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Excellent Expansion

Metal creates an effective one-of-kind identity for the Stephen Hawking Centre

Founded in 1999, the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, is a leading center for scientific research, training and educational outreach in foundational theoretical physics. It hosts more than 150 of the world's foremost scientists and 1,000 visitors annually. People perform groundbreaking scientific research virtually 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days of the year in a securely controlled environment.

In 2010, the 54,000-square-foot Stephen Hawking Centre was added to it, more than doubling the size of the existing facility. Built with the intention of fostering unconventional thinking and encouraging the collaboration of top minds, the center will build on the Perimeter Institute's reputation of innovation. The expansion is contiguous with the existing facility and the two now function as a singular whole.

Meeting of the minds

Building design is a collaborative process and the center was designed so its occupants could collaborate too. According to the facilities manager Brian Lasher: "We wanted to provide a research facility that promoted collaboration, and pulled everyone into common areas so everyone would interact and collide. We even put a bistro on the ground floor where you first come in because if someone was going for coffee, they could have an impromptu meeting. We have space readily available like a main interaction area and interconnecting area that bring everybody together."

The project's architect Stephen Teeple, OAA, AAA, FRAIC, RCA, of Toronto-based Teeple Architects Inc., kept collaboration an integral part in his design. "The intention was to create a strong interactive relationship with the existing facility, such that it operates as one complete institution," he says. "Teeple Architects wanted to establish a dialogue, one where new thinking about research could be read in relation to the previous building expression. The most unique component of the building is its collaboration spaces-the range of dynamic interaction areas in which scientists exchange ideas. These vary from small spaces in which a few people can gather to large spaces which reinforce active exchange."

Metal and pods

Metal was used to shape the flowing form of the center, which is reflective of the geometry of the collaborative interior spaces. Metal gives the building a durable, high-performance building envelope, and was chosen to complement the metal façade of the existing structure. "The different qualities of metal allowed us to emphasize different qualities of unique spaces-from the soft, warm expression of the exterior façade, to the rich, black interior of the lecture hall and the reflective lustre of the conference room," Teeple says. "The material has a unique ability to both shape complex space and bring unique qualities to the experience of the building."

The building has three central research office pods. Each pod is defined by its metal skin and is a direct reflection of its interior program. The public interiors become an experience of the interaction between the three metal pods. "There is a sense of being inside a research pod, or in a public space between the research pods," Teeple says. "This experience occurs in both plan and in section." The building floats over an existing reflecting pool due to limited site area. Its metal skin allowed designers to wrap around the new facility on all sides, creating the sense of a multidimensional pod. Metal enables the complex geometry of each research pod to be realized in 3-D form.

To be effective, the pods were made separate with low acoustics, yet provide natural light to inspire contemplation and research. Designers realized that they could keep these areas distinct within the interior of the building, while appearing seamless from the exterior. Through their creative use of the gold glass and the zinc outside the research pods, these areas appear to turn into long lines when viewed outside. The zinc and the gold glass exterior make the pods appear as one with the rest of the building, even though the areas are distinctive internally.

Zinc results

Zinc was chosen as a key metal used for the center because of its natural patina and color, flat seam, and its flexibility to be used as a soffit, wall and roof element. Raleigh, N.C.-based Umicore Building Products USA Inc. supplied approximately 23,767 square feet of its 1-mm VMZINC flat lock wall panel in QUARTZ-ZINC, ANTRHA-ZINC and natural zinc on the interior and exterior of the building, as well as approximately 1,693 square feet of its 1-mm VMZINC standing seam wall panel in ANTHRA-ZINC on the interior.

"The resulting mass of the addition form is expressed by the zinc's characteristic to be detailed with angular planes and edges highlighting the window openings and adjacency to the existing building form," says Chandra Hester, marketing assistant at VMZINC, Umicore Building Products. "The materiality of the building could also be carried from the outside inward. In other words, zinc could be and is used here for interior as well as exterior improvements." James Bouwmeester, project manager at Toronto-based Flynn Canada Ltd., the metal product installer and the gold glass supplier for the center says metal aided it by keeping it earthy and giving it a natural look. "Looking at the building now, it's easy to see the architect's vision with regards to material selection, colors and their arrangement on the building façade," he says. "It looks good in combination with the windows that are also modular and fit within that spacing. Gold glass definitely accents the tile along the east and north elevations which are the prominent elevations."

Angular lines and footprint

The center's design was meant to stress bold and angular lines so that streams of natural light and blackboards were in place in almost every space. The development of the angular frames from bold lines was influenced by how a physicist has an idea that expands and has multiple levels of research that evolves.

"The form is incredibly complex, and yet, at the same time, it was simple to follow because the designers followed the approach that the further you move from the atrium, the quieter the areas become, and they narrowed corridors to loud areas to contain sounds there," Hester says. "As part of the layout, some spaces are shared, while others are set off distinctly from the rest of the building. Zinc helps to define these distinct areas with its interaction to natural light. At the same time, zinc's ability to combine well with other materials made it ideal to promote the interconnectivity stressed throughout the center."

"To make the building appear as if it does not have separate floors or stories, elevations are blended with gold glass, which is characterized by research areas, while the tint is part of the sealed glass unit construction," says Hester. "The shape of the window openings on the sides reflects the location of the steel braces of the structural frames lateral concept. The steel braces provide support and help define spaces designed for group and individual studying."

Environmentally sustainable

While, the initial building was not designed to be LEED certified, Teeple Architects of Toronto decided to design the addition to create a LEED-certified building with sustainable design considerations in mind. According to Hester, these design elements included providing natural daylighting wherever possible and optimizing surplus capacity from the existing mechanical system's boiler and cooling plant. "We reduced electrical energy consumption by 40 percent in the new part," Lasher says. "We use a lot of natural light. We have light sensors and occupancy sensors."

Metal cladding acts as a breathing skin over a highly insulated back-up with minimal thermal bridging. Heat recovery and a high-quality building envelope are key components of a high-performance building. The building combines a highly efficient variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system operating in tandem with a dual-mode ventilation system which employs natural ventilation via the atrium in shoulder seasons. Teeple says the overall impact is exceptional energy performance.

With those items, as well as locally sourced building materials, energy conservation measures, use of green roofs and other eco-friendly features, the center is LEED Silver certified for environmental sustainability. It's the first Gold Seal-certified project completed in Ontario.

"It's rewarding to walk through the finished product now that that the building has been completed," Bouwmeester says. And thanks to the successful design, construction and operation of the Stephen Hawking Centre, many more rewards will be coming from it.


Putting it together

In 2010, we were retained as construction managers for the Stephen Hawking Centre addition. Our scope included ensuring that the original institute stayed in full operation without interruptions while we constructed the addition. Detailed planning was required to complete the addition while the existing facility was fully operational. Because of the nature of the facility as a research institution, any disruptions had to be kept to an absolute minimum. The site is adjacent to Silver Lake, which is part of the Grand River watershed. Our new foundation work took place between the original institute and the water's edge. Extreme care was required to ensure that the construction activities didn't compromise the integrity of the water. We used an elaborate system of shoreline protection.

Air movement from the renovated space was controlled by sealing the temporary walls and controlling air into the space. Air for the renovated space was exhausted through a change air unit to the exhaust to ensure only filtered air returned to the sir handling units. The project included the relocation of the food preparation and dining area. In order to renovate the existing dining room, a temporary dining area and food preparation was built first. Electrical services for the addition were extended from the original building.

A key milestone and special safety initiative was undertaken when the entire four-story addition was made safe and wheelchair accessible. This allowed Professor Hawking access so that he could tour the facility that would bear his name. We constructed ramps and railings throughout the building and removed any obstructions.

Bruce Cameron, P.Eng. GSC, director of business development, Ball Construction Ltd., Kitchener, Ontario, Canada


Stephen Hawking Centre at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Completed: March 2011
Total square footage: 55,000 square feet
Architect: Teeple Architects Inc., Toronto, Ontario
General contractor: Ball Construction Inc., Kitchener, Ontario
Engineering consultant: Enermodal Engineering, Kitchener
Metal installer/gold glass supplier: Flynn Canada Ltd., Mississauga, Ontario
Metal wall panels: Umicore Building Products USA Inc., Raleigh, N.C.,