Opened in September 2017, NorQuest College’s new Singhmar Centre for Learning in Edmonton just may be Canada’s most diverse and supportive college.
More than half of the college’s 15,000 plus students were born outside of Canada; together, they speak over 100 languages. To better reflect NorQuest’s inclusive and student-centred philosophy, a $192 million expansion was undertaken to accommodate its unique program requirements and the cultural needs of its diverse student body. Design firm Dialog was tasked with the development of an innovative and inviting facility.
The transformational space gives students a true college experience, advances NorQuest’s technology and program options, and catalyses growth for the surrounding area.
The four-storey, 22,500 square metre post-secondary learning centre comprises flexible and functional spaces to harmonize the needs of students, staff and the neighbourhood. This includes 40, 50 and 100 flex-seat classrooms enabled for reconfigurable layouts, smart board technology, and provisions to accommodate active laptop-based learning environments. Throughout the building, furniture selection serves to complement the function of each space, with pieces arranged to allow students to study, relax or collaborate. As well, materials were carefully employed in the design of the facility, with shared wooden and metallic elements drawing together the building’s interior and exterior spaces.
In addition to a library, media centre and open-to-public cafeteria, the expanded facility for NorQuest College required innovative design thinking to build distinct spaces, including an aboriginal student centre and childcare centre that would radically improve access and inclusivity on campus.
Built in consultation with an Elder associated with the Aboriginal program, the Indigenous student centre features an unique circular ceiling and corresponding floor design for the ceremonial area, an exterior glass mural providing semi-privacy for the area and a ventilation system expressly designed to facilitate flexibility for smudging practices. As well, a childcare centre, intended to support students and staff who are parents, was included in the facility and is designed to ensure a safe area as well as the development of an active-based and vegetated outdoor play area.
One of the challenges the design team was tasked to address by NorQuest was how to encourage building occupants to make better use of the stairs. The solution was to make the stair more prominent and to create a more inviting and engaging experience. At the west end of the central Learning Commons, the feature stair provides a sculptural focal point to the grand space. Visibility and access to daylight plays a major role in the design of the feature circular stair.
According to architect Charles Lau and interior designer Nicole Guenette, “Access to natural daylight for the classrooms, laboratories and administration spaces was a major focus in the design. The central student commons atrium filters natural daylight from the roof to the deepest part of the building. Inner classrooms have windows facing the naturally-lit atrium, so even those classrooms have access to daylight.”
The exterior material palette applies a light coloured precast concrete at vertical circulation nodes around the building and at the mechanical penthouse to compliment the form and materiality of the existing building. Clear glazing, anodized metal panels and dark grey zinc panels are used to contrast the heavier precast panels. Warm wood clad elements are used both outside and inside to accentuate key features of the building. Most of the curved walls inside the SCFL have warm wood cladding on them to soften the spaces.
Targeting LEED Silver standards, the facility is built to maximize natural light while remaining cool, with a solar chimney on the roof, and natural draft throughout the corridors and shared spaces.
The project represents the last work of late Dialog principal Tom Sutherland, who tragically passed away in a 2015 skiing accident. According to Lau and Guenette, “Tom Sutherland was certainly the visionary leader who guided the team throughout all phases of the design.”