Montréal architects design innovative student residence

ARCHITEM Wolff Shapiro Kuskowski architects have reinvented a century-old campus in Sherbrooke, Qué., with an innovative residence for young students. Photo courtesy Maxime Brouillet
ARCHITEM Wolff Shapiro Kuskowski architects have reinvented a century-old campus in Sherbrooke, Qué., with an innovative residence for young students.
Photo courtesy Maxime Brouillet

Montréal-based firm ARCHITEM Wolff Shapiro Kuskowski architects has unveiled the Mitchell Family House, an innovative residence for young students in Sherbrooke, Qué., which reinvents a century-old campus.

Built for Bishop’s College School, this private boarding school provides a family-style environment for 270 students. The original buildings on this 101-ha (250-acre) site are rooted in a long educational and architectural tradition.

The construction of an eighth residence, the first to include both residential and academic components, brings together multiple aspects of the student experience. The Mitchell Family House faces the existing campus while establishing a close connection to the surrounding forest and nearby river.

The V-shaped residence is organized in two wings hinging on a common central core. There are 18 rooms, each shared by two students, on the upper two floors. All rooms are connected to central living spaces, which include a lounge and dining/kitchen area as well as a quieter study corner on a mezzanine.

Each wing ends in a two-storey apartment. Each of the two apartments communicates directly with the corridors leading to the residents’ rooms.

The carefully planned circulation was key to the implementation of the hybrid concept. The main challenge was to ensure the privacy and security of the young residents while greeting occasional visitors. The entrance area provides two separate access points, one leading to the private residential wings and one to the public common areas.

On the lowest level, dedicated to academic activities, one finds various multi-purpose spaces including a studio/office for a scholar-in-residence. The entire floor opens up to an outdoor agora connecting students and staff with the natural beauty that surrounds the building. Resembling a giant lantern, the common area’s central volume illuminates the exterior space at night.

The mandate required the building reflect its time, yet be evocative of the existing campus’ architectural vocabulary, its scale, and material palette. The architects opted for brick on all façades in a spirit of continuity, but also to celebrate the long brick-making tradition of the nearby town of Lennoxville. Wood was used on the interior to add warmth to both the public and private entrances, stair volumes, and social nodes.

The stone used on the campus heritage buildings was substituted by sculptural pre-cast concrete to give the new residence a contemporary signature. At the main entrance area, individually designed concrete fins signal the presence of the access points. Non-residents are directed towards the more public entrance, which fans out in the direction of the campus. The private entrance to the residential wings is treated in a more intimate way.

At the back of the building, sculptural concrete elements are introduced to create a gesture in the direction of the forest and the river. The concrete blades accentuate the presence of the stairs leading down from the student lounge area while acting as a device to filter the morning and afternoon light.

Highly efficient mechanical systems and triple glazed windows were among the means used to reduce the building’s carbon footprint to a minimum, as well as prefabricated wall panels insulated from the outside.

The residence was connected to the campus’ central geothermal system. Four new wells were drilled onsite to respond to the building’s heating and cooling requirements. Additionally, a heat recovery system was introduced to pre-heat incoming fresh air during the winter. This air is subsequently brought to required temperatures in part by geothermal water to air heat pumps.

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