School colours

Gow Hastings Architects is not afraid of colour. With its (extensive) academic projects, the Toronto-based firm has demonstrated a willingness to paint the school/centre/institute/lab/residence red/pink/orange/yellow/blue/green. As principal Valerie Gow has said, “In all our projects, we try to define a focal point for the space, then try to play off from that. We like to us a fairly neutral palette for the majority of the space, then accent it with really strong colours.”

Cases in point: the School of Interior Design at Ryerson University, where dashes of hot-pink glass wake up unpainted wooden beams and cream-brick walls; the Mixology Lab at George Brown College, its bright-red shelves and deep-red accent wall contrasting with pristine white counters and birch millwork; and the Skilled Trades Centre at Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, where an abstracted pattern of nuts and bolts – applied to generous windows – cast bands of chartreuse and leaf-green light into the student hall.

Which brings us to Gow Hastings’ latest project for Humber: the transformation of an ice-hockey rink into the School of Creative & Performing Arts. After creating 10 studios for acting, dance, media, film and cabaret, plus other facilities, Gow realized something was needed to counter the dark, insular quality of the arena, as well as create a distinctive brand identity – on a fast schedule and tight budget, of course.

Having rejected the notion of wrapping panels and tiles around the central core of the building -as too expensive, Gow and company hit upon the idea of digital wallpaper. When stock photography proved to be cost-prohibitive, staff member Hugo Martins combed through his own photos from treks to Ontario’s Algonquin Park, to Australia and California, and to Portugal, the country of his birth. From images of plants, grasses, water and sky, he extracted long, thin strips that were sharp enough to be blown up without becoming grainy; these were sent off to the printer for tests, over a two-week period, to get the right, smooth effect with no pixilation. 

The end result is a wonder. Running from warm to cool as it wraps around the building’s core, the wallpaper serves as a cheery backdrop for an informal café and lounge off the main entrance. Recessed ceilings fitted with canary-yellow acoustical panels and hidden lighting, plus large skylights with deep light wells painted vibrant hues, further enliven the school’s public spaces.  

Gow Hastings’ efforts well suit the giddy enthusiasm of performing-arts students. To them, the future seems as bright as the architects’ amazing Technicolor dream wall.  cI