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By Stephen Teeple
An important goal of this project was to gain a deep understanding of the client’s vision and ideology and thus, through a process of collaboration, achieve an architecture that transcribes the gracious faith of he Sisters, their service to humanity and their commitment to ecology.
The new 5500m2 convent is a two-storey structure sited on Mount St Joseph in Peterborough, Ontario. Originally a farm on the outskirts of the city, the site was delineated by large hedgerows that followed the rectangular pattern of the agricultural grid.The Sisters’ vision for their home was for a simple, modern environment that would be permeated by openness and warmth. They expressed a desire for the interior spaces to be bathed in daylight and to be crafted from high-quality, natural materials.When it came to their philosophy and lifestyle, the Sisters considered the traditional cloistered garden typology inappropriate. With an outward focus and a commitment to connecting and serving the community, the manifestation of their purpose had to be reflected in the form of a new outwardly looking convent.
Mediating between this desire and the formality of the surrounding landscape, the concept for the new convent was to create a series of ribbon-like curved surfaces that would allow the landscape to flow into, around and over the building.The building is located at the end of a long tree-lined drive, where the 90-seat chapel is the primary interface with the community. It is an open, inviting, modest space that sets the tone for the entire complex. This central area also includes the main gathering space, the dining room, the kitchen, the archive, fitness and personal care areas.The Sisters have separate home rooms clustered into houses, which each share a kitchen, laundry and lounge. These houses are located in wings, all with views of exterior or interior courtyards The houses connect and intersect along subtly curving white volumes with clerestory windows toward the two-story central area.
The southwest wing of the convent has been designated as an infirmary ward with 12 rooms. Care for the elderly Sisters was a paramount concern in the development of the low-rise building, which is easy to navigate and provides access for emergency vehicles as well as underground service.Care of the Earth is one of the Sisters’ guiding principles and therefore environmental responsibility had to be embedded in every design decision for the new convent. Certified LEED Gold in 2011, the convent has many sustainable design features, including: an east-west orientation for optimal passive solar performance; overhangs to shade south-facing glazing in summer but permit sunlight penetration in winter; strategically located thermal mass to exploit the thermal flywheel effect; and a high-performance building envelope that integrates operable triple-glazed fibreglass window units. These measures combine to substancially reduce overall heating and cooling loads.
North-facing angled clerestory windows are strategically placed for daylight harvesting, reducing electrical loads and artificial lighting, while ground source heat pumps provide an efficient source of energy for conditioning the building and overlapping the effects of passive measures.Rainwater is harvested to a cistern and reused for toilet flushing and irrigation. A partial green roof delays storm water run off, while on-site storm water is directed to a retention pond and filtered before returning to municipal infrastructure. Elsewhere, the roofing is a white reflective thermoplastic membrane that minimizes solar heat gain and heat island effects.As a living symbol of the Sisters’ divine mission, and their shared life as a community of spiritual women, the new convent has successfully consecrated a spiritual place on Mount St Joseph that serves as an integrated expression of built form fostering a natural world.
OWNER Corporation of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Diocese of Peterborough
ARCHITECT Teeple Architects Inc.
COMMISSIONNING AGENT Seawood Solutions and Services
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER CPE Structural Consultants Limited
MECHANNICAL/ELECTRICAL ENGINEER Enermodal Engineering Ltd.
LEED/SUSTAINABILITY Enermodal Engineering Ltd.
GENERAL CONTRACTOR Ellis Don Corporation
PHOTOS Shai Gil Photography