Golden age of architecture builds bridges between people

By Jacquelin Bhandari


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For the second of this two-part series, Business Elite Canada sat down with HOK’s Design Principal, Gordon Stratford, to get his perspective on the special attention that the interdisciplinary firm pays to higher education institutions in Canada.

“I think it’s a golden age for design,” says Stratford. “People more and more are realizing how important the built environment is to help them realize the dreams and goals they have.”

All the tools necessary for great design are available at HOK — architecture, interior design, landscape architecture and urban planning are all managed under one roof. In addition to taking on challenges and leading architectural innovation, HOK is often called on to take on the high expectations of a post-secondary institution.

HOK’s process of design discourse and consulting with thought leaders often means that the global firm works very closely with universities on many projects. In designing buildings for educational institutions, the pressure is on for HOK to set the pace for a new generation of thought leaders and experts. The Edmonton Clinic Health Academy in Alberta and Memorial University in Newfoundland are great examples from HOK’s portfolio, where physical space transcends boundaries to drive innovation. They demonstrate that collaboration across disciplines is not only important in memorable architecture, but is a necessary vehicle for progress.

Edmonton Clinic Health Academy Edmonton, Alberta

The Edmonton Clinic Health Academy (ECHA) was anticipated to be an engine for health innovation with the capacity to transform the way people think about health care — from training, to research, to professional practice. Overall, HOK, in association with Stantec Architecture, led the design of a new kind of environment for researching, teaching and delivering health care.

The six-storey facility is the result of a partnership between Alberta Health Services, the University of Alberta and the Government of Alberta. The Health Sciences Council incorporated 12 different medical faculties at the University of Alberta including medicine, dentistry and nursing.

“We all encounter these fields at some point in our life,” says Stratford. “But to put them all under one roof, from an educational point of view, from a research point of view, is quite a big move.”

The University of Alberta wanted nothing less than to “change the world of health and wellness” through this project. To help achieve this, the University of Alberta assembled a Health Sciences Council that assisted HOK in taking steps to make some progressive moves towards this objective.

“When we had the good fortune of becoming part of the project,” said Stratford, “we could pick up on some of the strategic goals and start to turn that into physical space.”

The interactive learning environment extends the length of two football fields. There are two lecture theatres and several smaller seminar rooms in addition to a dynamic variety of spaces. Laboratory spaces include rehab robotics, nursing simulation lab, nutrition lab and dental simulation lab. A variety of active and quiet zones are available for students on each floor, and light wells and generous glazing in classrooms ensure that even below-grade levels are flooded with light.

In this project especially, sustainability remained at the forefront of HOK’s design principles. This was a shared vision between HOK and the ECHA for the facility, which is positioned for LEED silver status.

“From a sustainability point of view, we see these as communities,” said Stratford. “We’re not just designing a building, we’re designing a community for a large group of people to go about their lives and do really great things.”

Sustainability, as far as Stratford is concerned, is not just about achieving awards and status. It’s also about making sure the building endures over a longer period of time.

“It takes a lot of effort to create them, to put the key in the door and operate them from day to day,” says Stratford. “When you do it right, when you do it well, there is a ripple effect on the people, the environment and the economy.”

The $475-million project was completed in the fall of 2011. In the fall of 2012, ECHA was connected to the Edmonton Clinic Outpatient Clinic, which houses ambulatory care clinics operated by Alberta Health Services. The project has been honoured by BOMA Edmonton for Building Excellence and also won a TOBY award for being “the outstanding building of the year.”

The result is a new venue for students to rethink wellness, inspiring a new generation of medical experts and health professionals.

Core Sciences Facility Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland

In combination with Hearn Fougere Architects, HOK’s design team, equipped with global understanding of where trends are going, designed a building that will provide a venue for interdisciplinary learning and research. This project includes a multidisciplinary approach of HOK’s resources in architectural design, interior design, landscape architecture, lab planning/design and education planning.

Like ECHA, the Core Sciences facility, slated for completion in 2019, will encourage interdisciplinary relationships across departments in applied sciences and engineering.
Stratford is confident that HOK’s thought leaders “…will bring a global perspective to a local initiative” throughout the design and building process.

Elements inside and outside of Memorial University’s new Core Sciences facility take design cues from natural elements and local building traditions in Newfoundland. The building will feature an atrium in which the skeleton of a blue whale appears to rise between two metaphorical ice floes.

Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) is already Atlantic Canada’s largest university and is known for accessible and affordable education. By 2020, MUN is looking to double its current enrollment of 18,000. After issuing the tender, they looked to HOK to design world-class facilities to accommodate this growth. This goal will also see an addition of 50 new positions to their Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

Students pursuing programs in Applied Science and Engineering can take advantage of all the Core Sciences Facility has to offer. The Electrical and Computer Studio will include electrical benches with utilities and pod workstations for group work. It will also house renewable energy teaching and research labs that will be placed on the roof, overlooking solar panels and wind turbines. The building will also house a student projects lab and optics research lab. The teaching lab and research labs are co-located so undergraduates can assist with graduate research and participate in more hands-on learning opportunities.

The groundbreaking for the $1.4-million project began in the summer of 2015. Once completed, the 450,000-square-foot building will present itself as a gateway into the campus. It will be a facility where science and engineering are poised to be a progressive first impression for Memorial University.

Good design requires study of people according to Stratford. “We spend a lot of time observing people,” he says. “If we’re not designing for people, we’re just designing for ourselves, and that’s just not what we do.”

In designing these two buildings, HOK’s teams take into consideration what it means to be a 19-year-old student versus a 30-year-old researcher versus somebody who might be an advanced professor.

“Each of them works differently and each of them needs different things in order to be successful,” says Stratford.

Crossing fields of study in academic pursuit is not new. But as technologies evolve and we begin to understand how the world work, we are seeing the necessity for collaborative study between fields and professions.

“These two buildings are on opposite edges of our country, but they have commonalities in terms of theme,” says Stratford. “They are capturing the moment and taking progressive steps for amazing discoveries to happen.”