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The University of Toronto just increased the overall academic space on its Scarborough campus by 25%. (University of Toronto)
The University of Toronto just increased the overall academic space on its Scarborough campus by 25%. (University of Toronto)

How campuses are being made more livable Add to ...

Architect Gilles Saucier was recently given a great compliment. An individual working in a building he designed told him how much he now enjoys going to work.

University administrators seem to know all too well the rejuvenating powers that a good space can offer its dwellers and seem to have harnessed that power for their recruitment and fundraising strategies. They’ve also been getting architects to help tame sprawling campuses or make traditional downtown campuses more green.

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There’s a building boom taking place on Canadian campuses and the new buildings have helped lure academic rock stars, while maquettes are now built a bit earlier so that funders can be brought on board.

Architect Bruce Kuwabara says a building can push forward a university’s identity as it did when his firm, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB) helped in 2005 and 2009 to transform and open up Concordia University’s downtown campus in Montreal, with over 300,000 square metres of new space. More recently it finished both its Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), affiliated with the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, and the doubled-in-size University of Toronto Rotman School of Management.

Architects talk of making campuses more livable, including peaceful courtyards, offices exposed to natural light, windows that let in fresh air, more green space, common areas that offer colleagues from different disciplines the opportunity to bump into each other and places to step into so that conversations might turn into rich debates.

“Some of the most important conversations in learning are not in the classroom,” says Kuwabara, who says it has been difficult to try and get approval for common spaces when many institutions believe their money should only go toward classrooms and labs. Michael Heeney, whose firm Bing Thom helped integrate a university and office tower into an existing shopping mall in Surrey, British Columbia, to create a new vibrant Simon Fraser University campus, says “students like to be where the action is and not be segregated in an ivory tower.”

Functionally, there have been many changes among the spate of new buildings: flex rooms that can act as a classroom one semester and a TA’s office the next, a building that despite its high tech equipment no longer takes on a windowless fortress identity, lecture halls designed to not put students to sleep, libraries that share warehoused collections and make space for breakout rooms and research pods, and architecture that invites the city to walk freely through its public spaces.

The building boom can be traced back to the announcement in January 2009 of the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, a two-year, $2 billion federal stimulus package. It funded 538 university and college projects, providing half the costs of infrastructure projects, including new building construction.

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), which has been providing tools and materials to researchers since 1997, including funds to help bring on board other partners for new buildings, has injected more than a billion dollars into the university and health sector in the last two years.

By the end of this year, one firm, Diamond+Schmitt, will have unveiled a phenomenal 11 Canadian university buildings, including Queen’s School of Medicine, Thompson Rivers University House of Learning and University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus.

There is a strange juxtaposition here. While there seems to be lots of money available for university infrastructure, the average amount awarded for a funding agency research grant has dropped by nearly 20% since 2004 and three out of four health researchers applying to the CIHR find themselves turned down for funding.

Does this risk having a country with pretty buildings housing cash-starved researchers? According to CFI’s Douglas Lauriault, the ratio of infrastructure expenditures to research funding is on par with other developed countries. In the meantime, he says, the building boom has meant that Canadian universities are finally “dreaming big.” rchitect Gilles Saucier was recently given a great compliment. An individual working in a building he designed told him how much he now enjoys going to work.

University administrators seem to know all too well the rejuvenating powers that a good space can offer its dwellers and seem to have harnessed that power for their recruitment and fundraising strategies. They’ve also been getting architects to help tame sprawling campuses or make traditional downtown campuses more green.

There’s a building boom taking place on Canadian campuses and the new buildings have helped lure academic rock stars, while maquettes are now built a bit earlier so that funders can be brought on board.

Architect Bruce Kuwabara says a building can push forward a university’s identity as it did when his firm, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB) helped in 2005 and 2009 to transform and open up Concordia University’s downtown campus in Montreal, with over 300,000 square metres of new space. More recently it finished both its Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), affiliated with the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, and the doubled-in-size University of Toronto Rotman School of Management.

Architects talk of making campuses more livable, including peaceful courtyards, offices exposed to natural light, windows that let in fresh air, more green space, common areas that offer colleagues from different disciplines the opportunity to bump into each other and places to step into so that conversations might turn into rich debates.

“Some of the most important conversations in learning are not in the classroom,” says Kuwabara, who says it has been difficult to try and get approval for common spaces when many institutions believe their money should only go toward classrooms and labs. Michael Heeney, whose firm Bing Thom helped integrate a university and office tower into an existing shopping mall in Surrey, British Columbia, to create a new vibrant Simon Fraser University campus, says “students like to be where the action is and not be segregated in an ivory tower.”

Functionally, there have been many changes among the spate of new buildings: flex rooms that can act as a classroom one semester and a TA’s office the next, a building that despite its high tech equipment no longer takes on a windowless fortress identity, lecture halls designed to not put students to sleep, libraries that share warehoused collections and make space for breakout rooms and research pods, and architecture that invites the city to walk freely through its public spaces.

The building boom can be traced back to the announcement in January 2009 of the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, a two-year, $2 billion federal stimulus package. It funded 538 university and college projects, providing half the costs of infrastructure projects, including new building construction.

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), which has been providing tools and materials to researchers since 1997, including funds to help bring on board other partners for new buildings, has injected more than a billion dollars into the university and health sector in the last two years.

By the end of this year, one firm, Diamond+Schmitt, will have unveiled a phenomenal 11 Canadian university buildings, including Queen’s School of Medicine, Thompson Rivers University House of Learning and University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus.

There is a strange juxtaposition here. While there seems to be lots of money available for university infrastructure, the average amount awarded for a funding agency research grant has dropped by nearly 20% since 2004 and three out of four health researchers applying to the CIHR find themselves turned down for funding.

Does this risk having a country with pretty buildings housing cash-starved researchers? According to CFI’s Douglas Lauriault, the ratio of infrastructure expenditures to research funding is on par with other developed countries. In the meantime, he says, the building boom has meant that Canadian universities are finally “dreaming big.”

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