One of the fastest-growing places in North America, Vaughan, 14 miles north of Toronto, has morphed from a rural township of 16,000 people in 1960 to a sprawling suburb of 288,000 today. Now it is taking the next step'applying a layer of urban amenities onto an uninspired landscape of highways, shopping malls, and tract houses. A subway line to Toronto will open in 2015, and construction has begun on Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, a downtown district that will have apartment towers, office buildings, entertainment facilities, and pedestrian-oriented shopping.
Another important piece in this emerging urban mix is Vaughan's new city hall, a 325,000-square-foot complex that serves as both a symbolic and a practical manifestation of change. Although bordered on two sides by major arterial roads and on a third by an intercity railroad, the city hall aims to jump-start a 24-acre zone of civic activity that will eventually include a library, a chamber of commerce, public gardens, and an outdoor skating/water feature. In 2004, the Toronto-based firm Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB) won an invited competition to design a master plan for this civic center as well as the city hall. 'We told them up front that we would break the competition rules,' says Bruce Kuwabara, the design partner for the project. 'We didn't want to design a fancy object surrounded by cars, so we told them it would be a set of buildings and have much of the parking underground.' The firm's scheme creates a campus that echoes the traditional model of Canadian towns in which city hall, public square, market, and cenotaph cluster together. It also weaves buildings and outdoor spaces into three strips of development, referencing the east-west mapping of agricultural fields in the province. 'Given the devastation of suburbia, we decided to re-till the landscape to create a new urban center,' explains Kuwabara.
KPMB's master plan called for phased development, allowing the city government to stay in its bunkerlike 1970s building on the north side of the site while the new city hall was erected on the east side. The new building opened in the fall of 2011, so Vaughan can now raze the old one and move forward with future phases.
Facing a new civic square that serves as a gathering place for public events such as the mayor's annual barbecue, the building, which cost $108 million (in U.S. dollars), houses the city-council chamber, government offices, and spaces for permitting agencies. To visually anchor the composition of two-, three-, and four-story volumes, the architects attached a slender tower overlooking the square. 'We needed to create a piece of civic architecture, not just an office building,' states Kuwabara, citing a lesson his firm learned designing two earlier city halls: in Kitchener, Ontario (1993), and Richmond, British Columbia (2000). Although working in an abstract manner, the architects wanted to connect the Vaughan project to the city's population, which includes a large community of Italian descent. So they spoke of the tower as a campanile and used terra-cotta for louvers that shade the building and panels that clad it.
The building expresses the values of a growing and increasingly confident city, says Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, who took office in December 2010 after serving for more than two decades as a member of Canada's Parliament. 'It's a place for the human experience' where people can come together, he says. 'It is also a reflection of a new era when transparency and sustainability are important.'
Bringing daylight deep inside the complex was a critical factor in KPMB's design. So in addition to wrapping much of the poured-concrete structure with low-E glass, the firm created a trio of interconnected atriums with tall clerestory glazing. Operable windows looking onto each atrium draw air and light into open-office lofts on the upper floors, reducing loads on HVAC and electrical systems. Raised floors in the office areas bring air close to workers, so less heating and cooling is needed to keep indoor temperatures comfortable. And convincing the client to eventually put most of the 900 parking places underground will allow KPMB to cover much of the site with landscaping that will mitigate rainwater runoff. (Until the next phase of development brings the reflecting pool/skating surface above the garage, though, cars still park in a lot west of the civic square.) The project consumes less than half the energy per square foot as the old city hall, says Kuwabara; it earned LEED Gold certification.
Visitors enter the building from either the east or west, cued by an all'e of maple trees that creates the illusion it is running through the lobby and out the other side. Inside, maple and walnut finishes on walls and soffits, along with Ontario Wiarton and Halton Blue Ice stone on the floors produce a sense of dignity leavened with warmth. Open walkways with glass balustrades on the second floor, and the glazed interior perimeters of the office lofts, mean that everyone enjoys long views through the building. The architecture indeed emphasizes the city's goal of transparency in governance.
KPMB faced many challenges, including budgetary constraints and three changes in mayors during the course of the project, but Vaughan City Hall offered it the chance to design 'the infrastructure of government' and help a growing suburb become a more cosmopolitan kind of place.
Location: Vaughan, Ontario
Total construction cost: $108 million
Completion date: September 2011 (phase one)
Size: 325,000 square feet
Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects
322 King Street West, Third Floor
Toronto, Canada, M5V 1J2
Owner: City of Vaughan
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Interior designer: Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects
Mechanical: Stantec Architecture Ltd.
Electrical: Mulvey & Banani
Civil: Conestoga-Rovers & Associates
Consulting Engineers (LEED): DST Consulting Engineers Inc.
Acoustical: John Swallow Associates
Other: Traffic and Municipal LEA Consulting Ltd., Sustainability Stantec Architecture Ltd., Code Leber | Rubes Inc., Building Envelope Brook Van Dalen & Associates Limited, Civil Conestoga-Rovers & Associates, Teledata, Security, A/V e-Lumen International Inc., Vertical Transportation Consultant Soberman Engineering, Fountain Design Dan Euser Water Architecture Inc.
General contractor: Maystar General Contractors Inc.
Tom Arban 416.566.9409 Tom Arban Photography Inc.
Carpet tile: InterfaceFLOR
Stone and ceramic flooring: CIOT