The design competition for Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business called for a landmark building at a high-profile campus crossroads. The school sought to express its core principles through architecture and to create a place that welcomes and inspires students and staff. The design response to this brief is a beacon of visual interest and a distinct expression of the opportunities that await within the new Nicol Building. The program provides a wide range of flexible learning and study spaces in a collaborative and supportive environment. Expansive views accentuate the pride of place this sustainably innovative building holds on campus. Its prominent, wedge-shaped site anchors a graceful and tree-lined view that extends from the Rideau River to Carleton’s entry plaza and transit hub. This acts as a natural focal point of attraction to establish a significant campus gateway. The site is also the confluence of three underground pedestrian routes at this cold-climate campus in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. The school’s key values of creativity, connection and innovation are conveyed in built form as a place where imagination can be unleashed. A transparent base, café and incubator make it an active gathering place that reaches out to the campus on all sides. The signature gesture begins with a curved, embracing form that gathers and funnels interest and energy towards the core of the building. Around the skylight atrium all academic and communal programs radiate, placing the lifeblood of school activity on full view. Packed around this three-storey ‘hive’, high-tech, flexible classrooms and glass seminar rooms activate and energize the space. Different study areas allow for a wide range of learning scenarios reflecting the dynamic collaboration required to succeed in today’s business community. Break-out spaces enable learning and collaboration outside the classroom. The space opens dramatically with a winding feature stair with landings and places to pause and take in the vibrancy of the building. The ground floor is designed to encourage collaboration and can be configured for individual and group study as well as presentations. The floor plan flows in multiple directions to reveal an Innovation Hub, the Black Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, and Student Resource Centre – programs designed to break down silos and support cross-disciplinary collaboration. On the exterior, the Nicol Building is unified with bold vertical precast fins that enwrap the six-storey structure and reduce solar heat gain. This modular rhythm reduces the glazing ratio of the building below 40 percent while still providing large daylit windows every two metres. The central auditorium features an expansive glass wall that engages Carleton’s main entry plaza while opening dynamic views to the Rideau River. Demonstrating a commitment to sustainability on campus, the building targets 4.5 Green Globes. The goal was to give the building as light a footprint as possible. A hybrid structure applying both steel and concrete frame, it is the first in the region to incorporate BubbleDeck void form technology in the floor slabs, reducing the concrete mass by 31 percent and lowering CO2 emissions and carbon footprint as a result. This innovative method achieved two-way slab spans over 12 metres in length to bridge the large classrooms. A total of 11,300 bubbles, each a 25cm hollow ball of recycled plastic, was laid in the form around which concrete was poured. This displaced nearly 163 tonnes of concrete or equivalent to 100 kg of concrete per every kilogram of recycled plastic. The building has a broad base that narrows to a slender top. The first three floors hold many people in large spaces – such as the lecture hall, classrooms and gathering places, requiring a deep floor plate. The upper three floors house offices with fewer occupants, for which a shallow floorplate was configured in structural steel, providing greater access to daylight and freeing up critical program space. The depth of excavation required to reach foundation rock enabled a basement sufficiently large enough to house all of the building’s mechanical infrastructure. Placing this equipment closer to the large volume classrooms and communal spaces reduced ductwork and energy use by 13 percent. The drive for sustainability is more than the efficiency of structural and mechanical systems. A holistic approach to sustainability includes wellness and creating a connection to daylight and nature. A large central skylight brings sunlight into the hive while another skylight on the ground outside feeds natural light into the tunnel junction. A fully integrated approach to sustainable design places the project as a model of efficiency where energy-saving features align seamlessly with the overarching design aesthetic. The Nicol Building aspires to create both presence and intimacy and to distinguish the Sprott School of Business as a place where students feel supported in community and excellence. The design’s embracing form instills a sense of belonging. More than an academic facility, the building is a vivid expression of the school’s culture. The flowing design creates an inspiring, flexible and intimate environment that lays the foundation for lifelong learning and success.
Hariri Pontarini Architects (HPA) is a leading Toronto-based architectural studio known for crafting projects of enduring value. Founded in 1994 by Siamak Hariri and David Pontarini, the firm’s portfolio covers a diverse range of institutional, cultural, mixed-use, commercial, and residential projects of international acclaim. Distinguished by an unwavering commitment to design excellence and an aspiration to create architecture that can uplift and inspire, HPA’s growing body of work has helped to elevate Canada’s architectural profile on the global stage.
Award-winning projects led by Siamak Hariri include the Bahá’í Temple of South America in Santiago, Chile; the Royal Ontario Museum Welcome Project; the Tom Patterson Theatre at the Stratford Festival; ; noted healthcare facilities Casey House and the BARLO MS Centre in Toronto; and offices of McKinsey & Company, the youngest building to be recognized with Toronto heritage designation.
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