Windsor City Hall – A clinic in building a public house for the people

Whether or not you vote or participate in local politics, most people have a good idea of where their city hall is located. These structures have historically stood as gathering places for citizens to celebrate holidays, hold protests and for individuals to conduct business and keep their personal affairs in order, especially as they relate to the community.

In 2015, discussions began about the future of Windsor City Hall and whether it was better to put money into the existing fifty-year-old structure to modernize it or to build something new from scratch. The representatives on council went for the latter option.

“With a knack for public relations, I was trusted with leading the project,” City of Windsor Manager of Corporate Projects, Wadah Al-Yassiri commented. “We had two years to get a design and other pieces in place as we looked for the right team.” The process that followed was a veritable clinic in collaboration, teamwork and mutual respect as the new Windsor City Hall took its shape first on paper and eventually at 350 City Hall Square.

After a public tender, submissions, reviews, interviews, vetting and consultations, the City was ready to move forward with what they believed was an all-star cast of companies, professionals and individuals. The main players involved in the finished product included Al-Yassiri, architects Chei Wei Tai and Diarmuid Nash from Moriyama & Teshima Architects, architect Carmen Brunone of Architecttura, mason Chris Warren of Render Construction, general contractor A. M. Razak of Oscar Construction and Bob Sanders from Shouldice Designer Stone.

Chei Wei Tai shared, “There was a lot of strong competition and lots of good ideas. I had recently done Surrey City Hall and I’ve done six city halls, so I had the experience and when it came to the interview, we had a lot to show for it. We were short-listed, interviewed and then awarded the commission. As a team we were all lucky to have been driven to excellence.”

Local muscle put the stone up

Bob Sanders added that it was a great opportunity to provide a solution for the designer’s vision. “The masons and architects had lots of options, and in the end, we had the product, the profile and the colour with the clean lines they were looking for.” Architect Diarmuid Nash added, “It was great that they were a Canadian company, close by and came in with a very good price. Theirs was the marquee material Shouldice Designer Stone’s Architectural stone – colour Briar, Tapestry finish & colour Colby, Tapestry finish – 590mmW x 90mmH x 90mmT] used in the central part of the building and the client was very happy.”

Modernizing on time and on budget

Navigating a high-profile project like a city hall can be a tricky process. There are layers of stakeholders, and it rarely goes smoothly. And though it was not an easy four years, there were few hiccups, and the teams were able to come in on time and under budget – feats that rarely occur. A. M. Razak, the locally situated general contractor said, “As a company, we have a forty-three-year reputation of coming in on budget and on time – it’s a performance of time sensitivities.”

Though the existing City Hall was only a few decades old, it lacked technology features, accessibility and square footage. The council chamber needed a more advanced AV system and the pull toward what was possible with a new build won out.

The building plans incorporated LEED friendly features for lighting and climate controls. Photo and temperature sensors not only keep main spaces comfortable, but the smart system also recognizes colder or warmer air near windows where the hot sun beams in and where the cold gets through on deep winter days. The new building was outfitted with energy-saving measures including six inches of insulation in the walls, LED lighting, efficient hydro use and a green roof. Chris Warren of Render Construction added, “It was planned with great purpose to be efficient and cost effective, keeping local taxpayers in mind. We were very happy to be part of building such a staple structure.”

Government buildings for the people

Another major consideration and deciding factor in building new was the level of access and a lack of openness in old City Hall. The design features incorporated into the new structure would be more inviting, airy and would encourage public use.

Where old city hall had no foyer or much open space at all, now a sizable exterior canopy would shade an equally large open atrium onto which the council chamber would open via glass panels that slide into pocket walls. As City Manager Wadah Al-Yassiri describes it, “this part of the design serves the public in this municipal building by providing transparency for public officials to do their work out in the open.”

For true public access, the council chamber, atrium and other meeting rooms were designed to be used after work hours for members of the public to book for lectures, fundraisers, exhibits and other events as needed. The intent was to make it a building for all citizens of Windsor. Gender neutral washrooms, accessibility and easy access to offices, wide spaces for gathering and a welcoming aesthetic led the way in bringing those goals to fruition.

Architect Diarmuid Nash added, “We work in a highly collaborative industry, and we like our clients to be a part of the thinking process. For the purposes of this building, the team felt like a community. We were challenged with a tight budget, especially compared to Surrey, but we were lucky and fortunate to be working with a fantastic client and a very strong local team.”

Shouldice makes wonderful materials – that stand the test of time

Part of the vision for new City Hall was to add to the existing infrastructure of the city square and to add all kinds of community space. Windsor sits on the Detroit River and City Hall is just a couple of blocks from the water with a view of the Detroit skyline. Centrally located, the designers wanted to make the building and the surrounding property a plaza for local residents and their guests from out of town. Local politicians would work there, where civic policy and bylaws are discussed, and the people of Windsor would be proud of the place.

Across the street from the new City Hall sits the Income Securities Building. It was built in 2003, and its exterior is covered in a light, nearly white-grey concrete block made by Shouldice Designer Stone. When it came time to decide about building materials to use on the new build, general contractor A. M. Razak was pleased to see the same company hired to provide materials there too. “They are both iconic buildings that complement one another, with veneer made by the same company, the same manufacturer. Shouldice makes wonderful materials, and both structures will stand the test of time. And even though one was built 19 years earlier, they both look brand new. Shouldice gives that appearance.”

The new Windsor City Hall was opened and introduced to the public on the 126th anniversary of the city’s incorporation in 2018. It has been warmly received and now sits as a hub of civic activity surrounded by lawns, pedestrian walkways and a bustling city.

The team that envisioned, designed and built it was an inspired group of professionals and tradespeople, 80% of whom were local. This is a true testament to the lasting impression Windsor City Hall will have on the city. “It’s a one-stop-shop for the people,” say Al-Yassiri. “This is a place that embodies the culture and pulse of the city.

Explore the Shouldice Designer Stone Portfolio page to see more of our projects.