Manager’s Special

PROJECT Rotman School of Management Expansion Project, Toronto, Ontario
ARCHITECT Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects
TEXT Paige Magarrey
PHOTOS Tom Arban and Maris Mezulis

Standing in the lobby of the newly expanded Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, there isn’t a classroom in sight. But there is something else–students. Reading quietly by the fireplace, working in pairs in the café, busily standing over laptops in the glass-enclosed study rooms. And that might be the most compelling detail of Toronto architecture firm Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects’ 15,000-square-metre addition, though there are many: every inch of the space is designed for the students. It’s a simple enough concept, but not one that you’ll see at every university. 

 Then again, Rotman’s program isn’t something you’d see at every university either. Since it developed its new model of business education in 2000, the Rotman School of Management has zoned in on concepts of integrative thinking and business design, with undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students developing innovative approaches to the creative problem-solving side of business. In 2008, Rotman announced an invited architectural competition to double the size of its facilities without dwarfing the existing five-storey Joseph L. Rotman Centre for Management that was completed in 1995 by Eb Zeidler. The brief called for more classrooms–the number of first-year students is fast approaching 400–as well as a flexible event room and space for two research institutes, the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking and the Lloyd and Delphine Martin Prosperity Institute, not to mention ample study space for the bustling student body. “How do you add on to a building and double its size, preserve the identity of the original, and establish a new identity for the whole thing?” asks KPMB principal Bruce Kuwabara. His answer was simple: “We broke some rules.”

 For one thing, they raised the building up higher then the client was originally comfortable with. While they wanted it lower, the team at KPMB was very concerned about the scale of St. George Street and its surrounding buildings–Robarts Library and Massey, Innis and St. Hilda’s Colleges–buildings of various vintages with a very specific interconnected aesthetic that has been established for years. Also, while the brief required the firm to conserve two heritage buildings on the site–a red brick house and an old white brick building near the corner of St. George Street and Hoskin Avenue that housed the university’s CIUT radio station–KPMB only kept the red brick structure, now the home of Rotman’s PhD program, and pitched the demolition of the white brick one to create a proportional footprint for the new building. 

“You know you have to break a rule to win, but it’s a risk. If [the client] doesn’t get that idea, then they won’t let you break that rule,” says partner Marianne McKenna, referring to the challenges inherent in deviating from the project brief in order to achieve a better result in the end. The extremely fragile task of working with heritage buildings is something KPMB is well-versed in; with projects such as the Royal Conservatory TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning and the glass-encased addition to the Canadian Museum of Nature under its belt, the firm has learned through experience that sometimes you have to “take pieces of heritage fabric down,” says McKenna, to make for a more dramatic presentation of other historic elements. And in this case, the result is worth it. The building, an elevated glass box with soaring ceilings and ample natural light augmented by a nine-storey tower set back at the northernmost edge of the site, not only interacts with its surrounding structures, but highlights them from angles and heights never experienced before. A glazed skin encasing the second-floor event space, for example, offers views of the detailing on the exterior of the adjacent red brick historic building. And the vantage point of Robarts Library from the fifth-floor terrace enables occupants to view the Brutalist concrete structure in a whole new light. 

 The new entrance leads into a fully glazed café area that pushes right out to the edge of St. George Street to connect working students with the rest of the campus and passersby. A sunken courtyard between the glass façade and the sidewalk creates a layered effect for the main floor and provides a bit of a buffer for students hard at work. In the middle of the lobby, a dramatic, sculptural staircase provides an anchor for the building and moves the focus away from the tower’s elevators. Because there are two entrances–the new one on the building’s south end and the original one in the Fleck Atrium next door–the team branched the staircase in both directions, each with a “different cadence” as Kuwabara calls it. The stairs from the new entrance are designed for efficiency, aimed at getting students up to the second-floor event space or down to the basement as fast as possible. But the staircase closer to the Fleck Atrium encourages a more relaxed and meandering gait with its generous width, deep treads and shallow rise–geared for patrons moving, wine glass in hand, from a pre-function up to the event space. The result is an organic, flowing form that both Kuwabara and McKenna point to as their favourite part of the whole expansion. The stair’s hot pink accents were taken directly from the original colour palette of Rotman Magazine, whose visual identity was crafted by design guru Bruce Mau. Plus, it didn’t hurt that KPMB’s initial presentation of the design took place on Valentine’s Day in 2008. “It was cold and we wanted a hot colour,” says Kuwabara. “We wanted to jolt them.”

