Rebuilding Engineering at U of T

How the Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship is changing conceptions of academic buildings

The Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering (FASE) continues to advance its mission to: encourage students and faculty to spearhead research, enhance teaching and learning methods, and create a diverse, thriving community. The physical spaces that FASE occupies, however, have remained relatively static since 2002, when the Faculty opened the Bahen Centre for Information Technology on St. George Street.

In need of a space that reflects the changing needs of its research and education, the Faculty will unveil the Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CEIE)—a building designed to foster collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship—in the autumn of 2017.

Mechanical and Industrial Engineering’s Prof. Ron Venter, chair of the CEIE Project Planning Committee, gives us a glimpse into the CEIE’s genesis.

CHOOSING A SITE

The ideal spot for the new building had to balance cost and convenience with approval from both the University and the City of Toronto. Initial considerations for the location included the Engineering Annex, but as a developed site with a network of underground pipes and utilities, construction would have been too expensive. Site 17, located behind the Mechanical Engineering Building, posed construction access challenges.

The final choice: Site 10, a surface-level parking lot located just north of the Galbraith Building and west of Simcoe Hall on St. George Street. The location was chosen for ease of construction and its proximity to public transit.

DEFINING THE PURPOSE

The building will combine technology, community, and efficiency for the benefit of the Faculty and the University of Toronto.

The CEIE will not be a conventional academic building; it will catalyze innovation in engineering, and encourage people to rethink how they learn, work, teach and communicate. The building’s open concept was designed to encourage cross-disciplinary community and research, one of the Faculty’s goals. Programs and institutes will not be isolated from each other. Faculty, staff and students will inhabit the same areas to enhance research and interdisciplinary networking.

After assessing the space requirements of the Faculty and auditing the use of its existing space, the CEIE Project Planning Committee determined the optimal allocation of teaching, research, and administrative space for the new building.

By balancing these needs with resources and funds, the CEIE will maximize space in several ways:

  1. The CEIE will have a series of dry labs but no wet labs; this reduces the construction costs by about $50 million, since a wet lab building requires additional exhaust and drainage systems.
  2. Other faculties, schools, and departments across the University will be able to use the building’s classroom space; this will allow U of T’s Academic and Campus Events – who manage space on campus- to reconfigure other University spaces for different uses, creating room for new labs and offices.
  3. It will be a place that cultivates excitement about the new approach to space design and use.

DESIGNING AND PLANNING

The design conforms to the St. George Campus master plan to balance classroom, meeting, research, office and communal space needs.

The floorplan allocates the lower four floors for teaching and student space and the upper floors for innovation activities, including The Entrepreneurship Hatchery. The building’s basement (free space not included in master plan considerations) has a larger footprint than the floors above, maximizing space for utilities without infringing on student clubs and common areas, which will also occupy the basement.

The CEIE meets the Toronto Green Standard, a two-tier set of performance measures for sustainable site and building design. The goal is to reach Tier 2, a voluntary, higher level of energy efficiency. To meet this standard, the architects chose to forego glass facades, because they are not energy efficient, in favour of intelligent design. The façade panels will have angled siding to allow ample natural light to enter the building and deflect direct sunlight, ensuring more consistent energy needs.

However, this means that the CEIE will not blend in as well aesthetically with the surrounding Bahen Centre, Galbraith Building, Simcoe Hall and Physical Geography Building, but it does demonstrate the Faculty’s commitment to sustainability. Despite the design elements of its exterior, the cube-shaped, eight-storey building will fit harmoniously into the University’s skyline; it will not dwarf surrounding buildings or obscure views across the campus.

CONSTRUCTING THE BUILDING

After two years of planning and gaining approvals from the University and the City of Toronto, construction of the CEIE began on June 24, 2015 with a groundbreaking ceremony. By late August, steady progress was being made and the CEIExSKAM mural (named after the street artist who created it) was unveiled.

Erection of the building will begin in 2016, and although clearing and foundational work has been smooth, there have been challenges. Pile drivers had to work around a protected tree on Galbraith Road and builders needed to relocate a high-voltage powerline that hindered construction on the site. A series of soil analyses indicated a higher than permitted level of manganese in the groundwater, so the contractors have been working with a manganese-processing facility to decrease levels during construction. The long-term solution will see manganese processing capacity installed inside the building.

A protected pedestrian walkway was installed on the south side of Galbraith Road, a busy pedestrian thoroughfare. The University continues to explore ways to increase safety during construction.

USING THE BUILDING

The CEIE’s state-of-the-art features will nurture innovation. The Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) classrooms facilitate hands-on learning and the interactive, 500-seat auditorium is fitted with tables on tiers to promote discussions and group activities. The building lobby will accommodate a diverse range of functions, from product launches to exam prep sessions.

Nearly all of the space in the CEIE is designed to be shared. The open-concept design allows for greater interaction between students, staff and faculty, as well as between the departments, institutes and centres housed within the CEIE’s walls.

The upper floors will also feature raised floors, modular furniture and flexible space that can be changed to fit the needs of the users of the space as time goes on. This kind of flexibility will allow the physical space to match the evolution, growth and changing nature of research priorities.

FOR MORE INFORMATION AND DETAILED FLOORPLANS, VISIT UOFT.ME/CEIE