• Graham Ouwerkerk

Metamorphasis - The Creation of Fairmont Commons

For nearly 30 years the “Blue Block Building”, has been a sadly recognizable visage within the Lethbridge, Alberta cityscape. The structure was initially designed to be a warehouse and has served as such, undergoing little change besides the paint color. This was particularly unfortunate considering the buildings' prime location on one of the city’s busiest intersections. Located on the corner of Mayor Magrath Dr. S, the city’s main commercial artery, and Fairmont Boulevard S, the building was waiting for a new lease on life.



Seen as the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the potential inherent in reusing an existing building, the goal from the onset was to set a new standard for revitalization within the city. Transforming the warehouse into commercial spaces anchored by Optical Studio began with an analysis of the primary benefits and hindrances to the site. While the location was ideal, the site had always lacked parking. This deficiency was even more daunting when considering amending the buildings use to one with a higher parking demand. Consequently, the design sought to simultaneously take advantage of the proximity to the intersection while also increasing the available parking.


The proximity to the intersection along with existing parking limitations drove the form generation of the project. The building was reduced in size from a footprint of 2,390 square meters to 1,697 square meters. This served to both make it a more manageable scale for 5 commercial units as well as to open the site for the parking to serve these units. Based on the existing structural grid, the building was pulled back from the intersection and articulated to create a much more dynamic and inviting primary entrance and street frontage. As a result of the new articulated form and contemporary industrial aesthetic, potential clients of the CRU’s will be drawn into the building, able to fully utilize the newly expanded parking lot.


Programmatically the design had to consider how to best create 5 new separate commercial units within one newly renovated shell. The primary defined CRU is the new head quarters of Optical Studio, located with the greatest exposure to the intersection. Our client, the owners of the Optical Studio desired the highest degree of visibility to market their practice, as well as the products they sell in-store. The unit in the South East corner is now the new location of The Grey Goat, a local bespoke furniture store. The other 3 CRU’s are in the process of being fit out for new tenants. The design provides access to these units through a primary entrance oriented north, visible from the intersection, as well as a secondary public entrance on the east side of the building. Both entrances open into a central atrium from which users will be able to access all units of the building.


The Dispensary of Optical Studio was designed to provide an engrossing and dynamic interior environment. The primary goal was to create a showcase for the lenses and other products for sale. As a result, the space was conceived as a sort of gallery where the glasses are the art pieces demanding one’s attention. Furthermore, the utilization of white walls and shelving in high contrast to the black ceiling and other finishes is also representative of the client’s practice, similar to an eye exam chart. The materiality also includes distinct, real-wood veneered millwork to offer warmth and a touch of nature to the space. The polished concrete floor and exposed roof trusses ensure continuity of the industrial contemporary aesthetic and maintain simplicity in design allowing the products to be the focus.

The two-storey height of the space combined with the large glazing conspire to offer a true feeling of spaciousness and luxury. This creates a very comfortable environment in which to browse through the frames and accessories for sale.

The display millwork was designed with an ample amount of crisp, white lighting to create a spectacle of the products available. The display units also serve to create some privacy at the various fitting desks. Simultaneously, transparency and visibility were preserved throughout to ensure activities of patrons could be easily monitored and serviced.

The high contrast black and white design was carried through the rest of the interior spaces to ensure continuity and full conceptual resolution. As a result the clinical and staff spaces present the same beautiful, clean and crisp interior aesthetic.


An additional goal of the design was to renovate sustainably. The design respects the existing structural grid ensuring efficiency and cost savings in demolition and new construction. It also sustained the existing utility space to mitigate the relatively high cost of relocating these utilities. Preserving this area of the building also served the design in providing a large projection of the building form. It is perfectly orientated towards the intersection for the signage of the commercial units within. The strategic construction also allowed trades to be able to work within the controlled environment of the existing shell. This further added to construction savings and reduced the waste of materials.

Furthermore, the design includes the rough in for the future installation of a rooftop solar array. This energy production, along with the added building insulation and new apertures for daylighting, will allow this project to function sustainably long into the future. Also, the design clad the entire building in no maintenance, enduring metal or aluminum, ensuring that the project will remain a showcase example of a renovation metamorphosis for years to come.

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