John Abbott College: Science and Health Technologies Building

ARCHITECT Saucier + Perrotte architectes
LOCATION Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec

Located on a campus that was designed along Lac St-Louis in the first decade of the 20th century, John Abbott College is home to more than 5,000 post-secondary students, faculty and staff members. To meet the demands of space and current technologies, the sciences are expanding into a state-of-the-art facility that will become the college’s first major addition to the campus in over 30 years.

The new Science and Technology Building houses the College’s pure sciences–Physics, Biology and Chemistry–as well as its professional programs of nursing, paramedic and biopharmaceutical studies. The building’s main programmatic functions include general and specialized laboratories, classrooms, offices and learning centres, as well as informal spaces for the exchange of ideas.

For the architects and for the college, one site stood out on the campus because of its position at the hub of student movement. Between the historic Herzberg and Stewart buildings, the opportunity existed to connect the new project to an axis often referred to as the “main street” of user circulation.

The main entrance for the new building connects through the covered Arctic Circle walkway and projects toward the centre of campus, allowing for a grand entry while respecting the integrity of the campus ensemble. This connection allows students, faculty and staff to move freely between the Herzberg and Stewart buildings, and facilitates access to the new building along the century-old path.

The architecture stems from the landscape, taking cues from its context, and the design of the new building literally takes root in the topography. On the site is a majestic ginkgo tree that was envisioned as a centrepiece for an outdoor gathering space.

On the western edge of the exterior courtyard is the new multi-purpose Student Agora, which architecturally deforms to become a ground plane that flows into and takes root in the new building. As this interior topography meets the fulcrum of the building, it folds upward to become a light-filled, vertical circulation space that acts as the central link between the sciences. Like an architectonic tree, analogous to that of the adjacent ginkgo, this atrium space contains branches that extend in the form of benches and interior elements on each level. Acting simultaneously as signage, the central “tree” is a symbol of the different fields of science that converge in the building.

The principal volume of the Science Building appears to float in the campus. Its main floor is liberated and permeable to allow the landscape and users to flow into and out of the building. The project thus functions as a node and a passage to various parts of the campus. The volume above frames views outward to the lake, landscape and the town of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. Facing the centre of the campus, the front portion of the building gives students inside the feeling of inhabiting a virtual balcony that overlooks the campus below.

Composed of a light material palette made up of glass and aluminum, this building reflects the adjacent historic building. Also, the northern and southern faades contain weathering steel to evoke the colours and textures found throughout the college.

Each programmatic function is clearly expressed through the building skin. In certain circulation zones, the envelope changes from translucent to transparent to allow for a variation in both lighting and spatial conditions. From the outside, this allows the building to be perceived as continuously changing–even dematerializing–as it reflects the campus. In order to foster the connection and sense of community between disciplines, the central atrium space allows for easy access to other levels.

The idea of activity from the public ground level filtering up into the educational spaces above is extremely important to the project, as it stresses the relationship of the sciences to the public. Exhibitions and activities may take place in the foyer, allowing students and visitors to derive benefits and inspiration from cross-disciplinary ideas.

The college and the architects set the priority that the project must be designed to be environmentally sustainable and showcased as such. From the start, the College and design team identified particular mandates that would allow the building to be an example in sustainability, such as effective water management, energy efficiency and reuse, and the employment of recycled materials where possible.

GH: This is a classic Saucier + Perrotte building. It is elegant, functional and beautifully presented. It is an appropriate response to the neighbouring older buildings. The contrast and tension created by the angular siting is perfectly executed.

JPL: This project is markedly different from the other pavilions comprising the John Abbott College campus. A slight shifting of the plan, which replicates itself throughout the full height of the structure, creates a small interior court open to the public. As this project consists primarily of costly laboratory spaces, it is hoped that this refined and original project will not be compromised in the end by budget issues.

PR: It handles what might have seemed like an awkward site with a simple, remarkably effective site plan and massing. It contributes to the architectural expression of the campus as an ensemble, and contributes to the vital interconnecivity of outdoor spaces and pedestrian movement.

Client CEGEP John Abbott College
Architect Team Gilles Saucier, Andr Perrotte, Trevor Davies, Dominique Dumais, Vedanta Balbahadur, Yutaro Minagawa, Marie Eve Primeau, Christiane Reuter
Structural SDK
Mechanical/Electrical Pageau More
Landscape/Interiors Saucier + Perrotte Architectes
LEED Martin Roy
Area 11,200 m2
Budget $30 M
Completion 2012