Designing one of the most inclusive higher education buildings in the world
York University in Toronto has one of the most diverse student populations in the world. Its more than 55,000 students represent nearly every ethnicity, culture, nationality, religion, identity and ability. But as one of the largest universities in North America with a high proportion of commuters, it can be hard for students to find others like themselves. So back in 2013, the student body voted to make a change.
Their idea was to build a second student center devoted solely to student space. This idea was put to the test in 2013 in a special referendum. Close to 10,000 student votes were cast—the highest voter turnout in the history of Canadian post-secondary institutions—with approximately 90 percent voting in favor.
The process of designing the new building was completely driven by students, with more than 11,000 participating in the process. Their input led to a four-story, modern building that houses space for study, studios, club offices, meetings and multi-faith prayer. With a Muslim student population estimated at more than 1,500, the prayer space is especially notable. The fourth floor is entirely devoted to prayer, including two ablution rooms for the Islamic cleansing ritual called “Wudu.”
We created a building where every student can feel welcome, safe, motivated and connected to their peers. We employed one of the most inclusive processes ever undertaken at a post-secondary institution and delivered a building that is completely reflective of the student body.
– Siva Vimalachandran, executive director of the Student Centre
To increase safety for all students, the design harnesses clear sight lines, transparency and progressive lighting strategies. The building also includes a wellness center focused on student mental health and safety, as well as a food bank to battle food insecurity.
In talking with students on campus, the student center delivers what they need and more. Fatima Babiker, president of the York Federation of Students, sums it up well. “Every student can be themselves here, and the concentration of so many cultures, beliefs and identities in one space broadens the minds of everyone around them.”