Diamond Schmitt’s DARE District opens at Algonquin College

Algonquin College in Ottawa has opened a new centre for learning, innovation and entrepreneurship that features state-of-the-art collaborative environments with an emphasis on the sharing and embracing of Indigenous knowledge. The DARE (Discovery, Applied Research and Entrepreneurship) District promotes new, active ways of learning and teaching that connects students, researchers, the Indigenous and business communities.

The 80,000-square-foot program designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects in a joint venture with Edward J. Cuhaci & Associates Architects consists of newly built and renovated space at the heart of the campus. The former two-storey library building was taken back to its shell and a re-imagined library relocated to a new double-height third floor addition with a dramatic barrel-vaulted wood roof structure.DARE District, Algonquin College, Diamond Schmitt

“The DARE District is a visual representation of our College mission — to transform hopes and dreams into lifelong success,” said Algonquin College President Cheryl Jensen. “This building, with its sweeping ceiling, wide-open spaces, and stunning views of the campus is a place that will inspire a new generation of our learners. We are also very proud that it is a place that, through its very architecture and design, is helping us on our journey to Truth and Reconciliation.”

The ground floor now houses the Showcase Zone with applied research labs next to the College’s main entrance. Adjacent to this is the Indigenous Commons and Gathering Circle, a large event space and collaborative work area in a single-storey infill addition that opens onto a courtyard that will feature a wood structure and fire pit configured to support Indigenous pedagogy. Led by Brook McIlroy’s Indigenous architect Ryan Gorrie, the design of the Indigenous Commons and Gathering Circle involved extensive consultation sessions with Indigenous stakeholders, with the Brook McIlroy team designing spaces that specifically accommodate Indigenous pedagogy.

On the second level, the Discovery Zone has incubator and maker spaces designed to foster partnerships between students and local businesses. A new Institute for Indigenous Entrepreneurship, the first of its kind in Ontario, is located here as well.DARE District, Algonquin College, Diamond Schmitt

“The design of the DARE District promotes interaction among these distinct but interconnected components with a three-storey atrium and feature stair running along the fully–glazed façade,” said Sarah Low, Associate, Diamond Schmitt Architects. “Among the innovative features in this LEED Gold registered facility is dynamic vision glass that tints automatically in response to exterior conditions and controls glare and solar heat gain on the west and east elevations.”

The new Library and Learning Centre roof is a mass timber and steel structure with exposed undulating glulam beams and nail laminated timber (NLT) roof deck that serves as an expression of the sustainable goals of the College. Rising above the surrounding buildings, the library is a welcoming beacon visible across the campus and open to students 24 hours a day.DARE District, Algonquin College, Diamond Schmitt

Traditional Indigenous elements are presented in a modern aesthetic in consultation with Ron McLester, the College’s Executive Director – Truth, Reconciliation & Indigenization and Indigenous consultants that convey Indigenous values and spirit. The Indigenous Commons includes a gathering circle with sliding curved partitions that allow the space to be transformed into a multipurpose area and connects to a communal kitchen and fireplace. “We’re making the post-secondary experience similar to the home environment,” said McLester. “It’s a different way of exploring knowledge, of acquisition, retention and sharing.”

The $44.9-million facility is the second project at the College by Diamond Schmitt, following the LEED Platinum Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence.