With popular TV shows like “Top Chef” and “The Next Food Network Star” capturing top ratings over the last few years, it’s no wonder that enrollment at George Brown Culinary School has seen a massive increase in enrollment. However, while the 50 percent increase in students is good for business, school administrators were worried that its existing facilities at its St. James Campus in downtown Toronto were lacking the proper space and cooking equipment to adequately educate such a large student population. Additionally, the college was well overdue for a fresh look and reinvigorated identity to reestablish its presence in the local neighborhood.
The overall project encompassed two buildings, the main school and an accompanying teaching restaurant with three stories of classrooms above. The first was a $6-million renovation and adaptive reuse of the four-story, 100-year-old Chef’s House building on King Street East, which now features a high-end, student-run kitchen and classrooms on the upper floors. The other was a 19,000-sq.-ft. addition and 60,000-sq.-ft. renovation to the existing 100,000-sq.-ft. building on Adelaide Street. It was imperative that all designs feature state-of-the-art cooking labs and kitchens with student-orientated, interactive learning environments that would follow a programmatic layout and functionality of the spaces surrounding them. Kearns Mancini Architects, Inc. was responsible for the buildings’
exteriors, historic restoration, and some interiors; while Gow Hastings
Architects Inc. designed the kitchen labs and the restaurant interior.
The design team resolved that an open, clean model would be “best suited to expose the school to the public, through the use of layout, transparency, and color,” says Philip Hastings, partner in charge from Gow Hastings Architects. From the interior of Adelaide Street, transparent glazing provides views down Frederick Street toward the school’s newly created learning restaurant, The Chefs’ House, visually connecting the two buildings.
“These fresh facilities increase the dynamism of George Brown’s presence within the neighborhood and frame the street so that there are clear possibilities for creating an external campus identity,” says Jonathan Kearns, partner in charge for Kearns Mancini Architects. “The contemporary steel and glass façade comes alive at night, as the colored bands light up and visually connect with the new glazing inserts and glass canopy of The Chefs’ House Restaurant on King Street.”
Inside, a contrast between solid, such as existing brick walls and exposed wood ceilings, and transparent materials was emphasized to make a bold statement against the light, contemporary interior. Additions of color—such as brightly colored fume hoods—herb gardens, and radiant lighting options add touches of playfulness and vibrancy to the space, while the inclusion of plasma screens allows students the opportunity to have a close-up view of food preparation demonstrations.
In addition to functional efficiency, the designers took heed to environmental efficiency, as well. Exhaust hoods feature digital sensors to automatically regulate ventilation and energy consumption, while heat from the hoods is circulated to serve as heat for the rest of the building. Other sustainable elements include: wood flooring from sustainably managed forest, Greenguard Indoor Air Quality-Certified upholstery, quartz countertops, fluted resin, safety flooring containing post-industrial recycled content, and low-VOC paints and finishes.
The project resulted in the “creation of a dramatic, chef-centered identity for the school and the revitalization of the campus, establishing its presence in downtown Toronto,” Kearns says, as the new George Brown Culinary School garnered multiple awards in 2009, including the Ontario Association of Architects Design Excellence Award, Best of Canada Interior Design Award, a Design Exchange Award, an Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario Award, and an International Federation of Interior Architects Design Excellence Award for Hospitality and Leisure.
“Our design response to the George Brown College brief enabled the faculty to advertise and promote its culinary program, while giving the institute a vibrant, distinctive new identity,” says Hastings. “Its extended state of the art facilities and interactive teaching methodologies now have firmly established its position as an innovator in culinary education.” Design success never tasted so sweet!