HERITAGE HALL | GUELPH, ON
Photography by Brandon Marsh Photography
It was a tremendous honour for our firm to be selected to work with the Guelph Black Heritage Society and help fulfill their vision for the Heritage Hall building upgrades in Guelph, Ontario.
The vision for the project was to reinforce the identity of Heritage Hall as a cultural and community centre within Guelph and Ontario. The building was expanded and modernized to create a multi-purpose performance venue complete with amenities, including a new foyer and public washroom, all fully accessible via a new exterior barrier free ramp.
The church was built by Guelph’s Black community in the 1800’s, for which many made Guelph home, after escaping slavery and making their way to Canada via the Underground Railroad.
The Underground Railroad was a network of routes and safe houses leading slaves from the American south into Canada. Symbols, dance, songs, spirituals, and codes, were some of the ways that escaping slaves communicated with each other in secret, to help find their way north.
Quilt codes are said to have been a means of passing on vital information to escaping slaves. Such quilts were embedded with secret meanings in their various geometric patterns and designs. When displayed on clothes lines or fences, such quilts would act as guides or maps for fugitives on their journey to freedom.
The point of departure for the design was to view the addition itself as a kind of quilt code.
A structural grid made up of 9 heavy timber columns, was utilized as the organizational principle of the design. Utilizing a grid system worked perfectly with the spirit of the project. It provided a greater freedom to explore patterns, order, shapes, and repetition, much like the framework of quilt codes.
This grid allows for the roof structure to effortlessly float above the volume, and the exterior walls to weave through, and embroidered with shapes and patterns inspired by quilt codes.
The glass block pattern on the rear exterior wall spell the word ‘freedom’, in braille, along the barrier free ramp, which the Guelph Black Heritage Society have called the ‘Freedom Ramp’.
This project was nominated for the Ontario Association of Architect’s Queen’s Park Picks program, where Members of Provincial Parliament select their favourite building from their riding, to be showcased as part of World Architecture Day.