Perkins&Will reveals bold and twisting new building for York University’s School of Continuing Studies

New design for North America’s largest continuing studies school provides the dynamic programming and amenities to upskill and reskill Canada’s labour market and supports a diverse community of learners

Recently awarded Excellence in Design by the Ontario Glass & Metal Association, the new School of Continuing Studies building will be an architectural landmark for York University. Photo by Doublespace Photography.

York University and Perkins&Will have revealed a new building at the school’s Keele Campus, creating the first stand-alone facility for York’s School of Continuing Studies. Featuring a dramatic geometric form, the building’s design is emblematic of the school’s identity and culture, which is centred around accelerated professional growth in the face of a continuously evolving labour market.

Established in 2015, the School of Continuing Studies has become the largest school of its kind in Canada and serves students who are looking to further their educational and professional development and English language learners. The programs, previously dispersed across York’s campus, are now centralized in a state-of-the-art facility that features modular learning clusters, bright collaboration spaces, a generous public plaza, and wellness amenities like a lactation room and prayer space.

“From the outset, we aimed to achieve transformation and impact for the School of Continuing Studies. Through our design we wanted the School of Continuing Studies to achieve a rich identity, build community and create a culture of connectivity, both internally and externally. Our goal was to set a new benchmark nationwide, demonstrating how institutions can leverage the power of design to respond to its evolving landscape,” says Safdar Abidi, Higher Education Leader and Principal with Perkins&Will.

The contortion of the building is emblematic of the way that the school supports professional growth in the face of a changing economic landscape. Photo by Lisa Logan Photography.

A Striking Twisted Building Form

Located at the southern tip of the campus on Pond Street, the signature 120,000 sq. ft. building spans five floors and emerges from a new public plaza, creating a distinctive new gateway into the campus.

“The building’s unique twisted form begins with a desire to create engaging public spaces, both within the building and at the scale of the campus. We responded to the neighboring buildings, road networks and pedestrian desire lines by nudging the building over to create a gateway plaza to the west and a discrete drop-off zone to the east. With this the twist was born!” says Andrew Frontini, Lead Designer and Design Director with Perkins&Will.“Each of the five floors rotates to lean out and shelter the public realm as well as engage people at the scale of the campus with a bold sculptural presence. Inside, the twist creates light-filled spaces to engage outside of the classrooms. It’s a bold form, but one that is born out of a desire to build culture and community.”

The unique façade was recently named a winner of the 2023 Excellence in Design Award by the Ontario Glass & Metal Association for its complex design approach. Encased in reflective brushed aluminum panels, the building’s high-performance unitized curtain wall creates a continuous, taut, and efficient skin that maximizes views while reducing energy use. The triangular openings define the façade with a diagrid pattern that curves as it rises, in response to the building’s twisted form.

Modular learning spaces can be adjusted to accommodate 16- to 120-seat classrooms. Photo by Tom Arban.

Perkins&Will deployed a geometric design process to articulate the dramatic contortion of the building by manipulating the rectangular floor plate around a common centroid. The rotation of the overall form introduces a two-way curve into the north and south facades.

Twisting open to a new plaza, the building’s form maximizes the composition of the urban campus. The structural make-up of the building’s core is low carbon concrete and efficiently braces the building’s twisting shape.

The design explores the potential for Net-Zero Energy and Net-Zero Carbon and targets LEED Gold certification. High-performance building strategies include direct outdoor air ventilation and active chilled beams.

Classrooms are set inwards, creating learning clusters that leave open spaces at the light-filled perimeter. Photo by Tom Arban.

“In many ways, the twist of the building is symbolic of the agility of program evolution at the School of Continuing Studies. Throughout the design and development process of the new building, we adapted to the effects of the pandemic and asserted a vision for the return to campus,” says Abidi.

Interconnected lounges and open collaboration spaces support the school’s social learning approach. Photos by Tom Arban.

Inclusive amenities for student success

Designed prior to the pandemic, the School of Continuing Studies paves a path forward for the return to campus with amenities curated to the needs of diverse students. Supporting one of the School’s core missions of providing accessible education opportunities for underrepresented populations, Perkins&Will thoughtfully incorporated a range of wellness amenities, geared towards students with varying needs. All centralized on the lower level, amenities include a communal dining space with a bank of microwaves, a meditation/prayer room, and a mothers’ nursing room support the wellness needs of the school’s diverse student body.

Amenities include communal dining space, a quiet prayer room, a meditation/yoga room, and a room for nursing mothers. Photo by Tom Arban.

The new building design dismantles traditional lecture halls and labs in favour of spaces that foster high interaction and active learning. Interconnected lounges and open collaboration spaces line the perimeter of the building, encouraging interaction and collaboration, creating opportunities for students and faculty to form social bonds.

On each floor, classrooms and meeting rooms were designed to be modular. The learning spaces are set inwards, creating learning clusters that leave open spaces at the light-filled perimeter. Each cluster can be reconfigurable in size. The adaptive nature of the building layout creates a new way for the school to adjust to new technologies, evolving pedagogy, and enrollment rates.

Classrooms double as spaces for networking events with private sector companies and non-profit organizations. Photo by Tom Arban.

“We are incredibly proud to have opened the first centralized facility for the School of Continuing Studies. The space reflects our approach of strengthening social connections and leveraging experiential education to help students develop their human skills along with functional expertise. This approach develops a resiliency in graduates which when combined with their new in-demand skills from a respected institution gives our graduates a competitive edge and enhances social mobility”, says Christine Brooks-Cappadocia, Interim Vice President of Continuing Studies with York University.

The new design marks the first stand-alone facility for York’s School of Continuing Studies. Photo by Tom Arban.