New building for York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering

York University’s newest addition to its campus is an iconic and ambitious building that will redefine engineering education in Canada. A $60-million project, the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence is a space designed to cultivate renaissance engineers – a new breed of engineer that possesses a social conscience and a sense of global citizenship.

Opening in August 2015, the school will offer students a learning environment without walls. Lectures happen on devices outside of the building, traditional classrooms are nowhere to be found, and in their place are spaces designed to foster collaboration and innovation.

Lassonde’s desire to realize an engineering school like no other, challenging the tradition of engineering buildings to define and confine students by discipline, opened possibilities to invite a space of discourse. During the planning process, ZAS Architects + Interiors worked closely with York to develop a design that reflected Lassonde’s goals, ultimately drawing upon two complementary ideas of mutability: a Cloud and a Rock. Its curvilinear form was developed based on the Cloud metaphor, and is seen to hover over a highly tessellated landscape that combines artificial and natural landscape features. The Rock is a prominent feature of this landscape, inspired by the geology of northern Canada, providing a roof over design workshops and project areas located on the lower level of the building.

Celebrating the interdependency between architecture, engineering, landscape and program in the spirit of the Da Vinci polymath ideal associated with the Renaissance, the building and landscape blur on a “landscape of learning” which assimilates the site and building into the surrounding natural environment and campus. It challenges the traditional notion of the limits of an academic building and the domain of learning.

Nearly 16,000 square metres of floor space on five levels rising from the campus will contain learning spaces for civil, mechanical and electrical engineering programs. Inside, a variety of teaching and research labs, workshops, collaborative classrooms, studio spaces and social areas for students and faculty create an innovative learning environment.

Rooted at the lower levels of the building is the civil engineering program, with the electrical and mechanical engineering departments at the building’s upper levels. The entrance level to the school contains most of the student service functions while administration for the faculty occupies a mid-level location in the building ensuring accessibility and engagement with the school’s faculty and students.

The project design team was selected by York University in a three-stage international architectural competition that included competing teams from across North America, Europe and Asia. Led by ZAS Architects + Interiors, the team is also working in collaboration with Arup Engineering & Scott Torrance Landscape Architects. The synergies and creativity of this multidisciplinary team have been fully realized in the design vision for the building and the technical development of it. Rounding out the team is the experienced construction management team of Laing O’Rourke and Gillam Group.