing conceptual design within the context of the building industry. The emphasis, therefore, was on the architectural exploration, through form and material, of the essential relationship between architecture and structure. Choice of site was left to each design team, but students were encouraged to carefully consider the relationship between site and design solution.

The jury for the competition convened in early May of this year at the Toronto headquarters of the Ontario Association of Architects to consider the 20 entries from four universities. Sitting on the jury for this inaugural competition were: Michael Gilmor, President, Canadian Institute for Steel Construction (CISC); Marco Polo, Editor, Canadian Architect; Rob Third, Chairman, SSEF Board of Directors; and Loraine Fowlow, University of Calgary Architecture Program. From a varied field of entries, the jury chose two for recognition. Chris Lee and Rory Heath of Dalhousie University were awarded the First Prize of $3,000 for the student team, with $1,500 going to their faculty sponsor, Eugene Peiczonka. An Award of Merit and $2,000 was given to Aleksandra Mazowiec of the University of Waterloo; her faculty sponsor, Terri Meyer Boake, received a $1,000 prize.

The jury cited the winning entry for its subtle architectural application of steel and its commendable urban sensitivity to site. The site chosen was an existing bus shelter believed by the designers to need improvement. Its location along Barrington Street in downtown Halifax–one block from Dalhousie’s School of Architecture–has a heavy flow of pedestrian and vehicle traffic and is one of the windiest areas in Halifax. A low granite wall runs along the edge of the site, and the predominant site factors–edge, wind and location–informed a design strategy expressing their common essence: movement. This was achieved using a repeating primary structure, an extended beam and sliding door panels. Although designed specifically for its site, the system of modular components and connections allows the shelter to adapt to various sites and conditions.

As one of the requirements stated in the design guidelines for the competition was the potential for construction of the design solution, the SSEF is committed to finding a way to build the winning entry. Avenues for site acquisition and steel fabrication are being investigated, and competition organizers hope the completed bus shelter will be unveiled sometime next year.

Loraine D. Fowlow is an Assistant Professor in the University of Calgary’s Architecture Program and a member of the SSEF Board of Directors. SSEF is supported by the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction (CISC), CWB Group, and the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers.