Located at the main entrance to the Trent University’s iconic Symons Campus, the new Student Centre is a concise exploration of connections: connecting the building with the bucolic adjacent Otonabee River landscape; connecting new construction to the historical precedent of the surrounding original campus architecture—designed by Canadian modern architectural master Ron Thom; and, most importantly, connecting the students with one another in a dynamic and inspiring setting.
CONTEXT & PROGRAM:
Directly adjacent to the University’s iconic Bata Library on the campus’ waterfront, the building creates important new links from campus entry points to the riverside and surrounding landscape. Replacing a parking lot, the site is framed by the campus entry road to the west, the existing library to the north, the Otonabee River and pedestrian “Founders Walk” to the east, and a mature woodlot to the south, with the University’s existing Athletic Centre beyond. The main entrance of the building addresses the principal bus stop at the campus gateway, through which thousands of students arrive each week. Another entrance connects the pedestrian path along the campus entry road. Both of these circulation paths form an ‘X’, where a new indoor student “Forum” connects directly to the riverside—naturally connecting campus elements that had previously been isolated.
PROGRAM & INTERNAL ORGANIZATION:
A unique feature of the facility is that it seamlessly integrates both student centre and formal learning spaces, which have been arranged to ensure all building areas are well used and animated over the course of each day. Program areas include a variety of informal student lounges, collaboration and study spaces, student club spaces, new offices for the Trent Student Association, a multi-purpose event space, and a range of classroom/lecture spaces. The new student spaces were intended to relieve pressure from overcrowding in the adjacent existing library, and work to create a larger student social and study precinct at the heart of the campus.
The three storey building is organized around the Forum, which rises through the full 3-storey height of the structure and from which one can view all of the activities of the building. The centrality and visibility of the forum is key to the design, acting as a hub for social activities as well as for intuitively navigating and accessing all of the facility’s programs. Students follow the larger urban flow of circulation into this space and up through the building via a circulation spine composed of stairs, benches, lounges, and a variety of adjoining study areas. The flexibility of the forum space will also allow it to host concerts, job fairs, and other events central to Trent student life.
DESIGN & TECHNICAL PRINCIPLES:
Featuring a solid ground-level façade on the road side, the building opens to panoramic views south to the river, and to the larger campus and surrounding landscape from the upper storeys. A true indoor-outdoor space, interior gathering spaces open to exterior patios and terraces. From the river side, the legibility of the building’s floor plates subtly references the geometry of the adjacent Bata library in a more elongated, organic language.
Responding to a desire to connect with the original Trent campus design but also to arrive at a unique and contemporary approach to the natural beauty of the site, the road-facing side of the building is clad with a unique photo-etched precast concrete. The precast panels’ exterior finish was created from an image of the distinctive rough aggregate concrete used on the Bata Library and throughout the original campus, enhanced by dynamic folds in the panel forms. Visible exterior wood roof structure—comprised of 200mm deep douglas fir glulam beams—ties both to the surrounding wooded environment as well as detailing in the original university buildings. Together, the materiality, detailing and strong horizontal expression of floor levels serve to communicate with and offer a lighter, respectful contemporary counterpoint to the materiality and formal logic of the Ron Thom campus.
A pragmatic sustainable strategy underpins the design of the building, centred on passive approaches. The building’s carefully considered orientation and solid-to-void relationships take advantage of heat gain in winter from the south and east but deep canopies ensure key areas are shaded from summer sun. Natural ventilation is provided through the Centre’s large 3-storey forum. The curtain wall glazing achieves high-performance through use of Low-E, tinted and fritted glazing units that are filled with argon. Other measures include energy reclamation on air handling units, LED lighting and low flow plumbing fixtures. Underpinning a desire for social sustainability and to continue Trent’s history as a socially progressive institution, the building meets University’s stringent accessibility guidelines, and incorporates important spaces such as gender free washrooms and a breastfeeding area.
Teeple Architects was founded in 1989 in Toronto and has built a reputation for design leadership and technical excellence through a broad range of acclaimed institutional, commercial and residential projects. Its projects are conceptually and practically rooted in the unique aspirations of each client and have been recognized for responding creatively and effectively to the influences of site, climate, socio-cultural context, and budget. The firm’s work has been honoured with awards for design excellence and sustainability on the local, national and international levels, including six Governor General’s Medals for Architecture (Canada’s highest architectural honour) and an international Holcim Award for sustainable innovation.