ARIDO Award: Aurora Armoury Canadian Food & Wine Institute

ARIDO Award: Aurora Armoury Canadian Food & Wine Institute

Constructed in 1874 for the Department of National Defence, the Aurora Armoury is a Federal Heritage Building and century-old community venue originally used for infantry training, town meetings, sporting matches and military parades across the surrounding park. Restored in partnership between the Town of Aurora and Niagara College, the renovation and addition revives the local Armoury as a vibrant culinary and community hub, and outpost location for the Niagara College Canadian Food & Wine Institute. The design strategy was to create an expanded teaching and event setting that serves both culinary students and community members while embracing the Armoury’s rich history and prominent location at the edge of the Town Park.

Interior Designer: Valerie Gow, ARIDO
Design Firm: Gow Hastings Architects

Photographer: Tom Arban and Rémi Carreiro

The project restores the simple and recognizable volumes of the drill hall by revealing the existing post-and-beam structure – previously concealed by a dropped drywall ceiling – as well as the building’s original poured concreted floor. The timber framing is illuminated by custom-designed contemporary ‘L’ and arrow-shaped LED light fixtures.

At the centre of the Armoury is a reconfigurable, open-concept event space with flexibility for culinary and community events, thanks to nearby program spaces including a reception, commercial event kitchen, bar and café, and a 25-person classroom. The event space can accommodate up to 170 guests for dining, or 225 guests for stand-up receptions. 

Newly revealed hemlock rafters, discovered after the removal of a dropped drywall ceiling, overlook the 200-person event space and original poured concrete floor. Illuminated with soft and strategically placed uplighting, the rafters are a trademark of Agrarian-style architecture and a reminder of the building’s utilitarian roots. The original post-and-beam structure was left exposed to establish the greatest size volume at the centre of the building interior, dramatically framing the central event area. The warm, wood ceiling crowns the event space and provides a callback to the mature trees of the surrounding Town Park.

The culinary program is located in a modern, 1,600 square foot addition that complements the existing building. Glossy white Corian and warm grey porcelain flooring provide a contemporary contrast to the Armoury’s heritage features. The state-of-the-art, commercial event kitchen is a culinary theatre that emphasizes interaction amongst chefs and viewers. The kitchen itself is unprecedented for a building of this scale, accommodating space for 24 individuals. It includes interactive video monitors that project hands-on cooking demonstrations, and a 10-foot-wide chef’s table designed as a nod to upscale urban restaurants that puts the activity of the chef front and centre. The kitchen was designed to showcase the culinary talents of the Canadian Food & Wine Institute, as well as professionally guide and instruct guests during culinary demonstrations.

Archival photos were carefully retouched and arranged into three black and white collages that celebrate the history of the Armoury. These graphics wrap the walls of the open space and are welcoming and sentimental backdrops. 

A hydraulic dual panel door system – the type used in airport hangars – forges a 48-foot wide, full-height opening that takes advantage of the Armoury’s significant location on the edge of Town Park. Folding upward, the doors create an indoor-outdoor opening that invites park users in. Floor to ceiling windows further maximize views of the park and showcase the activities happening inside the Armoury. 

The purpose-built, south facing addition thoughtfully locates the commercial event kitchen outside of the existing footprint to minimize impact on the original heritage structure. The addition is also sited to open onto the surrounding park and children’s playing field, allowing the space to uniquely service park-goers. The wide opening of the bifold doors creates a seamless indoor-outdoor connection that showcases the activity of the Armoury and invites visitors inside. This connection is emphasized by transitional spaces including the patio and passthrough kitchen window. Blurring the boundaries between the interior and exterior helps to achieve the client’s goal of positioning the Armoury as an important public amenity that is integral to the park.

The Armoury expands and enhances a sense of community and access to community for all Aurorans, including underrepresented groups. A centrepiece of a rejuvenation project for downtown Aurora, the Armoury was designed to provide a revitalized public amenity with barrier-free access that is welcoming to all.  

The restored building is able to continue its traditional use as a venue for public talks and events, which began in 1874 with Edward Blake’s famous “Aurora Speech” . Recently, in April 2022, the Armoury hosted a Town Hall that helped ensure diverse voices were heard and represented in developing the Town of Aurora’s first ever Public Art Master Plan. In January 2022, the Armoury partnered with the Aurora Black Community Association to host the association’s workshops and events. The Armoury also brings the community together for other events such as seasonal festivals, markets, and charity dinners.   

The Armoury provides Aurora with a diverse business – a big-city amenity with access to meals and courses from renowned Toronto chef Soohyeong Lee. While courses at the Niagara College Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) at its Niagara-on-the-Lake campus cater to students learning to work in professional kitchens, the CFWI’s Armoury outpost offers cooking classes to local foodies interested in learning how to make stock from scratch, roll sushi or bake pastries.

Adaptive reuse is a commitment to both the sustainability and the longevity of the historic Armoury. Repurposing instead of rebuilding conserved energy and resources, and preserves the important heritage elements of the century-old building. The Armoury was upgraded with new lighting, heating, zinc roofing, and an energy efficient envelope of Accoya wood cladding – a pickled pine and water-resistant timber. The end-result is a durable and long-lasting solution that will allow the community to enjoy the Armoury for years to come.

Valerie Gow

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Valerie Gow

Gow Hastings Architects Inc.

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