A Playful Expression of Function, Context and History in The Glebe

Mutchmor Public School, at 185 Fifth Avenue in the Glebe, was built in 1895 as a four-room school in the Romanesque Revival style. With various expansions taking place over nine decades within a constrained urban site, the school was left with limited options for further expansion. The existing school had poorly located and undersized washrooms, limited barrier-free accessibility, inadequate staff/administration areas and a very compressed circulation system. This project responded to all of these issues, in addition to the fundamental need for eleven new classrooms. The scope of the project included a 25,000 sq. ft. addition and 9,200 sq. ft. renovation to the heritage designated school building.

While the addition connects directly with the existing school on both levels, this interface is downplayed and kept to a modest corridor width. Recessed 25m from the street and glazed on both sides, the connecting hall forms a negative space for the school’s new front entrance. This connection was possible thanks to a 1911 addition which incorporated mirrored stairwells, allowing the west side to be converted into a corridor connection. Important original features of the entrance architrave and second floor detailing are reworked into the interior walls of the connecting link.

“The project creates highly successful architecture and public realm spaces that sensitively deals with the Heritage of the building. The jury was very impressed.”

—2017 City of Ottawa Urban Design Awards

Approaching the front doors beneath a long, floating canopy, visitors witness the transition from old to new as they enter the building.

Opposite the front entrance is an outdoor teaching courtyard which again celebrates the historic facade in the context of the modern addition.

The addition derives its proportions and massing from the original school, in a contemporary counterpoint to the building’s Romanesque detailing most notably seen in the round-arched entrance, Palladian windows and rusticated stone base. The building massing of the addition is based on an angled ground floor that ensures a clear view of the iconic entry tower of the original heritage school facade.

The setback of the new facade provides space for the new entrance porch to project into this open area and thrust up to the city sidewalk. The porch becomes a stage, providing wide steps and a ramp for accessibility, for the daily ebb and flow of students and allows the students to gather safely at sidewalk level awaiting their buses. The widened walkway incorporates leaning rails, and is separated from the building face with a landscaped buffer and “maintenance edge,” all thanks to the setback which preserves the tower views.

The addition accommodates a state-of-the-art heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that was built in to a basement mechanical room, limiting rooftop mechanical encroachments. This allowed the final designs to respect the roofline and aesthetic of the original 1895 school. The new wing is designed on a LEED template and utilizes a tight building envelope, high ‘R’ value walls, low flush and flow fixtures, LED lighting, daylight and occupancy sensored lighting, high-performance mechanical systems and a ‘smart’ building automation system. 

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