ARIDO Award Winner: Niagara College Welland Student Commons

Surrounded by the natural beauty of Ontario’s escarpment, Niagara College is a rural community college focused on applied arts and technology. Our firm was asked to augment the college’s 1970s-era Welland Campus by creating a Student Commons — a 35,000 square foot two-storey hub with enhanced amenities that establishes a welcoming heart for the student community.

Category: LEARN

Interior Designer: Valerie Gow, ARIDO
Design Firm: Gow Hastings Architects

Photographer: Scott Norsworthy

Since its inception in 1967, there have been many iterations in the evolution of the Welland Campus, creating an unnavigable building cluster, connected by dark corridors. The creation of the Student Commons provided an opportunity to create a social hub that rationalizes the building layout, establishes a new, north-facing entrance to campus, enhances branding and wayfinding, and enables natural light and external views to uplift the daily student experience.

We developed numerous iterations of the building addition to offer users the most meaningful connection to other campus facilities (including the Student Services Administration Centre and Library and Learning Commons), transit, and the surrounding landscape.

Retail and lounge space accommodate the majority of the first floor, and have the greatest connection to transit and landscape as the most occupied program components of the Student Commons. The multi-functional event space is connected to the student lounge area, complementing the “buzz” of activity that takes place in the lounge. More focused learning and meeting space is located on the second floor of the Commons, offering users a quieter space for concentrated work.

The double-height addition breathes life into the campus with a new welcome centre, a food court and retail space, new classrooms, a student activity room, and spaces for learning, study, and collaboration. As the Student Commons is only one of two dedicated student spaces on campus, we designed numerous amenities and program areas to encourage varied experiences and social interaction.

The lantern-like addition is carefully sited to provide easy links to transit and student services, while providing the college with an alternative entrance and clear drop-off zone. A tall soffit canopy clad in cedar spills into the building, acting as passive wayfinding – drawing visitors to the main entry. Iron spot brick adds warmth and anchors the entry corridor to the main student space. Curved, perforated metal panels are a welcoming gesture that also hide the campus’ main shipping and receiving zone. The panels read ‘Niagara College Canada’ and provide a bold backdrop for the new exterior plaza, giving all students and visitors a sense of place and point of pride.

The Student Commons brings order and cohesion to a campus that has evolved slowly over time, making connection to three different buildings built over 50 years. The addition branches off the existing campus building, seamlessly connecting to the existing corridor system and coherently linking all adjacent buildings. This was achieved by demolishing some existing corridors, responding to differences in floor elevations, and adding environmental graphics to direct users from nearby spaces. As a centrally located social hub, the Student Commons provides a larger area where students and faculty can dine, socialize and study, creating a sense of hierarchy and order within a formerly fractured building.

Playful details reinvigorate the campus’ visual identity, including custom-designed pendant lights shaped like X’s and O’s, whimsical circular LED lights that break up the ceiling, and large-scale supergraphics that are visible from inside and outside the building. The oversized lettering, chevrons, and dots applied to the Commons’ fully glazed expanse give the college an instantly recognizable brand.

The addition of extensive glazing and a mirrored clerestory opens the Student Commons to natural light and external views of the surrounding Niagara Escarpment. Floor-to-ceiling curtainwall glazing draws daylight inside and creates views to the outdoors, while also giving passerby glimpses of student activity within. High above the food hall, a stream of clerestory mirrors reflect additional daylight into the soaring, spacious corridor, ensuring the space is bright and airy all year round.

One of the most successful and dynamic aspects of the project is the connection of the addition to the existing building. We forged links to the existing building by creating a central corridor that connects to campus amenities, including lecture theatres, student services, and a grab-and-go coffee counter. The corridor extends from the depths of the building, and through the addition to the new, north facing entrance. The creation of this main thoroughfare brings in natural light and unites formerly separate spaces within the existing building cluster.

We incorporated the existing clerestory windows above the food hall into the new design, but optimized the design to generate additional light. We installed mirrors surrounding the clerestory, which reflect the natural light and further brighten the interior space. The mirrors also reflect the strong horizontal banding of the windows for an interesting visual effect. Surrounding the clerestory, we introduced a cedar lined ceiling for additional warmth.

We fashioned perforated screening to hide the existing shipping and receiving dock from view. The screen is used as an opportunity to give additional presence to the new, north-facing entrance to campus. To further mark the entrance and inject the college brand, the perforated screen is engraved with the words “Niagara College Canada.” The branded screen is so successful that students often take photos in front of it to capture their time at the college.

The Student Commons also provides vital links to key services that support an inclusive college community, including the Indigenous Student Centre, Multi-Faith Prayer Room, and Segal International Centre. The Indigenous Student Centre is dedicated to enhancing Indigenous student success by offering space for activities including smudging, cooking traditional meals, water blessing, and drum circles. The Segal International Centre is designed to accommodate Niagara College’s growing international enrolment, with services for admissions, housing, financial aid, and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. We also designed a Multi-Faith Prayer Room for Niagara College to accommodate the religious practices of its staff and students, with a quiet, dedicated space to practice faith on campus.

The renovation and addition supports the Government of Ontario’s commitment to improve the accessibility of buildings and facilities, and work diligently to ensure that our designs meet current standards for barrier free design. We designed barrier-free washrooms to serve people with mobility issues, and gender-neutral washrooms to create an inclusive environment for all genders.

The Student Commons fills a critical need for an accessible and inclusive space to cultivate community and create memorable on-campus experiences.

Project Details:

Project Location: Welland, ON
Project Completion Date: October 2018
Project Square Footage: 35,000 square feet

ARIDO Award Winner: St. Francis Xavier University – Brian Mulroney Institute of Government

The new Brian Mulroney Institute of Government is a dynamic nexus of academic and social life on the highly picturesque St. Francis Xavier University campus. The 88,460 SF building features flexible and modern learning spaces, large tiered classrooms, a 300-person auditorium, administrative offices and meeting spaces, exhibition spaces, and an open atrium fondly named “The Forum”.

Category: LEARN

Interior Designers: Chen Cohen, ARIDO; Kayley Mullings, ARIDO
Design Firm: Moriyama & Teshima Architects
Joint Venture: Barrie and Langille Architects Ltd.

Photographer: Riley Snelling

The grand, warm, and inviting Lobby space provides direct access to the main artery of the building, aptly named “Scholar’s Walk”. A truly unique aspect of this academic building is the incorporation of exhibition spaces, including a replica of Mr. Mulroney’s Office during his tenure as Prime Minister, as well as various exhibit spaces highlighting the former Prime Minister’s career.

St. Francis Xavier University, founded 1853, is located in the beautiful and historic town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia and is one of Canada’s oldest universities. The setting is a picturesque hillside site with historic academic buildings forming the heart of the campus. Through the vision and aspirations of both the University and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, $52 million dollars were raised to help establish this dynamic epicentre of academic and social life.

With Mulroney Hall – Brian Mulroney Institute of Government aims to cultivate the next generation of leaders in Canadian policy, politics, social and planetary leadership, and to establish a tangible relation between the study and practice of government. The newly established Institute combines and augments existing programs and departments on campus into a synergistic academic and research body.

The first challenge that presented itself was the need for a new approach to academic learning environments. Most of the University’s buildings were quite dated and lacked flexible, agile learning spaces that would support the diverse needs of students, faculty, and staff. Additionally, and perhaps the most unique challenge to the project, was the need to design and incorporate exhibit spaces that would highlight the former Prime Minister’s career in a cohesive and thoughtful manner throughout the building.

The new building integrates itself into the existing topography and establishes a strong relationship with the campus’ adjacent main library. Endowed with wonderful, elevated vantage points across the Lower Campus, the Western edge of the building is assigned the most prominent public/social programmed space in the Institute, named “the Forum”.

As a major new student destination on campus, the Forum acts as a “campus living room” linking the school’s Upper and Lower Campus zones. The dynamic, double-height space benefits from beautiful views, natural light, and acts as the hub for the University. The space provides various settings for both socializing and learning through the use of modular flexible soft-seating arrangements, large communal tables that support technology, and quiet student touch-down spaces that allow for contemplative work. The Forum also has the ability to entirely transform into a large town hall space for important events and functions.

Overall, the planning for the building results in a very simple and intuitive layout that allows users to easily navigate the various spaces within the facility. The north lobby connects users through a main circulation artery and was specifically designed to showcase exhibition pods so that users of the building or individuals that traverse through Mulroney Hall on their way to an adjacent building have opportunities to access the exhibition spaces.

