An ambitious project initiated by the University of Toronto is the 14-storey, 23,225-square-metre Innovation Centre that aims to house U of T Entrepreneurship, the Innovations & Partnerships Office, and the Vector Institute, an international leader in AI technology.
Placed at the corner of College Street and University Avenue, where it will be replacing the western portion of the Banting and Best complex, this project will sit directly across the street from the MaRS Discovery District and its roster of innovative companies. The gently sloping tower designed by New York-based Weiss/Manfredi Architects in collaboration with Toronto’s Teeple Architects is expected to reach a stage of completion by 2021 and will accommodate startup companies and established corporate partners.
The Schwartz Reisman Innovation Campus is designed to promote the University of Toronto’s strategic mission of bringing together faculties of academic research and entrepreneurial endeavors.
The complex houses the University of Toronto Entrepreneurship (UTE) program, the University’s Innovations and Partnerships Office (IPO), the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence (VIAI), along with various startup companies and established corporate partners.
Located at a happening intersection between the university’s campus, the historic Legislature Grounds, and the city’s growing Discovery District, the structure acts as a gateway to Queen’s Park along University Avenue and frames the heart of the University of Toronto’s campus. The building’s dynamic tapered form acts as the east half of an informal gateway to the campus and the Queen’s Park area.
The Schwartz Reisman Innovation Centre is located in the City of Toronto’s Discovery District on the eastern edge of the U of T campus. The functional and spatial program includes spaces for a variety of existing and future University entrepreneurial tenants. These include the Vector Institute of Artificial Intelligence and various health-related start-ups that work in partnerships with corresponding facilities in the neighborhood like the MaRS research center and many hospitals in the area.
To enable collaboration, encourage exchange, and build a community of innovators, this structure houses a series of public congregation and shared spaces on the lower floors along with large event spaces, instructional rooms, seminar rooms, and an exhibition lobby.
The multi-story winter garden spaces, placed on the 7th and 10th floors based on the climatology of the place, contribute to spatial requirements for informal collaborations for building users. They also provide views to the City core and the adjacent Legislature buildings and access to adjacent roof terraces.
The functional spaces include flexible loft-offices, labs, classrooms, conference rooms, and event spaces to accommodate different group sizes, all cohesively transforming into a vertical campus designed to facilitate evolving institutional needs and future projections. The internal public winter gardens strategically located throughout the building disintegrate internal boundaries, creating opportunities for chance encounters and conversations that trigger innovation.
The rain gardens activate the spacious ground floor plaza and the cafe seating enables an inviting and vibrant frontage along College Street. These public and outward-facing edges inscribe the building’s tapered massing, and this envisages a permeable building edge and establishing contextual datums that connect to the surrounding built environment.
Envisioned as an illuminated and awe-spiring beacon for discovery and exploration, the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Campus supports the University’s aspiration to promote and generate a dynamic incubator for intellectual exchange and world-class research opportunities.
Answering the pressing question of ‘what is innovation?’, the architects say that they believe so much of it is a cliché. This project is their attempt of trying to cut through the jargon and creating a series of spaces, where different faculties like scientists, data programmers, academicians, etc., congregate and communicate.
And in that process generate a mini-city that would be far more enriching than a set of individual buildings. The design encourages interactions among the center’s users as well as with the context around them.
University operations vice-president Scott Mabury enlists his vision for the design brief by stating, “It’s the university turning its front to the city, opening its arms and saying ‘You are welcome. Please come in. This is a place where the university connects, engages, and wants to be in the stream of activity that involves the host city. And I think that’s what an innovation building needs to do. It needs to be connected with the broader economy, the broader society.”
Taking this brief forward, the inception of this structure was by designing a building that acts as a connection to the rest of the city. To add to this, Weiss/Manfredi partner Marion Weiss states, “What you see is a slender tower that tapers upward to bring light into the building and keep light on the street and landscape, but carves these places for collaboration at different levels. It wanders from the city street and threads its way through all the labs and offices that will be part of the University of Toronto and part entrepreneurs. And that mix is creating a vertical campus and vertical city within the building.”
This project aims at creating sustainable built masses. The cladding is an innovation in design that captures the essence of a variety of facade features from other institutional buildings in the immediate context. It is designed to enable reaching the overall University goal to reduce energy use to 20% or more below ASHRAE-2013.
The overall sustainability target is equivalent to LEED Gold and strategies devised for the same include radiant floor heating, solar PV, highly reduced lighting loads due to the excellent daylighting opportunities achieved through small floor plates, heat recovery, and stormwater capture and reuse.