Cambridge Gallery

Location: Cambridge, Ontario
Status: Proposal
Date: 2008

The basis for this project had been a proposal to hold an Architecture Biennale in Cambridge, Ontario. A site for this project was chosen next to the Grand River on a small commercial / parking lot that currently interrupts a riverside park system. This proposal was to be the 'Canadian Pavilion', and one of many national pavilions that were envisioned throughout the downtown area.

Cambridge is a small city with a great history as ‘the Manchester of the north’, being a center of heavy manufacturing until the beginning of a long decline in the 1950s. Today the city remains picturesque by the river, but is economically depressed and in need of a post-industrial purpose. The Biennale might help re-invent the city, but from the beginning the idea of creating a expensive, spectacular tourist attraction, as with many new museums or galleries, seemed inappropriate for this largely blue-collar city.  The project calls for an architecturally experimental, nationally representative pavilion, but also begs the question of what happens when the Biennale is over.

This solution was to split the project into three components: first, a simple and flexible building to house the conventional galleries and the obligatory gift shop and cafe. This main building is planned on a generous 5m x 7m column grid, with the intent of being very easy to adapt to different uses in the future (possibly a productive workspace linked to an expanding university presence in Cambridge). These galleries are shaded with a system of pivoting white terra-cotta louvers, computer-controlled to admit natural light while excluding direct sunlight to protect the works displayed inside and to reduce solar heat gain. Solid walls are also clad in these louvers, providing a rainscreen while unifying the entire facade.

A green roof also provides insulation while reducing stormwater runoff on the site. The extra weight of this roof is supported by a steel truss that is deliberately much deeper than necessary, allowing the structural members to be very slender and delicate. The galleries are served by a set of loading and service rooms that form a platform for the Canadian Pavilion itself.

The pavilion makes clear references to the agricultural building traditions of the Waterloo region. Its steel structure supports a skin of reclaimed wood planks from local barn buildings.  Their random lengths and varied finish produces a rich texture on the exterior and hundreds of small spaces left between the boards create a dazzling light effect on the interior. The roof leaves space at its edges for light to enter from above, and a little rain or snow too: this is not a typical white box gallery. The structure offers some enclosure and shelter from the exterior but includes and even amplifies the sound of the wind and the river, dramatizes natural light, and challenges whatever works are inside to forge some connection to the larger environment.

The final component is the court, which is paved with slate and planted with red maples. It provides a shaded spillover space for the cafe’s patrons, large school groups, and summertime lectures. This public area encourages people passing along the river’s linear park to move through the project rather than around it, and gives the park some continuity through the site.