Bright and varied learning spaces include lecture halls, labs, active learning classrooms, and most importantly, informal social spaces that support collaboration and synergy. Given the rapid pace of change in learning environments, future proofing strategies such as standardization, modularity, flexibility, and generous circulation routes that can allow spaces to be reconfigured both in short and long term as pedagogy, programs, and technology change shaped the approach to all of the classrooms. Technology was also introduced in strategic ways so that students have ample access to power and content sharing which also contributed to the success of the University supporting online and hybrid learning during the pandemic.

Beyond introducing technology support within the classrooms, the building incorporated inclusive strategies for both students and faculty. Height adjustable tables and teaching lecterns are present in each classroom, faculty offices were designed for ease of movement with height adjustable desks and common serveries are accessible. Universal washrooms and lactation rooms are located throughout the building. To support the culturally and diverse needs of the university body, a multi-faith prayer room with fully accessible ablution room is located near the Forum – the main hub of the building.

Lastly, the incorporation of the exhibit spaces were key in guiding users throughout the building while highlighting an important narrative and history of the former Prime Minister’s story from early childhood, to his time at St. Francis Xavier University, and through his political life. The exhibition spaces are dispersed throughout Mulroney Hall which allows for visitors to immerse themselves in stories, artifacts, images and speeches related to Mr. Mulroney’s early years at St. Francis Xavier University and his career as Prime Minister. These exhibits are located on all four levels and are a mix of traditional and technological installations. The second floor showcases a replica Prime Minister’s office of oak paneled walls, and donated furnishings from the 1980s to allow students and visitors a glimpse of a space seldom seen first-hand.

St. Francis Xavier University recognizes that they are stronger as an academic institution when they honour everyone’s differences. Valuing and promoting equity, diversity and inclusion creates a campus community and supports the needs and aspirations of their students, faculty and staff. Honouring the differences that are both visible (e.g., physical ability, gender expression, age) and less visible (e.g., cognitive, culture, ancestry) and include different world views and experiences is key in creating an inclusive, welcoming, and safe learning environment.

An understanding of the needs of all users – equitable access to various student touch-down and collaboration areas, universal and barrier-free washrooms, lactation rooms, quiet rooms for users needing respite, a multi-faith room with ablution spaces for cultural and religious practices, and accessible classrooms that enhance the learning and teaching environment for both students and faculty.

Continuous dialogue between the interior design and architecture teams, along with the mechanical and electrical engineers resulted in a cohesive design that was developed and optimized through the energy modelling for the building in targeting LEED Gold energy efficiency targets. The interior materials and finishes were also strategically selected to help reduce the building’s environmental impact through the selection of low-emitting and local materials.

Careful planning and design yielded a learning environment that equally supports the diversity, safety, accessibility, health, and future needs of the University.

Project Details:

Project Location: Antigonish, NS
Project Completion Date: September 2019
Project Square Footage: 88,460 square feet

ARIDO Award Winner: Centre for Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship

Centre for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (CITE) showcases Seneca’s commitment to entrepreneurial innovation as well as a sustainable vision for the future inspired by an Indigenous worldview. The design, which evolved through extensive consultation with Seneca’s executive leadership, academic stakeholders, and The Aboriginal College Council, brings together applied research, commercialization, specialized training, and an entrepreneurial incubator for both students and industry leaders.

Category: LEARN

Interior Designer: Janine Grossmann, ARIDO
Design Firm: Perkins&Will
Design Team: Tsvetelina Rabashki, ARIDO; Martha del Junco, ARIDO

Photographer: Doublespace Photography

The schedule for this project was accelerated with programming, design, and construction completed in just 30 months. However, the inteirior design team needed to develop a nimble concept that would support hi-tech labs and workshops as well as softer spaces to support collaboration and ideation. Adaptability was key for the future as well as for inevitable changes during a fast-tracked design and construction project.

Students, faculty, the Indigenous council and community, college leadership and industry partners were all involved with the planning process. This close collaboration yielded an interdisciplinary interpretive program, “The Manifesto for Making” that employs architectural elements, integrated artwork, and large-scale graphics to communicate the importance of an Indigenous worldview to shape a sustainable future.

The building’s focus on academic STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) programs is balanced with expression of Seneca’s commitment to recognizing Indigenous history and vibrant living culture in Canada. Two clear zones were established, a forward facing gallery that features complex finishes and details, which could be delivered later if necessary, and second, a highly modular and rational planning container for the core program spaces. The modular bays of the building feature exposed services, demountable partitions, and simple robust finishes that support adaptation and heavy use.

