Canada’s first zero-carbon, mass timber higher-education building revealed

Centennial College is collaborating with EllisDon, DIALOG and Smoke Architecture to construct a mass timber higher-education building based on the Indigenous concept of “two-eyed seeing.”

Centennial College-Progress Campus, rendering courtesy of DIALOG

If it were completed today, the development would be the first zero-carbon, mass timber higher-education building in the country.

The $105-million expansion to the Progress Campus A Block building will embody the College’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation and sustainable design when it opens in 2023.

Centennial College-Progress Campus A Block Social Stair, rendering courtesy of DIALOG
Centennial College-Progress Campus A Block Common Area, rendering courtesy of DIALOG

“We wanted to raise the bar for future post-secondary projects,” said Craig Stephenson, President and CEO, Centennial College. “At Centennial we view sustainability, inclusivity and Indigeneity as wholly interconnected ideas and we wanted a building that demonstrates that crucial relationship.”

The design firms approached the project using Canada’s concept of “two-eyed seeing” or viewing the world through the lens of Indigenous knowledge and the lens of western knowledge. The resulting design brings together Indigenous and Western cultures in both the form and function.

Centennial College-Progress Campus A block, rendering courtesy of DIALOG
Centennial College-Progress Campus A Block Circle Room, rendering courtesy of DIALOG

“This project grows beyond the simplistic application of Indigenous elements onto a mainstream design,” said Eladia Smoke, Principal of Smoke Architecture. “This design is rooted in Indigenous principles, evoked in a contemporary setting. The building’s narrative is a story of seed, growth, culmination, and balance, revealing the seven directions teachings in a cyclical view of an interconnected world.”

Students will enter the building from the east (informed by regional Anishinaabe architecture, respecting the sunrise as a good place to begin), encountering a grand staircase that forms part of the Wisdom Hall, an active multi-storey space of convergence for students, staff and visitors that connects people to Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe creation stories.

Centennial College-Progress Campus A Block Courtyard, rendering courtesy of DIALOG
Centennial College-Progress Campus A Block, rendering courtesy of DIALOG

The life of the building revolves around an Indigenous Commons that opens up into a central courtyard with native plantings. Indigenous concepts of community, biophilia, and sustainability are embedded in the design.

The A Block expansion will add over 150,000 square feet of new and renovated space to help meet the anticipated growth in student enrolment at the College – without adding to its carbon footprint.

“This project will be a clear demonstration of how higher-education facilities can make an important contribution to reducing environmental harm by eliminating CO2 emissions,” said Craig Applegath, Project Principal, DIALOG. “Its zero-carbon emissions design, and its ability to store thousands of tonnes of carbon in its sustainably harvested mass timber wood structure, will be an important precedent in both Canada and around the world.”