Located in the middle of the coulee landscape in Alberta, Canada, the University of Lethbridge Science Commons is a recent addition to the University’s campus. The project is a result of a six-year collaboration between Stantec and KPMB Architects and was finally opened in 2019 as a research and teaching facility.
The Science Commons building is designed as a transparent structure, situated in an area that experiences the sunniest and driest weather in Canada. The building is at the north end of Arthur Erickson’s University Hall, which has been a prominent part of the landscape of the area since 1971. Although Stantec’s glass volume with straight, clean lines of the Science Commons is starkly different from the horizontal volume of Erickson’s University Hall, both the buildings together complement the Canadian valley surrounding them and present a beautiful architectural vista.
As an extension of the University’s campus, the Science Commons’ main objective was to host an open environment for research and teaching and encourage interaction between students, teachers, and researchers. Stantec accomplishes this by integrating visual connectivity in major aspects of the design. The plan of the building as well as the glass envelope creates a welcoming atmosphere. Natural light plays a crucial role in the design, which can be seen in the spacious atriums and the transparent façade.
Visually connecting the interior spaces together as well as connecting them to the outdoors, helps Stantec in transforming the Science Commons into a more inviting and engaging space. It helps foster more open discussions and increase transparency, which is the driving idea behind the design. The flow of circulation inside the building also ensures the formation of certain nodes which act as physical connections.
The diverse program ditches conventional closed-off labs for open teaching and research facilities, social areas for collaboration, and shared equipment areas for different fields in the Sciences. Stantec’s planning is vastly different from the original master plan of the campus. While in the classic science University, labs are pushed to the furthest confines of the building, in the Commons building, the wet and dry laboratories are planned along the atriums. The interiors are designed such that various spaces are visible to users throughout the building, and promote the idea of ‘science on display”.
The layout of the building prioritizes shared learning and collaboration among its variety of users. Central spaces for social discussions facilitate interactive learning while also visually connecting the interior spaces to the landscape outside. Creating large volumes inside the building and connecting them using strategically planned staircases and bridges, provide free-flowing circulation through the building and work towards connecting the different levels of the structure to the valley beyond its perimeter.
The Science Commons’ focal point is its large central atrium, around which the building is planned. The atrium is the highlight, working towards making the entire structure a grand connection of learning areas. Four major areas wrap around the atrium, which is then further divided into “neighborhoods”. These neighborhoods each have their own central flexible spaces serving as gathering and learning areas. In addition to visual connection, several bridges cross over the atrium, physically connecting the building’s classrooms and labs.
The design approach seen in the interior of the building towards interactive learning is also followed in the outdoor spaces. Stantec has carefully designed several terraced floors, a winter garden, and two giant “porches” wrapped on two sides of the building. The first porch acts as a forecourt from the parking area, a large inviting space for its visitors, while the second porch is an outdoor collaboration area, overlooking the valley.
Natural light is a tremendous part of the design strategy applied by Stantec, as is seen by the skylights and the glass envelope of the structure. The design ensures massive utilization of the peculiar climate and reduces energy consumption by 78% for support spaces and 60% for the labs. Along with the energy reductions, in an effort to make the building a more sustainable structure, the façade is double-skinned. The exterior face has “remotely actuated windows” while the interior windows are user-operated.
The south side of the building has a winter garden sandwiched between two faces of the building. The garden is open to all and works as a great gathering area for the students. The climate of Lethbridge combined with its magnificent landscape of a river valley make up one of the biggest highlights of the Science Commons building.
The structure’s entire design was driven by a central theme of “putting science on display”, and the result is an elegant, light-filled composition of shared learning spaces. Almost every classroom and laboratory have a visual connection to the interiors as well as the exterior landscape. The building celebrates science and those who work for its advancement. The notion of interactive learning can be seen reflected in every aspect of the design strategy. The Science Commons truly is an innovative architectural representation of new-age growth and discovery in the field of science.
- www.stantec.com. (n.d.). University of Lethbridge – Isttaniokaksini / Science Commons. [online] Available at: https://www.stantec.com/en/projects/canada-projects/u/university-of-lethbridge-science-commons [Accessed 9 Oct. 2022].
- Architizer. (2019). Isttaniokaksini/Science Commons – University of Lethbridge by Stantec. [online] Available at: https://architizer.com/projects/university-of-lethbridge-science-commons/ [Accessed 9 Oct. 2022].
- Canadian Architect. (2019). Defining a New Datum: University of Lethbridge–Science Commons, Lethbridge, Alberta. [online] Available at: https://www.canadianarchitect.com/lethbridge-science-commons/ [Accessed 9 Oct. 2022].
- ArchDaily. (2019). University of Lethbridge Science Commons / KPMB Architects + Stantec Architecture. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/928560/university-of-lethbridge-science-commons-kpmb-architects-plus-stantec-architecture [Accessed 9 Oct. 2022].