Adler University

Fostering social justice at Adler University

The bold interior design for the university reflects its unique curriculum
Friday, November 3, 2017
by Cheryl Mah

Dedicated to social justice and graduating socially responsible practitioners, Adler University is not a typical school. So naturally, it follows that its new Vancouver campus could not be a typical learning environment. The progressive university needed an equally innovative environment that would reflect its unique curriculum.

Public Architecture + Communication was challenged by the university to take risks and the result is a bold and effective expression of the school’s mission, vision and values. Extroverted and iconic, the design powerfully connects the university to the street and surrounding neighbourhood while empowering students to fuel change.

The 30,000-square-foot university is devoted to positive change and a just society, through degree programs, training, and community engagement focused on socially responsible practice and offers an immersive curriculum that invites students to solve real-world social problems.

Located on the first five floors of a slender glass tower in downtown Vancouver, the interiors are flooded with the university’s brand colours (red, brown, green, orange) to stand out from its neighbours and to welcome visitors. Large scale murals reinforce Adler’s vision and philosophy in all common areas with illustrative timelines and inspiration quotes from social justice leaders.

“The design for the project is all about making an interior project an exterior representation of the Adler campus at the city scale,” says Public’s lead interior designer Teresa Miller. “Adler’s colourful cross section is designed to take on the scale of a campus without obvious exterior signage or representation. Seen through the tower’s glass exterior, colour creates a civic scale to a project that would otherwise be just an interior.”

The design challenge was to foster a sense of academic community in a commercial office building designed for separate tenants. To achieve this, Public created a continuous student commons connected vertically and horizontally through all five floors with geometric staircases. Vertical and horizontal wayfinding, conveying direction as well as the story of Adler University, wraps the circulation up and through the public areas of the building.

“There were a variety of technical constraints associated with building an interconnected interior in a building that was simultaneously under construction,” says Miller. “We had a certified professional coordinating the approval process with the city throughout design and construction. On top of that getting all of the same product colours to match on each floor was also challenging. Reds are tough!”

The floorplan includes generous open spaces that promote collaboration and productive student experiences. Small classrooms allow for meaningful student-faculty interaction and state-of-the-art technology is incorporated throughout.

Sustainability was also an important driver for this project with the design team putting careful thought into the environmental aspects of the design, materials and furnishings. The project is targeting LEED Gold for Commercial Interiors certification.

The outstanding and impactful design earned the firm an IDIBC Award of Excellence and the prestigious IDIBC Robert Ledingham Award for project of the year. “Robert Ledingham was known for his impeccable taste, imagination and eye for detail so it is with great respect that we felt receiving the award – frankly we’re flattered,” says Miller. “It is all the more meaningful that the award is not granted every year and that it was a unanimous jury decision.”

Officially opened in May 2017, the project has successfully transformed the way the university carries out its business and the once nondescript tower has now become known as “The Adler Building.”

“It’s not often that a tenant becomes a tower’s landmark,” says Miller.


Cheryl Mah is managing editor of Design Quarterly

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