Centennial College A Block Expansion | Toronto, ON

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Toronto, ON
Partnering Architects

Teeple Architects were invited in the Fall of 2019 to participate in an intensive four month design-build competition for Centennial College’s A Block Expansion project, a 130,000 SF campus gateway building housing classrooms, teaching labs, Indigenous commons and administrative space. The competition mandated mass timber construction and compliance with the CaGCB Zero Carbon Building Standard. The team led by Teeple placed second and the research undertaken for this competition has continued to inform our approach to reducing carbon emissions by targeting both embodied and operational carbon footprints.

The circular form of the Indigenous Commons is the forefront of the architectural proposal. The project’s rounded corner creates a fluid, welcoming quality for the new campus gateway. It respects the scale of the existing campus buildings but sets itself apart in its iconic form; responding to the flow of both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The sweeping building form was conceived as a terminus of the Student Services Highway: a continuation of the bridge connection to the existing campus at Level 2. With the organic movement of the exterior façade design, the building opens up in elevation and becomes more transparent at its central location. The use of vertical ceramic panels and chevron timber cladding to the exterior creates both a striking and intimate visual identity: unique, iconic materials with warm, inviting tones. The building’s structure is a combination of glulam beams and purlins, CLT beams and shear walls and DLT slabs.

Placed at the prow of the building, the Indigenous commons is encountered as a space of central importance upon entry. Its circular form, inspired by the drum, is integral to the plan, acting as a hinge point between the two extending wings of the building. This statement begins a language that is pervasive in the design and legible at multiple scales. It is envisioned as a welcoming and inclusive space and as such, it is encircled by an AODA accessible ramp that will bring people up from the street level to the Student Services highway on Level 2. By orienting the Indigenous Commons to the campus gateway at Progress Drive, we hoped that it functioned as a gesture of acknowledgement that would help students and faculty, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, enter the Campus with a spirit of openness and reconciliation.

Conceptually, the courtyard is envisioned as a working landscape and representation of the adjacent creek at Morningside Park, Highland Creek, Yat-qui-ee-be-no-nick, and its watershed area. The circular expressions of the drum and the courtyard classroom are in dialog with each other and tougher they epitomize a number of the key driving concepts of the design: directionality, by orienting themselves to the cardinal points and representation the four directions; materiality, using natural materials in the building fabric and the structure; and the relationships with nature, by the provision for daylight and introduction of living material within the footprint of the building. A ceremonial fire pit at the centre of the courtyard allows relationships between all cultures to flourish, providing a collaborative foundation for the life of the building. The outdoor classroom is oriented around the fire pit at the intersection of the cardinal directions, bounded by long, curved seat wall. The planting behind the seating area is designed as a healing garden. Connecting the built landscape to Highland Creek and Morningside Park through the use of similar plant species and material such as maple trees, water, and stone will allow a respect for the land to develop within the interior learning environment.