As the design evolved, senior administration began to realize the prominence of the site and the opportunities it presented. The mandate for the project expanded to include event space and event support to be integrated into what would be known as the Innovation Gallery.

The Innovation Gallery, an animated atrium space supporting collaboration, displays, and events, creates a new, vibrant presence for the College on Toronto’s busy Finch Avenue corridor. Connecting a set of flexible, modular spaces that house digital fabrication suites, high-tech labs, and flexible classrooms, CITE also offers a state-of-the-art workplace for Seneca’s administrative departments.

The Innovation Gallery engages the sloping topography of the site with a gently terracing ground floor that provides accessible platforms at three levels for day-to-day student lounge and study space, and convert to display platforms or events spaces as needed. It also provides a display and event space, from which industry sponsored high-tech fabrication spaces can be viewed.

The site also includes Seneca’s incubator, Helix, bringing industry, community, and students together to develop and launch new business ventures. The lab and classroom wing is adjacent to a series of light filled student lounges that facilitate breakout sessions and group work between classes and which organize CITE into a series of collaborative neighbourhoods.

The building is conceived as a universal container of modular space for teaching, learning, and making that are connected by a linear atrium on the building’s south edge—the Innovation Gallery. The modular bays of the building feature exposed services, demountable partitions, and simple, robust finishes that support adaptation and heavy use. The relatively large footprint of the lab and classroom wing is relieved by a series of light-filled student lounges that facilitate breakouts sessions and group work between classes.

Spaces for gathering, socializing, and food distribution throughout the building creates a welcoming environment, with warmth and team spirit. Clear and logical organization of wayfinding assists students and visitors find spaces with ease throughout the building. Robust natural light in learning and collaboration environments throughout the building create an uplifting spirit with strong use of colour, art, graphics, and visibility. Gender neutral washrooms, integration of Indigenous culture into the experience of building, clear pathways and ramps embed accessible, inclusive design into the building.

Under guidance from the school’s Indigenous Education Council (IEC) several architectural elements were designed to tell Indigenous stories within a contemporary architectural framework. 13 columns reflect the Anishnabe lunar cycle, three program containers evoke birchbark “memory chests”, and a series of integrated artworks feature the living culture of Seneca’s Indigenous community including the award-winning terrazzo medallion called the “Circle of Indigenous Knowledge” designed by Indigenous artist Joseph Sagaj.

The project’s sustainability strategies include an advanced selection process of materials for innovative levels of regional and recycled content, with a focus on health and wellness of occupants that considered use of low emitting materials, ample access to daylight, increased use of FSC wood finishes to lower embodied carbon, and design phase parametric analysis to optimize design and lower energy use. Low flow and flush fixtures are installed, achieving a potable water savings of 40%.

Outdoors, native and adaptive plants are utilized for the landscaping, drastically reducing any potential need for potable water. A cistern collects rainwater which is then used as cooling tower make up and the balance for landscape irrigation when needed. Seneca is pursuing LEED Gold certification for the CITE project with a focus on conservation, waste reduction, energy and climate change, transportation, water, and green building practices and operations.

Project Details:

Project Location: Toronto, ON
Project Completion Date: December 2018
Project Square Footage: 275,230 square feet

ARIDO Award Winner: Fleming College A-Wing, Sutherland Campus

On the western edge of Peterborough, an hour and a half east of Toronto, Fleming College’s Sutherland Campus was established in 1973 with a collection of buildings designed by Ron Thom in collaboration with Thompson Berwick and Pratt and Partners within a 200-acre, terraced, park-like setting. Almost 50 years later, the college commissioned our team to revitalize the outdated 76,000 sf A-Wing, which serves as a campus gateway and classroom facility.

Category: LEARN

Interior Designer: Valerie Gow, ARIDO
Design Firm: Gow Hastings Architects

Photographer: Tom Arban Photography

The design strategy was to transform the dark, heavy, and inefficient building into a contemporary one that meets the standards of 21st century learning, sustainability and accessibility. This all needed to be delivered without demolishing and rebuilding at the same time as it was fully occupied.

