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Vernacular Vision

A thoughtful addition makes room for serendipitous collisions in a new community engagement hub for Memorial University of Newfoundland

St. John's Newfoundland

True to Place

Perched on top of Signal Hill in St. John’s Newfoundland, the Emera Innovation Exchange at Memorial University’s Signal Hill Campus juxtaposes the clean lines of a glass addition against the familiar octagonal forms of the former Battery Hotel; giving new life to the historic building that has served as a beacon to the city of St. John’s since the 1950s. Central to MUN’s objectives for the project is a design that authentically speaks to the history of this place. It was important the design be led by someone who deeply understood the story of the site; and thus, DIALOG’s Alison McNeil who grew up in St. John’s was selected for the project. The revitalized building is true to place and employs a Newfoundland vernacular that is void of manufactured nostalgia or cultural appropriation.

Exchanging Ideas

The Emera Innovation Exchange welcomes students, university faculty and staff, industry start-ups and the local community into the mixed-use building; offering graduate student housing, community classrooms, private offices and shared space. The building facilitates the serendipitous collisions of ideas and people, and the space is designed to foster these chance encounters between students, faculty, industry and the public. Arranging the building into private office and classroom spaces which surround a larger social hub – anchored by the socially magnetic gathering stair – results in a facility where ideas can be generated, tested and shared with ease.

Local Cues

A Gathering Stair - The gathering stair’s curved form emulate the ribs of a ship and are a tribute to the marine history of St. John’s. The staircase doubles as seating for lectures and recitals and an informal gathering space for building users. Colour as an Identifier - As is traditional throughout St. John’s, colour is employed as an identifier throughout the facility. MUN’s oxblood red marks points of welcome and interaction as a means of wayfinding. The Juxtaposition of Old and New - Keeping the existing building and adding to its capacity through a glass structure was a sustainable choice that serves a social purpose as well. The original Battery Hotel was enjoyed by a generation who have a deep-rooted connection to the iconic hotel and site, and it is a place cemented in the memories of many. Here, the contrast between old and new acknowledges the importance of the history of this place.

Project facts

Client: Memorial University of Newfoundland
Completion: September 2018
Size: 50,000 sq. ft.
Serivces: Interior Design, Architecture, Structural Engineering
Collaborators: Lat 49 - Architect of Record, Redwood Construction Ltd. - Builder