York University breaks virtual ground on ‘twisted’ building

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A rendering of the School of Continuing Studies upcoming innovative self-funded facility on the York campus. (CNW Group/York University School of Continuing Studies)

Ontario Construction Report staff writer

York University held a virtual ground-breaking last week to launch construction of its “twisted” building, a new space for the School of Continuing Studies.

York University is constructing the first dedicated structure for its School of Continuing Studies as a twisted new building that will be big, but the need is even bigger.

The new building, located at York University’s Keele campus, will serve as home to the School and will help to meet some of the increasing demand for its cutting-edge, innovative professional certificate programs and the world-renowned York University English Language Institute (YUELI).

Currently, students attend classes at various locations throughout the campus and staff are spread across four buildings.

Due to COVID-19 physical distancing measures, the School is taking a bold, non-traditional approach to the construction groundbreaking by inviting the extended York community to visit its virtual groundbreaking webpage, #BiggerThanTheBuilding, starting at 9 a.m. today. The site can be visited at continue.yorku.ca/groundbreaking.

“Our students are bold, they’re confident, they’re ambitious. The building is an embodiment of who we are as a school,” said Tracey Taylor-O’Reilly, assistant vice-president, Continuing Studies. “The building will be a twisted, iconic gateway site and showcase York’s long commitment to providing high-quality education to non-traditional students.”

Website visitors can experience the benefits of this structure by scrolling through the story of the twisted new building, seeing the renderings, and watching video interviews with students, architects from Perkins and Will and York’s leadership.

“In uncertain times, the need for innovative and responsive lifelong learning is greater than ever,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton. “This new, standalone home for our School of Continuing Studies demonstrates York’s commitment to serving the current and future needs of learners and employers, here at home and around the world, as they rise to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the demands of a dynamic global knowledge economy.”

In March 2020, developers broke ground and began construction on the York University School of Continuing Studies’ signature new 97,000-square-foot building.

Scheduled to open for students in fall 2021, the building will allow for expanded access to the English-language university pathways that support international students and new Canadians, and innovative programming to support professionals looking to pursue exciting careers in emerging and in-demand career fields.

In five years, the School has seen over 1,000 per cent growth in its professional program enrolments. The cutting-edge building will accommodate the School’s rapidly growing student and staff population.

“Our physical environment needs to be an extension of the quality of the education we’re providing to our students. This building will allow us to bring innovation using the cutting-edge twisted design to create a world-class education experience in North America,” said Tracey Taylor-O’Reilly, Assistant Vice-President, Continuing Studies.

Why give the building a twist?

“In a way we wanted to create a very simple arch, something that was very easy to navigate, but we wanted it to be animated. The twisting creates unique conditions,” explained architect Andrew Frontini. “It’s realy about creating  a welcoming and inviting gesture.”

The rotation of the ground floor creates space for a generous arrival plaza at the main entry as well as a sheltered drop off and pick up area.

A standout feature of the design is the high-performance prismatic facade, composed of photovoltaic panels and glazed openings to bring natural light into the building.

The building is aiming for LEED Gold status (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) as well as meeting the City of Toronto’s new Green Standard for new buildings.

It also explores the potential for Net-Zero Energy and Net-Zero Carbon. Strategies include a building envelope that is designed using Passive House standards, heat recovery ventilation, and integrated photovoltaics to generate electricity on site.

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