We began by shedding the building’s dark brown aluminum envelope back to its steel frame, and recladding it with alpolic aluminum panels(LINK) – a readily available and lightweight material conventionally found on gas stations that instantly gives the building a modern, clean and luminous appearance. Arranging bright coloured panels in one of the College’s brand colours at various angles captured natural light in different conditions, giving the illusion of a deeper colour palette. The colour palette continues inside the building, with interior finishes carefully selected to complement the exterior of the building. Lighting, furniture, and fixtures enhance the modern expression of the A-Wing.

The white and yellow panels that transform the existing facade were carefully chosen to integrate the space with the original brown campus buildings and a new Corten-clad neighbour. To break down the A-Wing’s solidity, we re-crafted the building’s form by applying some panels with “accordion folds”, and adding perforated versions over the windows. The overall effect is uplifting and playful.

Each entrance and key circulation space is demarcated with a glass pavilion and a transparent central hub that serves as a meeting space for socializing and informal learning. This node also includes a skylight that draws light downwards over multiple storeys.

A new roof, energy efficient glazing, LED light fixtures with occupancy sensors, and building components made of recycled materials provided a much needed updated to the building. Several accessibility upgrades helped establish a more inclusive space. In particular, barrier-free washrooms feature wall-mounted, floating sinks for wheelchair access, sensor operated dispensers and hand dryers as well as the appropriate spacing turning space in stalls and enclosures. We also introduced gender-neutral washrooms that can be used by all students, regardless of identity.

As a design team with extensive experience in hands-on learning environments we introduced several upgrades to the classrooms for the Health and Wellness, and Justice and Community Development programs which simulate contemporary hospitals, ambulances, and courtrooms. Replacing solid classroom and office walls with glazing, the design invites light to further permeate the interior, while also treating passersby to glimpses of the learning taking place within.

Renovations to the A-Wing took place while the building was fully occupied. We worked closely with Fleming College to design the project to phase construction in a sequence that would allow continuous delivery of some programs with minimal disruption. A portion of the construction work such as sprinkler work, took place after hours, the remaining renovations were delivered in two phases by area.

The original bold, 1970s graphics which denote each building wing has been retained as a tribute to the building’s original architect, Ron Thom – who was influential in shaping the design of Canadian post-secondary buildings. Our appreciation for this bold branding inspired us to select tile in complementary yellow and orange colours, which are used throughout the A-Wing for additional passive wayfinding. Bold colours, dynamic geometric shapes, and oversize typography animate the space, creating progressive differentiation between various areas of use.

Design features include flexibly patterned wall and floor tiles that create abstract wayfinding within public corridors. The tiles were used to cleverly and intuitively define zones separating student lounge areas from the corridors without the use of wall. Elongated wall tiles were patterned to form a bright mosaic featuring warm yellow, grey and white tones. The tile mosaic creates an uplifting look – brightening a space that was deep in the building floorplate, with relatively low ceilings and limited natural light.

One change we facilitated was the move to shared faculty offices. The design team developed a strategy for the layout and planning of this space to meet the client’s objectives. Over the course of several presentations the design team was able to underscore the virtues of minimizing private space and optimizing shared space. The solution is completely unique to this College and the Faculty were pleased with the results.

The project is a continuation of the energy conscious revitalization of Fleming College’s Sutherland Campus. By inventively working within the building’s original steel frame – breathing new life into the A-Wing, instead of rebuilding – we were able to achieve a modern building for a fraction of the cost to the College, and a lower environmental footprint. This adaptive reuse approach was a sustainable choice as it minimizes the adverse environmental effects of new construction, by reducing waste and energy consumption from demolition, and resources used during construction.

We also performed life-cycle costing to measure the lifetime costs of operating the A-Wing. This analysis allowed us to identify necessary performance upgrades that would sustainably extend the building’s life cycle. Supporting Fleming College’s goal of improving its energy efficiency, the design team outfitted the A-Wing with performance upgrades including new roofing, energy efficient glazing, LED light fixtures with occupancy sensors, low-flush plumbing fixtures, and building components with low environmental impact and recycled content.

Equity, diversity and inclusion was incorporated into the project as both a directive from the client and an expression of our firm’s core values. Fleming College promotes a welcoming and inclusive environment for students, staff and guests from the community. The A-Wing revitalization demonstrates commitment on an on-going basis to removing barriers and actively evolving a culture of respect, recognition, accommodation and celebration of each other’s unique contributions to Fleming’s learning and working environment.

Project Details:

Project Location: Peterborough, ON
Project Completion Date: November 2018
Project Square Footage: 56,000 square feet