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Architecture School Designed to Inspire

The first new architecture school in Canada in 40 years, Laurentian Architecture Laurentienne is located on a triangular site in downtown Sudbury, Ontario
The first new architecture school in Canada in 40 years, Laurentian Architecture Laurentienne is located on a triangular site in downtown Sudbury, Ontario, bordered by the Canada Pacific Railway. LGA Architectural Partners/The Flat Side of Design

A new building on the campus of a recently established architecture school in Canada will feature cross-laminated timber—making it the first institutional building in Ontario to use the innovative material.

June 10, 2014—A new building on the campus of a recently established architecture school in Ontario, Canada, is designed to have an understated signature style. The architects say the goal of the design is to inspire students without boxing them into a particular architectural methodology. To that end, the building will feature a mix of materials, including cross-laminated timber—making it the first institutional building in Ontario to feature the innovative medium.

Located in downtown Sudbury, Ontario, Laurentian Architecture Laurentienne, as the new school is known, is Canada’s first new architecture school in 40 years. An extension of Laurentian University, the school is located approximately 10 minutes from the main campus on a triangular site that is bordered by the Canada Pacific Railway. Two historic structures on the site—one that once served as a telegraph building and the other as a train shed for the railway—were renovated during the first phase of campus construction. Those buildings are now providing all of the school’s necessary functions, while phase two progresses with construction of a wholly new building.

The university issued a request for proposals for the renovation of the existing buildings and design of the new structure. As a result of that competitive process, it selected LGA Architectural Partners, an architecture firm headquartered in Toronto, as the prime architect on the project. LGA had led the renovation of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in 2004, making it an ideal fit for the Laurentian project. Laurentian University also selected AECOM, a global engineering and architecture conglomerate headquartered in Los Angeles, as the structural, acoustical, and mechanical, plumbing, and electrical (MEP) engineer, and as the sustainability adviser on the project.

The new 19,812 m2 building will be L shaped. The two-story west wing will house a library on its upper level and classrooms and a lecture hall on its main floor. The north wing will have studios and workshops arranged over two levels and a mezzanine, and a sunken studio will be located near the building’s main entrance. All of the spaces within the north wing will be open in concept—the upper levels looking over the lower ones in order to promote interaction between students. “Four hundred students will be in the building, and we want them to form a community, so we created this cascade of spaces to encourage interaction,” says David Warne, a partner of LGA Architectural Partners. 

Exterior rendering of the new 19,812 m2 building

The new 19,812 m2 building will feature a mix of materials,
including timber and structural steel. LGA Architectural Partners
/The Flat Side of Design

Both wings of the building will be founded on micropiles—a foundation type selected as a result of the challenging site conditions and constraints, says Basil Franjieh, P.Eng., a structural engineer for AECOM. Five factors dictated the foundation type: the water table is less than 1 m below grade, the soil is highly compressible, the bedrock inclines steeply (from 5 to 25 m) across the site, the existing historic buildings must be protected, and the foundation must sustain the vibrations of passing trains. “The micropile system came to be the most optimal foundation system given the site conditions,” Franjieh says. “Micropiles can be installed with little to no vibration, and they can be easily socketed into the sloping bedrock surface without the need for large specialized equipment on the tight site.”

The 13.97 to 17.78 cm diameter micropiles will be topped by pile caps, which will support grade beams and the building’s structural slab. The structural design team selected a structural slab because it will settle less than a conventional slab-on-grade would when subjected to the vibrations of passing trains. Both the slab and micropiles are designed to sustain uplift forces from the high water table, which is so active that the water literally sprays out of the ground as the micropiles are installed, Franjieh says. The foundation and the building’s partial basement will also be covered by a waterproofing system known as Coreflex 60, manufactured by CETCO, a building materials firm headquartered in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.

Alexander Tedesco, an associate with LGA Architectural Partners, says Corflex 60 is a “Cadillac” system, comprising a welded thermoplastic waterproofing membrane with an active polymer core. The system has specific installation guidelines and anyone installing the system must be certified. “There is a fifteen-year warranty for the waterproofing system that we’re trying to obtain, and that comes with a number of requirements that need to be met,” Tedesco explains. “For instance, there is a very strict guideline in terms of how this membrane is installed with heat welds, how gaps are maintained, and how third-party inspections are completed. It is as high quality as you can possibly get.” The foundation will be surrounded by a weeping tile system for added protection.

