October 2018

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OCTOBER 2018 | 63 University College Modernization – Western University PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY ARCHITECTS TILLMANN RUTH ROBINSON University College Modernization – Western University by ROBIN BRUNET LOCATION Kent Drive, London, Ontario OWNER/DEVELOPER Western University ARCHITECT architects Tillmann Ruth Robinson GENERAL CONTRACTOR Tonda Construction Ltd. STRUCTURAL CONSULTANT Hastings & Aziz Ltd. MECHANICAL/ ELECTRICAL CONSULTANT Chorley & Bisset Ltd. TOTAL SIZE 117,534 square feet TOTAL COST $34 million C onstructed in 1922, University College with its iconic tower has dominated the hill overlooking London, Ontario's Western University campus, inspiring incoming genera- tions of students, staff, and faculty to set their sights high. But as with so many popular buildings, intense usage over the gen- erations tended to outstrip the pace of maintenance (despite two addi- tions constructed to the western and northern portions of the facility in the 1960s) and by the new millennium the interior infrastructure was no longer able to match the majestic exterior. So, just as subtly as time had taken its toll on University College, a team consisting of Tonda Construction Ltd. and a host of talented sub trades work- ing from a plan by architects Tillmann Ruth Robinson undertook a $34-million renovation in 2016 that would prepare it to provide a 21st-century academic experience – and fully realize the design vision of the original architects. And as is typical with renovation projects, the builders soon discovered they had their work cut out for them. "University College was constructed in a robust fashion to begin with, but when we started renovating we found ourselves drilling into interior and exterior walls that turned out to be 15-inch thick concrete," says Tonda project manager Paul Walkom. But the effort was well worth it, especially from the perspective of the Arts & Humanities faculty, for whom University College was originally devel- oped and who would return to the facility once the renovations were com- plete. "We have a real commitment to creating student space, which was lack- ing in the former configuration, and we want to upgrade all of the services in the building to bring it into the 21st-century and, generally, to allow for a lot more light, to open it up, and make it far more accessible," Michael Milde, dean of Arts & Humanities, told the press in 2017. The renovation consisted of upgrading critical elements such as plumbing, wiring, heating, ventilation, and windows. Classrooms would be outfitted with modern technology, and student and community spaces would be given attractive new settings and improved connectivity. Architects Tillmann Ruth Robinson benefitted from already having a strong relationship with Western University: its previous projects on the campus included the restoration of the Physics and Astronomy Building as well as design of the Saugeen-Maitland residence and the new FIMS and Nursing Building. Construction-wise, the biggest component of the renovation was the creation of a commons, which was achieved by the removal of floor space in the central part of the building. "This would enable people on the fourth floor to see all the way down to the main floor," says Tom Tillmann, principal of architects Tillman Ruth Robinson. "We also determined that bringing natu- ral light into this large space would be achieved by restoring nearby large arched windows that had been covered over for fire code reasons. The vertical integration of the floors animates the common spaces with natural light." Another substantial undertaking was the creation of an atrium look- ing out onto the picturesque Beryl Ivey Garden. However, when asked what sticks in his mind as the most labori- ous aspect of the project, Tillmann unhesitatingly replies, "Cleaning up or replacing all the windows. At least 50 percent of them were obscured by ivy, to the degree that in some places the ivy had grown inside University College and caused mould – as well as substantial heat loss. We also wound up removing seven trees at the front of the building that had been planted in the 1940s and were preventing day- light from penetrating the interior."

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