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Claude Watson School for the Arts

01 Oct 2018
Image Credit: All images and drawings courtesy of Kohn Shnier Architects
Architectural Credit: Kohn Shnier Architects
Location: North York, Toronto, Ontario
Date of Completion: 2008
Architect: Kohn Shnier Architects
Nominated by: Stan Cho, MPP (Willowdale)

Built to support young performers learning to share their talents, every space of this North York institution has been designed with performance in mind – encouraging creativity and spontaneity from the classroom to the hallway.

Image courtesy of Kohn Shnier Architects.

A Building for the Arts

As a school designed to support specialized training in both fine arts and performing arts, the Claude Watson School for the Arts naturally integrates numerous dedicated spaces explicitly designed for performance – from a theatre room with a full fly area to an outdoor covered amphitheatre, as well as a number of purpose-built rooms such as music rooms, a dance studio and an art room.

The arts, however, are not contained to these dedicated spaces – all throughout the building, the architects have made small but meaningful moves that aim to encourage creativity and spontaneity.

Section drawing through the school revealing the wide variety of room sizes created by a staggered hallway.
Drawing courtesy of Kohn Shnier Architects.

The hallways have been designed extra wide to accommodate informal rehearsal space, while large windows on the ground floor allow passersby to catch a glimpse of performances taking place. The stairwells are generously sized, providing room for impromptu theatrical productions while brightly lit landings accommodate band practice. The entire ground floor is sunken about 1.2 metres, offering extra height for the music and dance studios as well as the gymnasium – a move that also happens to improve acoustics.

It is these very intentional, but often overlooked, design choices that allow the building to fulfil its mission, seamlessly integrating the arts into everyday life and supporting its arts-based curriculum.

Image courtesy of Kohn Shnier Architects.

A School That Expresses What Is Going On Inside

From its inception, both parents and teachers expressed a desire for a building that embodied the arts curriculum it was designed to support – it had to be a risk-taker, a performer that announced to the community what happens inside.

However, this ambition faced the reality of a small budget and a strict program – a challenge the architects took head on by focusing their efforts on the elements that would have the biggest impact while being mindful (and creative) in their use of inexpensive materials.

Image courtesy of Kohn Shnier Architects.

No element has a bigger impact and speaks more to the spirit of risk taking than the honeycomb-clad projecting volume of the library – its distinctive pattern composed of aluminum brise soleil provides solar protection to those within while making a bold statement to the neighbourhood beyond. This element, along with the outdoor amphitheatre and the large ground-floor windows that provide glimpses to the performances within, are all part of making a building that talks – announcing to those passing by what happens within its walls.

This post forms part of our World Architecture Day Queen’s Park Picks 2018 series in which we asked Ontario’s Members of Provincial Parliament to nominate a prominent building, past or present, in their riding for a chance to learn more about it. Check out the rest of the series to learn more about great buildings across the province!

The OAA would like to thank Kohn Shnier Architects for the information, images and drawings that made this blOAAg post possible.

Additional Sources

Claude Watson School for the Arts. Our History. Accessed electronically:
Bozikovic, Alex. "All the school’s a stage." In AZURE Magazine, September, 2007. P.163-165

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April 11, 2019 18:01 by Anonymous

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