University of Toronto Academic Wood Tower
Client : University of Toronto
Associated Architects : Patkau Architects
The 100,000-square-foot revitalization of Centennial College’s Ashtonbee campus is an ambitious modernization effort that engaged roughly 20 stakeholder groups. Previously dominated by a large and meandering 1970s brown-brick structure virtually unreadable from the nearest road, Canada’s largest transportation technology campus is now focused on the new 31,000-square-foot Library and Student Centre, comprising library, student hub and commons, wellness centre and study spaces, all connected to the renovated automotive and technical labs, and poised to connect to future developments.
Running parallel to Ashtonbee Road—the major artery providing campus access—the new Centre serves as an arrival gateway, improving security and accessibility, and displaying the school’s name in giant letters on the glazing’s frit pattern on the south façade. Transparent and open, the Centre’s monolithic second storey inhabits the spaces sandwiched between two pairs of trusses that foreground the Centre’s industrial intent, and span the entry lane below in a clear expression of the school’s focus on automotive-centred learning. Finished on its underside with mirrored stainless-steel panels, this bridge shelters the pedestrian entryway and bicycle parking, and reflects the vehicles that pass beneath it to kaleidoscopic effect.
An open space between the paired trusses, centred over the entry lane below, acts as a suspended courtyard. Interior spaces organized around this floating void enjoy additional glazing; with a high-performance curtain wall and sensor-controlled LED lighting, the result is a highly efficient daylighting program. Circulating through the structure around this courtyard from west to east, the program transitions from public to private, noisy to quiet. At the west end of the structure are the lobby, student services and student life offices, as well as amphitheatre-style seating that ramps up over the entry lane and culminates in the student commons; to the east, space is turned over to the library, resource centre, and study carrels, with the student centre and bookstore at grade.
MJMA’s scheme resolves all the goals of the 2011 campus master plan and lays the groundwork for future changes. Reactions to the Centre have been enthusiastic, from students and faculty (library visits have roughly tripled in the new space) and beyond: in 2017, the project was recognized with an OAA Award.