Creating Connections: University of Windsor’s Ron W. Ianni Law Building

Diamond Schmitt Architects has transformed the University of Windsor’s Ron W. Ianni building into a light-filled, accessible learning space.

Photo courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects

The University of Windsor’s new Ron W. Ianni building, formerly known as the Faculty of Law’s beloved (albeit outdated) brutalist facility, has been transformed into a light-filled, accessible learning space by Diamond Schmitt Architects.

When revitalizing the 50-year-old building, originally designed by Gordon S. Adamson and Associates, Diamond Schmitt’s approach was to align the built form with the philosophy of the modern law school through multi-purpose areas open to change.

“Transforming the University of Windsor’s Law Building is so much more than a renovation. The approach was to embrace the brutalist architectural character of the facility and its history on campus, while creating an open and collaborative space that offers flexibility for diverse modes of learning and supports the pedagogies of the 21st century,” said Duncan Higgins, principal, Diamond Schmitt Architects.

Photo courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects

The building, which is located at the corner of Sunset and University Avenues, recognizes its significance as an entry marker to the campus. Rather than opting for new construction, the design re-purposed the existing structure while aligning with the university’s sustainability efforts.

Diamond Schmitt’s approach was also to embrace and maintain the building’s brutalist characteristics and exposed concrete, while making updates in terms of approaches to accessibility and user orientation. The design strategy also opened up the interior to create a learning environment connected within the building and in relation to the greater university campus.

This is noted in the significant transformation of a former mechanical room, located in the centre of the building which was turned into a bright, versatile student space. The former student commons has been levelled with flat slabs to ensure that all individuals can use the space, which improves accessible circulation and further promotes connectivity.

Photo courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects

Interior glazing throughout the new learning and collaboration zones aim to make program spaces more easily identifiable and accessible, while also providing sightlines enabling students to connect visually.

Original interior partions were removed in the library to allow natural light from existing skylights to fill the new student study lounges through a three-storey interconnected space. Stacks and study carrells are located on the top and bottom floors which help to open up the central floor. The central library staircase was also upgraded and has been paired with a new elevator providing in-library accessibility. Additionally, accessible all gender washrooms have been incorporated on all floors of the library.

There has been an integration of natural light in the Don Rodzik Moot Court, which was previously windowless and artificially lit. The new large glazed openings aim to create a sense of interconnectedness with the community. The former steeply stepped floor has been modified to achieve a sloped floor surface. The Moot Court is also equipped for smudging ceremonies.

Photo courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects

The university’s connection with Indigenous communities is integrated in Windsor Law’s curriculum, its Indigenous Legal Orders Institute, and the support of an Elder in Residence who brings invaluable wisdom and cultural insights to the academic community.

The renewed design, which sits on the traditional territory of the Three Fires Confederacy, comprised of the Objibway, Odawa, and Potawatomi, recognizes and reinforces the principals of Indigenous legal orders through the integration of architectural elements that accommodate smudging ceremonies, as well as representations of a two row wampum belt.

Photo courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects

Windsor Law was host to the World Indigenous Law Conference in 2018, which was subtitled Wawiiatanong Ziibi: Where the River Bends. A shoreline inspired ceiling design is incorporated into the classroom known within Law as the ‘mini-Moot’ to acknowlede the proximity of Windsor Law to the Detroit River.

Photo courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects

These Indigenous principles have helped shape the building and were incorporated in consultation and under the guidance of the school’s Indigenous committee and elders.