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Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence

06 Dec 2019
Image Credit: Doublespace
Architectural Credit: ZAS Architects Inc.

Location: Toronto
Date of Completion: 2017
Architect: ZAS Architects Inc.
Nominated by: Tom Rakocevic, MPP (Humber River—Black Creek)

Enabled by technology and driven by a rebellious spirit, the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence seeks to create a new kind of engineering school—one where student empowerment and cross-disciplinary exchanges take priority over traditional learning models and academic hierarchies.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of ZAS Architects Inc.

Rethinking a School

Intent on creating a novel learning environment that would cultivate a new kind of engineer—a creative problem solver and entrepreneurial leader with a social conscience—the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence seeks to subvert the traditional hierarchy of academic institutions by prioritizing the needs of students over faculty and emphasizing collaboration over lecturing.

This student-centric approach is at the heart of the building’s spatial organization where student clubs and academic services are given priority placement at the main entrance of the building, while staff offices are relegated to the central core. Throughout the building, student spaces have been optimized for learning, discovery and interaction; their privileged location along the perimeter ensures plenty of daylight and views. The “anarchist lab” provides a refuge for experimentation—one where faculty may only enter if invited by students.

Looking to further challenge the tradition of engineering schools, which seek to define students by discipline, the Bergeron Centre instead creates spaces that invite collaboration and discourse. The lecture hall with its lectern and rows of desks is replaced with active learning spaces, encouraging students to prototype and test their ideas with a hands-on approach. Social spaces are interspersed with intense research and academic areas, creating opportunities for cross-pollination and conversation. Even the corridors have been designed with cross-pollination in mind, with numerous niches, banquettes and white boards providing opportunities for spontaneous collaboration and the sharing of ideas. 

Photo Credit: Doublespace, courtesy of ZAS Architects Inc.

A One of a Kind Façade

If the building’s interior is about subverting the traditional academic institution, its exterior is about embodying the engineering prowess and spirit of non-conformity that the Centre seeks to foster.

Evoking the properties of a cloud, reflecting light and pattern from the campus sky, the unique undulating façade comprises a series of triangles positioned according to a precise and complex algorithm resulting in an intricate façade.

Photo Credit: Diagram courtesy of ZAS Architects Inc. 

True to the engineering spirit, this seemingly random façade is actually extremely efficient with 85 per cent of it using only three kinds of triangles, angling inward and outward to capture the changing sky conditions throughout the day. The remaining 15 per cent is made up of unique panel shapes limited to the parapet and soffit areas. In addition, the size of the triangles is based on industry standard limitations for aluminum composite panel (ACP) sizes—a pragmatic approach to facilitate the manufacturing of this unique element.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Dieter Janssen, architect

This post forms part of our World Architecture Day Queen’s Park Picks 2019 series in which we asked Ontario’s Members of Provincial Parliament to nominate a prominent building, past or present, in their riding for a chance to learn more about it. Check out the rest of the series to learn more about great buildings across the province!


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