ZAS Architects unveils design for U of T’s new Learning Landscape

ZAS Architects, in collaboration with CEBRA Architecture, has unveiled the design for a new student-centred learning and support hub at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC).

According to the developers, the new facility – Instructional Centre Phase 2 (IC-2) – is a dynamic learning landscape that promotes agile and asynchronous education through a complex arrangement of rooms and open public spaces.

Inspired by the form of a 19th-century Printer’s Tray, the building’s façade emulates architectural variance, reflecting the diversity of the student community that resides within.

“We envisioned a truly flexible environment that broke down traditional pedagogies and instead, encouraged a fluid learning experience unconfined by the walls of the classroom,” says Paul Stevens, Founder, and Senior Principal at ZAS Architects. “Peer-to-peer learning is emulated in all aspects of the design.”

Artificially-created terrain spills from the outside in, creating a hybrid of social and study areas that stimulate and support vibrant campus life. Students have access to a multitude of flexible, technology-enabled spaces, including 21 classrooms ranging from a 500-seat auditorium to smaller 24-seat active learning environments.

The learning spaces sit on top of one another, creating opportunities for a platform and bleacher seating space known as the Knoll, which scales the roof of the 210-seat Butterfly Cave tiered auditorium.

Butterfly Cave rendering courtesy of ZAS Architects

Knoll rendering courtesy of ZAS Architects

Meanwhile the Coffice – a large study/social space – sits atop the Campfire auditorium, a multi-purpose hexagonal lecture theatre that seats 500 and protrudes two metres above the ground floor. The plan allows for spatial flexibility and creates a dynamic viewing experience for students with the presenter positioned at the centre. The design also promotes immersive learning in an interactive environment with surrounding digital screens.

Campfire auditorium rendering courtesy of ZAS Architects

The framed grid that forms the building’s façade creates a design that combines various volumes, scales, surfaces and spatial qualities. Inspired by the form of Printer’s Tray from the 19th Century, the building’s four distinct façades mirror the tray’s compartments and represent the diversity of spaces and educational environments within.

Building on the notion of a building hovering above, the recessed grade-level façade is highly transparent with mullion-free structural glass panes. The learning landscape extends horizontally across the entire ground floor, enriching student flow and way-finding.

Inspired by the Highland Creek ravine that weaves through the campus, the design is guided by the desire to extend green space indoors. Meanwhile, two rooftop gardens also merge indoor and outdoor spaces to enhance the public realm within the building’s upper levels.

Elements of health and wellness are woven into all aspects of the design, but are central to the fifth floor, where the campus-wide Student Affairs programmes will be consolidated and prioritized into a single accessible space.

This includes counselling and mental health resources, a meditation and breastfeeding room, a physician and nurse office, academic advising and accessibility services, and multiple co-working spaces that encourage peer collaboration.

“Ultimately, this project is about more than classrooms. It’s about student support, both physically and mentally,” says Peter Duckworth-Pilkington, Principal at ZAS Architects. ”Dedicating a state-of-the-art, central floor to student health sends a powerful message that well-being needs are not just accommodated at the University of Toronto, they are being prioritized.”

Rendering courtesy of ZAS Architects