Centennial College – A-Building Expansion

Embody the Past. Embrace the Future.

Education

Located on the Centennial College Progress Campus in Scarborough, ON, the A-Building Expansion’s design is like no other. This transformative addition to the college’s campus seamlessly blends Indigenous perspectives, sustainability and innovative architecture. The project is Canada’s first LEED Gold certified, zero carbon, WELL certified, mass timber, higher-education facility.

The building pays homage to Indigenous traditions and nature-inspired sustainability and is rooted in the Mi’kmaq concept of “Two-Eyed Seeing,” which harmonizes Indigenous wisdom and Western perspectives. For DIALOG, Two-Eyed Seeing is a way to expand the understanding of what is possible for architects and engineers.

Looking at the way the traditional Anishinaabe Wigwams were designed with their skin pulled up in the summer for air circulation, DIALOG incorporated that same concept for the building envelope at the corner of the building. An innovative building skin blends modern technological advances and Indigenous natural worlds together through an aluminum panel shaped like fish scales and detailed with contemporary parametric software, which makes it feel like animal skin and gives the sense that the building itself is alive.

The mass timber used throughout the project channeled the spirit of the region’s woodlands, evoking the Highland Creek area’s natural setting. This symbolic approach aligns with the design of Indigenous teaching lodges, which were built from renewable, fast-growing saplings. These materials are not only environmentally conscious but also contribute to energy efficiency. The amount of mass timber and wood products used is equivalent to nearly 500 homes being powered for one year as well as the removal of 1,000 cars off the road, or a significant reduction in carbon emissions.

The A-Building expansion was designed as an opportunity to clearly demonstrate how higher education facilities can not only provide state-of-the-art pedagogical and cultural spaces but do so in a way that significantly reduces both operational and embodied carbon emissions. The structural system uses sustainably harvested mass timber glulam posts and beams that support cross-laminated timber floor panels. Efficient mechanical systems, in combination with the highly insulated building envelope, are integrated to reduce overall energy usage, of which 5% of the building’s energy requirements are powered by solar photovoltaic renewable energy.

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Location
Scarborough, ON
Size
133,000 sq ft
Client
Centennial College
Completion
2023
Collaborators

Smoke Architecture
EllisDon
RJC Engineers
Smith + Andersen
Vertechs Design
WalterFedy

DIALOG Services

Architecture
Interior Design

Balance Centrestone

A shield-granite boulder demonstrates the principle of balance and anchors the building. It acknowledges an understanding of nation-to-nation agreements that have governed the land.

Main entrance

The Level 1 entrance provides a clear connection from the eastern side of the site, and is respectful of the Anishinaabe requirement for the main entrance of a building to be from the East.

Wisdom Hall

A cascade of terraces and stairs rising up through the Hall provide a generous, bright, and dynamic setting for students and visitors.

Wisdom Hall

Indigenous artwork on wood paddle-shaped panels, reminiscent of traditional Ojibwe canoe paddles.

Wisdom Hall

An open, double-height space of inspiration and contemplation for students to meet and study in informal groups.

Indigenous Commons

A domed room designed on the principles of the Anishinaabe roundhouse (nimii-idiwigamig) and sweat lodges for ceremonies such as dance and drum circles, smudging, sharing circles, or other activities.

Central courtyard

The Level 2 courtyard offers a connection to the sky with daylight made through a clerestory in the corridor to a light well.

Upper levels

Administrative spaces and areas reside in Levels 4, 5 and 6. A repeated rhythm of polygonal punch windows are inspired by the textural quality of a weave and provides a series of framed site views.

The Team

We are grateful to DIALOG, Smoke Architecture, EllisDon and all of our project partners for helping to bring Centennial’s vision for A-Building to life. Only by design could the expansion embody the College’s Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation the way that it does, along with establishing inclusive spaces and prioritizing environmental stewardship amid the climate calamity. A-Building gives us a standard-setting blueprint for future projects like this at Centennial.

Dr. Craig Stephenson, President and CEO, Centennial College
Forming a gateway

The building completes the truncated corner of the site forming a portal into the campus. An urban edge is created promoting great opportunities for pedestrian connectivity and enhanced public realm. The north and west facade acts as a tool for storytelling, visibly branding the building to represent the aspirations of the institution.

Reconciliation

The design of the building is a poetic response to the pattern of seed, growth, culmination, and balance in a continuous cycle. The position of spaces and the flow through the building are guided by the medicine wheel teachings oriented to the four cardinal directions, and the directions of up, down, and centre.

Activation

Activities and engagements—both formal and informal—of students, staff, and faculty are displayed to the Campus through a network of interconnected pathways and public spaces.

Revelation

The interplay of solid and void in the building massing allude to the drawing back of the skins over a wigwam frame in response to seasonal changes.

Fenestration

The pattern wrapping from the East to West on the north face is an allegorical and aspirational response to the underlying structure and Indigenous arts and craft.

Awards

2024 New Construction Canada Green Building Council (CAGBC)
2024 Design Excellence Award Ontario Association of Architects
Ontario Association of Architects Announces its 2024 Design Excellence Awards Finalists Ontario Association of Architects
Awards March 19, 2024