Inside U of T Mississauga’s Innovation Complex

Expansion project resolves original architecture, reflects school's new programming
Thursday, February 26, 2015
By Michelle Ervin

To subsume or not to subsume. That was the question presented by the project brief for the expansion and renovation of University of Toronto Mississauga’s (UTM) Kaneff Centre, built circa 1992.

Carol Phillips’s answer was not to subsume. Phillips, principal, Moriyama & Teshima Architects, would take an incremental approach and work to resolve the building’s many and varied shapes.

“It was influenced, at that time, by an architecture that used a village of forms to critique established, purer aesthetic forms,” she says. “What resulted in the middle of the building was an incomplete circular courtyard.

“We thought that if we added clear discrete forms, it might actually complete the puzzle and, in a way, make sense of some of these fractured forms.”

The result is a cohesive facility fittingly called the Innovation Complex, unique among UTM’s building stock. Unlike its brutalist next-door neighbours or the campus’ fast-multiplying modern facilities, it is neither wholly new nor old.

The complex marries the Kaneff Centre’s postmodern architecture with a modern 65,300-square-foot addition that tripled the facility’s capacity. Completed in August 2014, the $29.7-million project gave the registrar’s office a new home and UTM’s economics and management programs more space.

Working from its campus master plan, UTM embarked on the project in the fall of 2011. The main impetus, says Paul Donoghue, chief administrative officer, was to accommodate the school’s rising enrollment numbers, which have increased from approximately 5,500 students in 2005 to slightly more than 14,000 students today.

“This was an important project in helping us provide some room, particularly for growth in our management and economics programs,” he says.

The project also coincided with discussions around the school’s approach to business education, which led to the establishment of the cross-disciplinary Institute for Management and Innovation (IMI).

UTM’s requirement that the addition be open for the start of the 2014 academic year dictated a 21-month deadline. In November 2012, the design-build project was awarded to Moriyama & Teshima Architects and PCL Constructors Canada.

The central piece in the existing Kaneff Centre’s puzzle of fractured forms was the incomplete circular courtyard. The design-build team transformed the rarely used outdoor space into a rotunda, which is now a student commons populated with a range of seating.

On the first floor, the rotunda is wrapped in Italian travertine with recesses for built-in benching on the interior and for lockers on the exterior. On the second floor, the rotunda transitions from travertine to oak fins that let natural light filter in through the windows.

Its thick travertine walls are multi-purpose, also housing the mechanical system. The displacement ventilation system efficiently delivers heating and cooling on the ground floor — rather than pushing heat down — through discrete black grills on the inner rotunda walls.

The rotunda’s acoustic ceiling controls sound in what might otherwise be a noisy space.

Its dropped level, three steps down from the corridor, is intended to create a sense of occasion, says Phillips. Indeed, the space can also accommodate special occasions during off-hours.

In the corridor, which flares out wider where students make their mass exoduses from classrooms, a subtle zinc line traces where the new terrazzo flooring was seamed together with the old epoxy flooring. Traditional bed-setting gave the terrazzo four-inch thickness compared to the three-quarters-of-an-inch thickness of the epoxy, which is the difference between 100-year flooring and 50-year flooring, says Cory Raymond, project manager, PCL.

One of the major construction challenges was to work around the “live” existing building as it remained open, says Raymond. PCL constructed a temporary corridor within the original corridor to provide a safe passageway for occupants while the project was ongoing, and with the foundation created a five-metre buffer between the existing building and what is now the rotunda. The latter measure contained the cost of retaining the building and ensuring it remained structurally sound during construction, which ultimately conserved funds for finishes.

Phillips selected durable, high-quality materials in a neutral palette. The natural wood and stone are meant to conjure connectivity to the outdoors, and particularly to the campus’ forested perimeter and the nearby Credit River, she says.

Due to the compressed project timeline, PCL choreographed some of the key trades to work alongside one another, with the installation of the travertine stone, oak fins and ceiling panels done concurrently. An aluminum honeycomb system allowed the matte stone to be installed in panels, which was an important time-saver.

A rectangular, trapezoid-shaped addition centralized the rotunda in the existing structure and squared off the building’s previously jagged footprint. The edge of this addition was partly determined by the need to maintain the existing fire route, but it was also partly determined by the well-trodden grass that signaled students’ preferred route through campus, says Phillips.

On the building’s façade, white powder-coated aluminum fins echo the oak veneer-clad aluminum fins found in the rotunda. The fins are identical in size and spacing for a consistent architectural language, says Phillips.

The white fins, in combination with clerestory windows, resemble photo slides, creating flip-book-like fluidity for passersby.

“If you come here at night, what you read are the strip windows, and the building kind of disappears,” Phillips says. “If you’re here during the day, as you move around the building, sometimes it appears more solid and sometimes it appears more open, depending on your perspective.”

The second and third floors overhang the ground floor to provide pedestrians cover from the elements. Black reflective windows at ground level visually double the natural environment along the treed pathway that separates the complex from its closest neighbour.

“From a campus planning perspective, we really feel the spaces in between buildings are as important as the buildings themselves,” says Phillips, “so [it was about] rationalizing and enclosing and making very special these pathways.”

The addition’s exterior-facing door leads into the registrar’s office, which also has a desk facing the rotunda on the interior. The addition delivered meeting rooms and 24 offices each on its second and third floors, which are allocated to the economics and management departments and IMI.

On the lower “garden” level, the addition provides three classrooms, two with 45 seats and one with 90 seats. Lecture-style benching curves around the professor’s central podium in a horseshoe shape inspired by the Harvard School of Business model.

Also on the garden level are bookable eight- and 12-seat case study rooms; a financial learning centre, which mimics the trading floor with a stock ticker and dual-monitor computer stations; and the I-Cube, which is due to serve as an incubator for promising student start-ups starting in spring 2015.

Since the expanded and renovated facility opened, most notably, the rotunda has reinvigorated the formerly underused courtyard.

“The students more or less took over the space the day after we moved into the building,” says Donoghue. “Everybody’s very comfortable; they’re relatively quiet; they’re interacting socially; they’re learning; they’re studying … and that’s what it’s meant for.”

Per UTM’s mandate, the project is required to achieve LEED Silver certification. Factors expected to earn it points towards a successful application include the use of daylighting, a green roof and stormwater management. But likely the biggest contributor to the Innovation Complex’s anticipated certification will be the existing building’s adaptive reuse and, perhaps in part, the decision not to subsume.

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.

Photography by Shai Gil.