The University of Waterloo, School of Architecture at Riverside is a conversion of a 100 year old silk mill located in Cambridge. The existing building is 85,000 s.f. over 3 storeys and is a steel and wood structure with mill deck flooring. The building was funded by donations from all levels of government and the local business community. A unique aspect of the project was the modest budget coupled with an extremely aggressive timeframe: $100/s.f. and 1 year to design and build, ready for occupancy. We developed a fast-track schedule to allow for the design and building activities to happen simultaneously and delivered the project on time and on budget in September 2004. The municipality is working at revitalizing the downtown core of Cambridge and the design of the school was developed to allow for the integration of the community and the school, opening up the institution to its neighbourhood. We developed a “street”on the ground floor which connects the municipal river walk, through the school and over to the main square.
The design is based on a process we call “excavation and intervention”. This strategy aims to transform old buildings by carefully integrating distinct architectonic elements while preserving and celebrating the existing building’s unique character. A new three storey atrium was carved out of the middle of the plan, linking street to river and serving as a global orientation device for all entering the school. Two monolithic steel stairs hang in the atrium space and form the main social and circulation hub where students and faculty meet. The adjacent ground floor Lecture Hall was excavated from solid bedrock; the Library, teaching spaces and offices occupy the second floor; while the studios and “loft” occupy the top storey and share spectacular views of downtown Cambridge and the Grand River.