The project combines elemental compositions with principles of layering, allowing the building's constituent functional parts to be read simultaneously with its holistic presence. This attempts to satisfy the seemingly disparate needs of a city hall for transparency and solidity, malleability and authority, generosity and responsibility.
To make best use of available resources, the project employs simple forms with moderate amounts of exterior perimeter. The public component of the proposal is kept low, using as much of the necessary structure of the underground parking garage as possible, and allowing stairs and ramps to be the primary systems of vertical circulation in public areas.
Low Block/High Block
The project is composed of two elements. The low block, sympathetic to the height of its surroundings, contains most public, political, and bureaucratic functions and is responsible for carrying the image of the building at close range. The principal facade, facing the civic square, reveals the solid wall of the council chamber and the glazed form of the politicians' offices. These are contained within a stone frame lifted above the civic square level, providing continuous access to the interior civic square, which is a direct extension, in breadth and material, of the outdoor space. The bridge-like politicians' wing is also glazed to the interior conveying an impression of openness and accessibility.
Immediately adjacent to the interior civic square are areas containing principal vertical circulation, conference rooms, telephones, the newsstand, information booth, and access to the parking garage.
The council chamber is at the west end of the interior civic square and can be opened to the square by means of a large sliding wall. Views from the council seating are towards the sunken garden and the day nursery playground; a reminder of the ultimate responsibility of municipal government. Light and view into the council chamber can be controlled by means of an array of curtains adjusting for translucency or black-out as required.
Immediately south, one level down, is the councillors' lounge. It is accessible by stair and by lift which also connects both politician levels. Convenient access is provided to the parking garage; as well, the councillors would have a direct relationship to the sunken court. Light and privacy can be controlled similarly to the council chambers.
The north edge of the interior civic square is defined by three levels containing bureaucratic programme. The offices are located on large floor plates at the Duke Street side of the building, with the areas overlooking the square reserved generally for circulation, waiting areas and service desks. Politicians' offices are connected to the bureaucratic levels by ramps over the council chamber entrance. One of these ramps is widened, penetrating the council chamber to provide an upper level view of the proceedings. Meeting rooms are located at the bureaucratic end of these ramps. They all face a small court which is mirrored on its north elevation, bringing light and a view of the sky to the centre of the building.
A ramp along the axis of Gaukel Street runs through the low block connecting the civic square to Duke Street.
As the limited sub-grade is so valuable for parking, those uses requiring special floor loadings, or mechanical facilities, and requiring limited public access, are located in
the high block at the north east corner of the site. This element is similar in type to the multi-storey industrial buildings common to Kitchener. The high block also contains a conference room, allowing for an instance of isolation. One floor is allocated to rentable tenant area. As expansion into the tenant area is unpredictable, its location favours no single department. It is imagined that this level would develop a mixed culture. The view from the ninth floor compensates for the separation of workers from their parent departments. East and west walls of the high block are entirely glazed, revealing the mechanisms within, and allowing it to function as a beacon.
The civic square occupies the entire King Street frontage to include the surrounding streets as part of the perceived space.
A sunken court at the west end of the square acts as a sun trap and provides some relief from the noise and dust of nearby traffic. The court contains a water feature/skating rink in the form of a circuit. At the centre is a small island, accessible by removable bridges. The island contains a garden and lawn seating for small gatherings or performances. Water flows from the council chamber above. Facing the court are the dining room of the restaurant and the council chamber lounge. The parking garage can also be reached from the court. The rubble retaining walls on the west face are conceived as a hanging rock garden.
On the east side of the civic square and overlooking the sunken court is a canopy which extends from King Street to the city hall. This canopy provides a sheltered route to the building and contains en route the information centre, the restaurant's snack bar, telephones, and washrooms. The roof level of the canopy operates as a cafe in the warm months. Both upper and lower levels of the canopy act as a stage addressing either the sunken court or the civic square. In the south east corner of the square is a lightwell access point for the parking garage. Emerging from this aperture is a landmark audio/visual tower which supports activities carried on in the square. It is proposed that the final design of this element be done in conjunction with a local artist. The civic square itself is maintained as a free and open space.
Below the square, at its southern edge, is a large area for storing seating and stage elements. An hydraulic lift facilitates the transfer of these items to street level as well as providing a platform for a "pop-up" projection booth.
The facade of the politicians' offices is faced with solar control louvers which, when closed, provide a surface able to receive projected images and information. These projections could range from "walk-in" movies on sumer evenings, creating a new element of public life in Kitchener, to the display of development proposals and election results, so that the building is the disseminator as well as the container of political events. The east edge of the square is defined by a bench height flower garden. Seating is generally provided along both edges of the CIVIC square.
The King Street grade level is maintained on the east and west sides of the building, allowing light and access to the adjacent areas. The east side provides separate access to the parking garage and has a seating area just outside the news-stand/coffee bar. The west side is the garden and playground for use by the day nursery. On the north side of the building is the "twenty-year garden" whose lifespan is limited as its space will eventually be occupied by future additions. It is proposed that this garden be planted for the duration with indigenous material found in the area in its virgin state.
The long term expansion is approached in an integrated manner. Each of the three bureaucratic levels expands northwards to occupy a triangle of land along Duke Street. A partial fourth level is added to the low block, largely hidden by setbacks and existing high parapets. The appearance and scale of the building would remain virtually unaffected. Circulation and programming would extend from existing patterns.
(From Competing Visions: The Kitchener City Hall Competition)
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