Built in 1941, West Preparatory Junior Public School in Toronto’s Forest Hill neighbourhood has undergone many expansions through the years, to accommodate its growing and multicultural student body. In May 2012, the school brought on Taylor_Smyth Architects to build its latest, 225-square-metre, addition. Situated off of the existing gymnasium, the multipurpose space could be used as a lunchroom, a music room or as a community gathering space.
The architects responded to the brief with something beyond the usual. While their addition almost seamlessly continues the brick facade of the existing building, it incorporates an irregular pattern of windows animated with swaths of coloured film. Michael Taylor, who founded the firm with Robert Smyth, explains that it took a little convincing to get the school on board with the exuberant design. “The principal brought in some parents to consult with, to make sure that people were comfortable with this approach. Our feeling was that the rest of the school was pretty somber and needed something to get the children to appreciate their surroundings in a new way.”
While the firm has creatively employed colour in similar school renovations, their approach could also inform how old school buildings beyond Toronto can be revitalized on a reasonable budget. The Toronto District School Board paid $1,065,000 for the project. The benefits of bringing colour and light into a learning and working environment – and choreographing a sense of play between light and shadow, interior and exterior – also outweigh the costs.
Taylor explains, “It’s not only about colour, but also about natural light and thinking about how it can transform our everyday experiences with sunlight and the deep shadows it creates.”
In various sizes, with films in a multitude of hues, the windows cast an array of reflections, complementing the vinyl floor’s oversized squares in matching fuchsia, orange, blue and citrus green. The windows also feature coloured frames; one of the deepest ones extends to form a bench where a few kids can happily perch. The walls are made of concrete block, some with acoustic slots that are matched by the acoustic ceiling tiles, their exposed edges brightly outlined. A retractable partition can be deployed to section the addition off from the gymnasium; and a separate entrance from the shared foyer also creates a delineation.
“What makes this project unique for us is that we made a commitment, mostly for cost reasons, to build a very simple box and to create interest by playing with scale, views, sunlight and colour,” Taylor explains. “The children have taken to calling this the Rainbow Room.”