Interior rendering which displays the interior upper levels looking down on the lower levels to promote interaction between students

The building’s north wing will be framed in structural steel, the
interior upper levels looking down on the lower levels to promote
interaction between students. LGA Architectural Partners
/The Flat Side of Design

While the two wings will share a foundation, their structural systems will be distinct. The north wing will be framed in structural steel with a concrete shear-wall core. Roughly half of the floor framing will have open-web steel joists instead of traditional steel beams to accommodate the mechanical systems without reducing headroom below, Franjieh notes. Mechanical ductwork can be extended through the open spaces in the joists rather than being placed below a beam, he explains. “It is a more cost-effective solution,” he says.

Another noteworthy aspect of the north wing’s framing system will be an 8 m long cantilever at its western end, near the main entrance. Trusses will support the cantilever and transfer its forces to steel columns in the back span and to the shear walls at the building’s core. “We found that a structural-steel solution was most appropriate to achieve [a] cantilever of the size that the owner and architect envisioned,” Franjieh says. In addition to serving as a defining architectural element, the cantilever will provide otherwise unattainable floor space. “We weren’t allowed to build foundations within [15 m] of the rail lines,” Warne explains. “The cantilever allowed us to keep the foundations back but then extend the building into that space without [experiencing] any detrimental vibrations from the rail lines.”

The west wing will be framed in a combination of glue-laminated timber (glulam) and cross-laminated timber (CLT). Glulam will be used for the columns and beams and 11.43 cm and 19.05 cm thick CLT will be used for the decking. Because CLT is a relatively new building material in Canada, the country’s building codes do not yet include design provisions for using it, Franjieh says. So the team relied on the American design code standard for CLT known as ANSI/APA PRG 320 (published by the Engineered Wood Association in Tacoma Washington) as well as literature and research from Europe, where CLT is more widely used. It also collaborated extensively with CLT suppliers to learn about the material. All of that information allowed the team to develop a design strategy that matched the intentions and functional requirements of the Canadian code, Franjieh says.

The research was particularly useful for developing the west wing’s 9 m tall atrium walls. Typically, unbraced walls of such height would be constructed of concrete or steel, but after learning about the unique properties of CLT, the team was able to use it to achieve the desired height, Franjieh says. Furthermore, the information helped the team design the wing’s 12 m long spans to carry the high loads of the second-floor library. “CLT is susceptible to long-term, time-dependent creep deformation and deflection under sustained loading,” Franjieh explains. “With a library use, you have very high sustained loading. That is something the design team addressed by sizing up these members accordingly.”

Another exterior rendering of the Laurentian Architecture Laurentienne’s new building

Laurentian Architecture Laurentienne’s new building will be the
first institutional structure in Ontario to be framed in
cross-laminated timber. Engineers relied on American building
codes as well as research and literature from Europe to design the
building, which uses unconventional materials. LGA Architectural
Partners/The Flat Side of Design

The engineers used building information modeling (BIM) to coordinate with other disciplines on the project and detail the structural connections throughout the building. All of the structural systems will be exposed so that students can see how they are formed, allowing the building to become part of their learning experience, says Ross Gillespie, P.Eng., a senior structural engineer for AECOM. Typically, structures are covered up, so the appearance of the connections doesn’t matter. But in this case, the structure is part of the architecture, so a great deal of effort went into ensuring the elements were at once functional and aesthetically pleasing, he says.

The building will also have many energy-efficient systems that will serve a twofold purpose: emphasizing the region’s commitment to protecting the environment and teaching students about sustainable design. The systems will include photovoltaic panels, a vegetated roof, and a rainwater harvesting system. The building’s facade will also include a great deal of glass to allow sunlight to penetrate the structure for natural lighting and heating in the cold northern climate. “Instead of thinking of the building as just a facility, we saw it as a teaching tool,” Warne says. “At every moment, the students can learn from seeing different materials and systems used in different ways.”

Construction of the building has commenced and completion is anticipated in September 2015. Warne says the building, with its layers of materials and equivocal design, is expected to inspire the next generation of architects to develop structures that meet contemporary needs. “We didn’t want to tell future generations of architects what buildings should look like,” he says. “Instead, what we are trying to do is find a way to challenge them to think of new ways to approach design.”



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