When Centennial College held a competition for its A-Block Expansion Building in the autumn of 2019, it was clear they were looking for a design unlike any other. Not only does the Progress Campus gateway building have the potential to become the first net-zero carbon, mass timber, higher-education facility in Ontario when it’s completed in 2023, but it also embodies the College’s deep commitment to truth and reconciliation.
Centennial selected DIALOG, in partnership with EllisDon and Smoke Architecture, to design and build a structure defined by indigenous principles and stories. DIALOG and Smoke approached the project using the Mi’kmaq concept of ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’ – viewing the world through both an indigenous lens and a Western lens – and were inspired by the Anishinabek ‘Seven Fires’ prophecy that says we need to pick up things ‘left by the trail’.
This process started with a considered response to the existing topography. Listening to the land, the team chose to align the structure to the cardinal directions. The main entry is at the east, the traditional location for the entrance in indigenous structures. A grand stair ascends to the west, as part of the wisdom hall, a three-level high active multi-storey convergence space for students, staff, and visitors that connects people to indigenous stories. The narrative of the design is a story of seed, growth, culmination, and balance.
The design is celebratory, meaningful, and considered. The new building will connect to the existing street edge, completing the corner to yield greater pedestrian connections and enhanced public realm. It responds to the future success of the A Block expansion through providing a bold, new gateway that’s designed on indigenous principles, while leveraging the highest sustainability aspirations. Further, the north and west façade acts as a tool for storytelling, visibly branding the building to represent the aspirations of the institution.