 The glass-encased double-height event space at the top of the stairs overlooks St. George Street. Built big enough to accommodate the entire first-year class and then some, the room can be parcelled into smaller spaces, or even opened up through sliding partition walls to the generous foyer at the top of the stairs. The decision to put the event space on the second floor was a logical one; the KPMB team didn’t want to put it underground, like so many light-locked conference rooms in hotels around the city, and putting it on the main floor would have monopolized too much of the floor space. “So that left one more choice, which was up in the air,” says Kuwabara. “Our mantra to ourselves was that the building had been looking inward for so many years and its success had earned it the right to express itself and connect itself to the city.”

 The basement houses the school’s seven classrooms and more lounge space for students. To put the classrooms below grade, the design team had to prove to the client that the conditions would not only be safe but also comfortable. “For the same reason we didn’t want to put the event space down below, the client wasn’t sure about putting classrooms there,” says Kuwabara. But the well-placed sunken exterior courtyard captures light from above and provides natural views to these lower spaces. “You can see the sky,” he says. “It makes all the difference.” The classrooms incorporate the cutting edge of education technology: interactive smart boards, TV and projection screens, adjustable lecterns and full tech support. Each classroom also features a custom-made acoustic panel that features an abstract representation of one of the seven economic driver cities of 2011, including London, Singapore, Mumbai and New York. In between the classrooms are comfortable loung
e and study spaces filled with students that are a far cry from the sterile library environments one might associate with universities. And to cut down on sound in these open spaces, KPMB lined the 800 minimalist lockers they had to integrate into the three floors with perforated wood to provide acoustic insulation. 

 Though certainly present among these floors, it’s the nine-storey tower that truly exemplifies one of Kuwabara and McKenna’s driving forces behind the project: the concept of the vertical campus, a vertically oriented plan that encourages collaboration and integration between the floors, and allows for future growth and expansion–such as in previous KPMB projects like the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts building at Concordia University and Canada’s National Ballet School. In the case of Rotman, it allows for inspired design details that would otherwise be impossible, like the expansive outdoor terrace on the fifth floor, near the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking. “You intensify and increase the amount of space as you grow the university vertically,” says Kuwabara, standing on the terrace. “We kept calling this the sweet spot. You’re just at the peaks of the Victorian houses and the details of Massey College. This allowed us to scale the entire building on St. George.” Even up on the ninth floor, in the Lloyd and Delphine Martin Prosperity Institute, a semi-enclosed outdoor space features vertically striped fenestration that matches the surrounding landscape and Toronto’s overall skyline. “They’re all framed. You really feel the vertical elements of the context,” says Kuwabara. “This is part of the vertical campus, that you could be on the ninth floor of the building and still step outside and be in touch with the rest of the campus.” 

 Keeping in touch with the rest of the campus–and visa versa. It’s a key component of the entire expansion, right down to the view from the sidewalk, where the lantern-like floating event space beckons onlookers and engages passersby. “You’re part of the animation. Part of the activity,” says McKenna. “It’s a different kind of facility–a model for a more interactive and immersive education within the city. Not every department can do that, but Rotman can. It becomes quite rich. And people should see it and think about the way they teach and the way they accommodate their students.” CA

Paige Magarrey is a Toronto-based architecture and design writer.

Client University of Toronto
Architect Team Bruce Kuwabara, Marianne McKenna, Luigi LaRocca, Paulo Rocha, Dave Smythe, Myriam Tawadros, Bruno Weber, John Peterson, Janice Wong, Richard Wong, Victor Garzon, Lilly Liaukus, Bryn Marler, Rachel Stecker, Maryam Karimi, Carolyn Lee, Danielle Sucher, Laura Carwardine
Structural Halcrow Yolles
Mechanical/Electrical Smith & Andersen
Civil Cole Engineering
Landscape Janet Rosenberg and Associates
Interiors Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects
Contractor Eastern Construction Company Ltd.
Building Envelope BVDA Group
Energy Transsolar + Halsall
LEED Halsall Associates Ltd.
Cost Consulting Turner & Townsend cm2r Inc.
Heritage E.R.A. Architects Inc.
Life Safety Leber Rubes
AV Engineering Harmonics
Elevators ACSI
Acoustic Aercoustics Engineering Ltd.
Kitchen Kaizen
Specification Brian Ballantyne Specifications
Signage Entro/G+A
Area 15,000 m2
Budget $65.6 M
Completion June 2012