York University students and faculty members gathered last Thursday to celebrate the groundbreaking of their new Student Center located on the university’s Keele campus in Toronto. Unique to the university, the 126,000 SF building will be the second student center 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 favor 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 percent of students voting in favor.
Set to open in spring 2018, the programmatic aspirations of the building are to create a “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.
The design process involved extensive public engagement with the student body, and quite literally every aspect of the design was influenced by student input. “In all of my time as an architect, I’ve never participated in such a collaborative design process,” notes Hector Tuminan, CannonDesign’s project leader. “The student body and our team worked alongside each other from the start, and the student centre that’s getting built today is truly designed by the students, for the students.”
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 4-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.”