CannonDesign breaks ground on new Student Centre at York University
Construction recently began on York University’s new Student Centre in Toronto, designed by CannonDesign. Unique to the university, the 126,000 sq.ft building will be the second student centre on the campus — designed to complement the services offered in the original centre while responding to the changing needs of the campus’ large and diverse community.
The project is the result of a 2013 referendum in which the student body voted in favour of a second building devoted solely to student space. The referendum secured the highest voter turnout in the history of Canadian post-secondary institutions, with approximately 90 per cent of students voting in favour.
Moreover, a recent national survey of college students in Canada showed that more than 66 per cent of 43,000 students surveyed reported feeling “very lonely” in the past year. The study also found nearly half of the students surveyed felt debilitatingly depressed in the past year. Although there are a number of factors that affect student loneliness, one key way to address the problem is by creating opportunities for students to engage with the university and the greater student body. And beyond just building a space for these students to go, it needs to be designed in direct response to their needs so every student from every walk of life feels welcomed.
Before any design options were created, an extensive student engagement exercise was undertaken — including conducting more than 11,000 student surveys — to ensure the building reflected student needs. As CannonDesign’s Hector Tuminan explains, “In all of my time as an architect, I’ve never participated in such a collaborative design process. Almost everything in the design was directly drawn from the student surveys.”
Set to open in spring 2018, the programmatic aspirations of the building are to create an inclusive “living room” for student life that is broadly embraced by the campus community. It will house space to satisfy the most critical student needs: study, meeting, lounge, studio, club offices, assembly, and multi-faith prayer space.
Located at the north end of a significant campus green, the building’s central location will make it easily accessible to the 50,000 students who attend classes on the campus. The design includes an array of sustainable and user-led initiatives, including bicycle parking, showers, green roofs, high-performance glazing / curtain wall, gender-neutral washrooms, and extensive use of natural lighting to promote principles of community safety, accessibility and environmental sustainability. The exterior landscape is folded seamlessly into the design, making the exterior areas a true extension of the interior assembly spaces. The transparency of the building acts as a design response to the student body’s desire to be open, welcoming and inclusive.
In a statement released by York University, Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s Chief Planner, commented that, “The modern, iconic four-storey multi-purpose building that has been designed to overlook Roy McMurtry Green will undoubtedly become a campus landmark and lasting testament to the commitment and vision of today’s York University students.”