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Library and Academic Building, Centennial College

Toronto’s Centennial College, Ontario’s oldest public college, is putting a new “face” on its Progress Avenue campus, erecting a four-story Library and Academic Facility at the campus entrance.

Thanks to both its height and its proximity to major roads, including a heavily-travelled stretch of Highway 401, this yet-to-be-officially-named Facility will draw many an eye to a changing Centennial College.

It will also help Centennial handle rapid expansion. “Student enrolment has increased by a third in a few short years. New classrooms and lab spaces are imperative,” says Khurshed Irani, Centennial College’s executive director, facilities and services.

“The original campus library, built in 1977, has grown cramped and overused,” Irani adds. “The way libraries are used has changed, and students require a new model: a learning-centred environment that offers contemporary technology with access to digital resources, as well as print and visual media collections.”

The Facility will start serving students in the fall of 2011 along with two other buildings, all three of which are part of Centennial’s master plan. The other two are the Athletic Wellness Centre and A-Block, which Irani says will house “36 much-needed classrooms and labs, as well as new administration offices.”

Centennial offers several programs related to environmental sustainability (like Energy Systems Technology and Environmental Protection Technology) so it’s little wonder the Facility was designed to qualify for LEED Gold status.

“The roof will be home to two gardens: a modular roof garden will be installed over the auditorium, while an intensive garden will cover a portion of the library with 20-30 centimetres of black growing medium to support plant life,” says Irani.

On the ground, clean, modern landscaping consists largely of native and drought-resistant species, a choice that enabled builders to do without an irrigation system around the Facility.

“There’s one very large planting bed on the north side of the building, about 100 metres long (the building is about 75 metres long) and 13 metres deep, between the building and nearby parking lots,” says Ryan James, senior landscape architect for Basterfield & Associates Landscape Architects. “This will help pedestrians feel more comfortable, insulated from the lots.”

Rain that falls on the roof flows to underground cisterns to be stored for use in toilets. Meanwhile, rain that hits the ground will flow through either soil or permeable concrete pavement. Either way, precipitation sinks into the ground below, reducing strain on storm sewers. (The Facility represents the second use of permeable concrete pavement in Ontario; the nearby athletic facility, the first.)

“We used supplementary concrete materials (SCM) in the concrete to take the place of cement,” notes Ezio Del Fatti, project manager for EllisDon Corporation, adding that builders took extra care handling SCM during cold winter months to achieve the expected finish.

The Facility’s overall look will depart from that of its older neighbours, since it consists of “generous use of ironspot brick copper and expanses of glass,” says Irani. Concrete, steel and most interior finishes come from recycled materials. To give the building a “cleaner” look, all mechanical equipment goes in the building itself, not in a mechanical penthouse.

Radiant floor heating stretches three metres in from the outside walls, creating heating “bands” on each floor that will keep the building warm.

“We used low VOC-emitting paints, adhesives and carpeting to protect indoor air quality,” Irani notes. “Construction workers are even banned from smoking on site.”

To keep the Facility’s air fresh, the four-storey central atrium will feature a biowall. This biowall will receive plenty of sunlight, since the sawtooth pattern of the north-facing curtain wall carries over the top of the building to become sawtooth-patterned skylights above the atrium.

“We suspended eight-foot-long cylindrical fixtures from the top of the atrium,” notes Vivian Shum, an associate with Mulvey & Banani International Inc., adding that photo cells will also determine whether they need to shine or not.

To date, the campus lacked the gathering place that the atrium will become. It will contain study and meeting spaces, a café, gallery and event space.

Every space in the building is designed to welcome natural light, substantially reducing the need for artificial lighting, provided by fluorescents controlled by photo cells and occupancy sensors.

Variations in classroom design arose from the need for flexible teaching spaces. Some will have flat floors; some will be tilted towards the front. A 200-seat auditorium will accommodate larger classes and events. “It will be set up to do simultaneous translations and accommodate videoconference connections to other campuses,” says Sydney Browne, principal of Diamond + Schmitt Architects Inc.

Shum notes that podiums, projectors and LCD screens reside permanently in classrooms and study spaces, making them presentation-ready for staff and students alike.

The project’s tight timeline drove several design decisions. For instance, concrete serves as the building’s framing up to the top of the fourth floor, where structural steel takes over. “It makes for a faster construction process, whereas structural steel takes more time in coordination, lead time, fabrication and installation,” says Craig Nicoletti, head of field review for Blackwell Bowick Partnership Limited.

The Facility rose in the path of a pedestrian bridge that connects the parking lot with the second-floor main entrance to the campus. Centennial kept the bridge but enclosed it to create a climate-controlled hallway connecting the Facility with the rest of the campus.

The seasons also helped determine certain aspects of the landscaping. Drought tolerance may have topped the list of criteria for plant selection, but salt tolerance ranked highly as well. “There’s a large parking lot nearby, plus Highway 401 runs right by,” James says, noting an appreciable amount of salt accumulates on campus thanks to snow plows and prevailing winds.

Del Fatti calls the Facility a “complex building,” featuring the aforementioned sawtooths and other challenging details where new and existing construction meet.

Nicoletti agrees, calling the auditorium “elliptical.” He mentions the desire to conceal support columns for the auditorium walls, a combination of continuously curved concrete block walls and curved concrete columns complete with a steel framed roof.

For all its complexity, Del Fatti is pleased with the building. “Everything fit really well,” he says.

Project Highlights


Centennial College of Applied Arts and Technology
Progress Campus
941 Progress Ave., Toronto, ON, M1G 3T8


Centennial College of Applied Arts and Technology


Diamond + Schmitt Architects Inc.

Interior Design

Diamond + Schmitt Architects Inc.


EllisDon Corporation


Blackwell Bowick Partnership Limited


Crossey Engineering Ltd.


Mulvey & Banani International Inc.


Basterfield and Associates Landscape Architects

Gross Building Area (new and bridge renovation)

10,022 square metres


$52.5 million, including site services

originally published in Award Magazine. For a PDF of the article, click here.