Thames Hall: A return to connection

The new Thames Hall renovation gives Kinesiology students that familiar feeling of home.

By Allan Lewis

Front of Thames Hall with sign

Thames Hall Entrance

The story of Thames Hall is familiar to many in the Western community. A former fieldhouse at the heart of campus. A backdrop to academic excellence and athletic achievement that over time grew tired and in need of re-imagination.

The very idea of Kinesiology at Western is wrapped up in the Thames Hall story. Via the backdrop of its legendary gymnasium, the study of movement and physical activity in relation to health has taken root in the minds of thousands.

The Thames Hall renovation project completed in 2022 brought the fabled building into the 21st century and came at a moment when the Faculty of Health Sciences needed to re-imagine its teaching and learning approach to the science of human movement.

A loss of connection

The essence of Kinesiology has as much to do with a connection to others as it does with oneself. Thames Hall’s traditional layout of winding halls and hidden labs kept this essence out of plain sight. The renovation project would change this. But first, the School of Kinesiology would be scattered into the corners of a temporary home in the Arts & Humanities building.

Faculty and students were effectively separated. This untethering was particularly hard on students. Ad-hoc lab space offered only moderate continuity between in-class theory and clinical application. Without a central point of reference to gather, reflect and share, the learning experience suffered.

New ways to see

Design proposals for the new Thames Hall included a set of more open, organic attributes that would ensure a return to connection between faculty and students. Topping the list was plenty of interior glass to emphasize natural light and depth of space. These windows encourage people to peer into labs and workspaces to better understand what’s happening.

“With people being able to see in, there’s a certain sense of student pride that comes to the fore,” says Laura Misener, Director of the School of Kinesiology.

Experiencing goings-on from the outside also helps to de-mystify Kinesiology – a diverse and sometimes misunderstood discipline – and amplify the connection between the building and its occupants.

“I’ve had lower-year students I’ve never met before come and ask me for advice and help with their classes,” says fourth year Kinesiology student, Melissa Malandrino. “The new, open atmosphere in Thames Hall really promotes collaboration between students in our program,” she continues.

The feeling of home

Thames Hall Study Space

Thames Hall Study Space

A renewed attachment to the study of Kinesiology and its instructional spaces was a priority for the Thames Hall reboot. Integrated learning spaces, anchored by the building’s central atrium, have rejuvenated Western’s Kinesiology family.

Kinesiology already had a really good community, but it will improve now that people have the new, up to date home,” says Dave Humphreys, Undergraduate Chair at the School of Kinesiology.

Study spaces, once numbering in the mid-20s and now totalling closer to 200, bustle with students who’ve been eager for the return of their campus home. The main floor atrium lounge is offset by smaller common areas and spaces that feel private, safe and accessible.

From theory to practice

Updated lab facilities were designed with hands-on clinical experience in mind. The new Athletic Injuries Lab features audio-visual equipment that offers a multi-dimensional view of treatment approaches.

Kinesiology Lab with Equipment and People

Exercise Physiology Lab

“People don't have to be huddled around a table fighting for glances at what's going on anymore,” says Humphreys. “Students see multiple angles in real time, and really understand things like lines of pull and how to handle patients.”

Down the hall, the Exercise Physiology Lab’s expansive footprint lets students transition seamlessly between tutorial and lab setups. High-performance clinical testing equipment is part of everyday instruction; students gain confidence using the same equipment they'll find in the private sector.

“The space allows us to do a wide variety of assessments,” says Mike Herbert, Lecturer and Lab Instructor, pointing to the lab’s versatility.

A collaborative spirit

Premiere facilities and a multidisciplinary environment have reinvigorated a sense of teamwork among faculty and staff. The refurbished offices on Thames Hall’s fourth floor allow faculty members to be on site collaborating with colleagues, helping to further a culture of tackling challenges together.

A move to shared research lab spaces and equipment has pushed researchers to work together, a change that has taken some time to navigate.

“Kinesiology is the first area on campus to move to shared research spaces. This is a monumental shift.”

“We have such a diverse group of faculty members studying across this wide-spectrum discipline, and we wanted to make sure that we had spaces where they could interact and have conversations,” says Misener.

Where previous lab arrangements brought separation and isolation, Thames Hall’s open-plan design invites participation. "That was a real challenge when we first proposed that as a way forward," says Misener. “Kinesiology is the first area on campus to move to shared research spaces. This is a monumental shift.”

The inspiration for this move sets an important example for aspiring researchers and returns to the broader theme of the Thames Hall project: integrating people and nurturing community.

"Research isn't individually funded for the most part, says Misener. “It's multidisciplinary, and the best way to do that is to get people together doing those things because then they're going to be more successful.”

Collaboration, integration, and community stand as the pillars of a new home and a new way forward for kinesiology at Western.

“I think what we want are people who are here for the greater good of Kinesiology,” Misener continues.

Thames Hall, both as a legacy and an ongoing partner, will remain part of that story for the foreseeable future.