Branksome Hall Athletics & Wellness Centre in Toronto by MJMA

published in sb 6/2016

Hub of campus life

The campus facility designed by MJMA provides students with opportunities to embrace all facets of leisure - from the aquatics centre, dance studio, dining hall, fitness centre, gymnasium and rowing centre to the yoga studio. The aquatics centre includes two saltwater pools: a four-lane training pool and a shallow-floor teaching pool, which is ideal for lifesaving classes, beginner swim classes and classes for the primary students.

Branksome Hall was established as an independent all-girls school in the residential South Rosedale Heritage Conservation District in the urban heart of the City of Toronto, Canada – now a leading International Baccalaureate World School. The campus is set within a large 13-acre property characterized by lush, wooded ravine edges and open green spaces. The city’s extension of Mount Pleasant Road divided the campus into two sides.

The new 72,000 m² Athletic and Wellness Centre AWC connects to (and re-clads) the existing pedestrian bridge, linking the east and west campuses. It includes an aquatic centre with teaching and training pools, dryland rowing centre, gymnasium, fitness centre, yoga and dance studios, dining hall with accessible ravine and rooftop terraces. The aquatic hall is designed as the feature activity space of the new facility.

The strong visible connection to the ravine is like a breath of fresh air deep into the inner volumes. The larger programme volumes are containers of light, sitting on a glowing glass base elevated in a similar way as the pedestrian bridge. Exterior glazing allows visibility to the life within, showcasing the Branskome Hall functions and creating an open inviting public identity.

Floating viewing gallery to inspire more involvement

A major challenge was to fit the large programme volumes onto the limited building footprint within a 12-metre residential height restriction. The aquatic hall is set one level below grade with the gymnasium above. The aquatic hall is visible from above through a floating viewing gallery, and surrounding concourse social spaces. These popular glazed viewing areas serve as campus-wide meeting and gathering places. The AWC serves as a campus-wide social hub with places to watch sport and provides informal studying spaces. A series of internal walkways with interconnected ground and second floors encourage students to pass by and see athletics – inspiring involvement in the campus aquatic and athletic community.

Fully equipped pool with visual connection to the surroundings

The teaching pool is a shallow basin with a stepped entry along the full width and a hydrotherapy bench opposite the entry. The interchangeable 4- and 5-lane training pool has a 2.7-metre deep end for rescue training, and features a underwater speaker system for lap training and synchronized swimming, and a scoreboard, touch pads and timing system. The aquatic centre is designed with a salt saline chlorination system. Continuous white oak bench seating and vertical slat screening bring warmth to the aquatic hall and improve acoustics, while providing a visual reference to the adjacent wood forest ravine.

The HVAC systems are hidden in a high wall parapet that is an extension of the roof line and provides acoustical control for sound to both Branksome Hall’s adjacent buildings and the surrounding neighbourhood.

The new facility complements and provides a direct connection to its heritage and natural surroundings with a natural palette of materials, finishes and textiles; with transparent views and abundant natural light permeating deep into programme spaces and student commons. The subdued natural palette of concrete, light wood, masonry, stone and glass establishes an appropriate neutral backdrop to the colourful school uniforms, team jerseys and student life. Exterior glazing allows visibility to the life within, showcasing the Branksome Hall functions and creating an open and inviting public identity.