Design Team Q&A | NorQuest College Singhmar Centre for Learning

Design Team Q&A | NorQuest College Singhmar Centre for Learning

The finishing touches are being completed on NorQuest College Singhmar Centre for Learning! Classes start in their new home on September 5th.

NorQuest College has been an important post-secondary institution in Edmonton since the 1960s. NorQuest’s student population is diverse with over 100 languages spoken on campus across a wide range of accessible full-time and part-time programs. Their existing downtown tower didn’t match NorQuest’s inclusive and student-centred philosophy. This transformational project for NorQuest gives students a true college experience, and advances NorQuest’s technology and program options. It’s a huge step forward for NorQuest College and a catalyst for growth around their downtown Edmonton campus.

This building is made for students. Now, there are spaces for students to study, take a break, and make friends in other programs. From the spacious atrium in the middle of the building, you can see into classrooms and watch the variety of NorQuest’s course offerings in action. A huge library and media centre takes over the second floor with new resources and plenty of study spaces. The main level cafeteria has new food services and spills out onto Capital Boulevard, welcoming neighbours to come in for lunch or coffee breaks.

Two key designers from the project, Charles Lau (Architect) and Nicole Guenette (Interior Designer), tell us more about the first new building for NorQuest in almost 50 years.

The first thing you notice is how spacious and full of light SCFL is! How was this achieved?

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. We did plenty of analyses to maximize light from all angles of the building, while keeping it energy efficient and cool. Stairwells and circulation spaces are wide and open so students never feel cramped while moving around in the building. We even made sure the stairwells have natural light to encourage students to use them.

How was the existing NorQuest College building (now called Heritage Tower) incorporated into the SCFL design?

The existing NorQuest building has been a landmark structure in the downtown campus since the construction in the 1970’s and it was important that the Singhmar Centre for Learning (SCFL) connected directly into the existing building. This was not only to reinforce the accessibility between the buildings, but also to connect and borrow from the mechanical and electrical building facilities in Heritage Tower for a more energy efficient campus.

NorQuest College is situated on Edmonton’s Capital Boulevard (108 Street), which connects a handful of blocks leading up to the Alberta Legislature. How was this considered in the design?

The location of the main entrance was coordinated with the Capital Boulevard street improvements that occurred years ago. We worked with the City to align the major pedestrian crossing with the entrance. Much of the circulation of students and the community across campus will pass through the main entrance lobby from the western side of Capital Boulevard to the future LRT line proposed on 107 Street.

Tell us about the materials used throughout the building.

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.

What are some interesting challenges overcome along the way?

One of the challenges around the design was seeking approval to allow the featured second floor 100 seat classrooms to extend to the 108 Street property line (along the west side of SCFL). Dividers between the classrooms can be opened so they also serve as a flexible space for events. The cantilevered multi-purpose classrooms help animate Capital Boulevard and provide weather protection over the outdoor cafeteria sitting space at the street level.

Tom Sutherland, the lead architect on this project, passed away before seeing the design come to life. How did the team carry out his vision for SCFL?

Tom Sutherland was certainly the visionary leader who guided the team throughout all phases of the design for the Singhmar Centre project. The energy, intensity and passion that Tom brought each and every day on the project continues to inspire the entire team to continue his vision and stewardship of integrated design. NorQuest honours his dedication to the college and the role he played in planning, getting approval and funding, and designing the downtown campus with special recognition around the feature staircase in the atrium.

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