Shape-shifting BIPV panels form energy-efficient facade for Manitoba college

The new building, Manitou a bi Bii daziigae, at Winnipeg’s Red River College (RRC) Polytech features dynamic building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) panels on its facade, concealing solar cells behind nano-coated glass. The PV system generates a significant portion of the building’s power.

The panels, which change colour based on viewing angles and weather conditions contribute to the unique appearance of the building. While the shape-shifting character represents the nature of the activities of learning and growth, the panels also increase energy efficiency significantly. During occupancy, the PV panels, located on both the roof and facade wall, contribute approximately 18 per cent of the building’s power. However, when unoccupied, these panels supply a significantly higher percentage, ranging from 50 per cent to 70 per cent of the building’s power needs.

Manitou a bi Bii daziigae, formerly known as the Innovation Centre Project, is in Winnipeg’s Exchange District. This learning hub at RRC Polytech was collaboratively designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects and Number TEN Architectural Group. It fosters a community of learners and innovators while embracing Indigenous heritage and sustainability.

Spanning 9,290 m2 (100,000 sf), the facility combines a repurposed heritage building, the Scott Fruit Building, with modern construction. The historic elements are preserved, ensuring energy efficiency and functionality. The adjacent new structure incorporates high-performance construction and systems technology to achieve the college’s ambitious 100 kWh/m2 energy use intensity (EUI) target.

The innovative design blends Indigenous and international student spaces, housing classrooms, digital media labs, special event areas, and faculty offices. The focal point of Manitou a bi Bii daziigae is the agora, carefully designed to serve as a hub for campus-wide events, as well as a tranquil and collaborative space for group and individual study. All programs have a view of and direct access to this central area, with diagonal pathways encouraging seamless movement. The sky-lit atrium above the agora fills the center of the building with gentle, diffused light.

This four-storey space is designed with circulation routes on all sides, resembling a theatre-in-the-round and featuring diverse study spaces along its perimeter. In addition, the design incorporates a collaboration zone, resembling a front porch, strategically positioned between classrooms, the agora, and the atrium. This versatile area can serve as a break room or project space for classrooms, or students can independently book it for study groups.

The centre’s name, Manitou a bi Bii daziigae, derived from Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) language. It translates to “where creator sits” and “brings light.” The naming process involved RRC Polytech Elders-in-Residence from Indigenous nations, drawing on traditional ceremonial protocols and tours of the building to find an appropriate name.

The Roundhouse Auditorium is situated at the western corner of the new building, serving as a cornerstone of its design. This flexible 210-seat auditorium offers acoustically isolated spaces suitable for ceremonial events, instruction, or celebrations. Its main entrance faces cardinal east, aligning with Indigenous customs.

In the Roundhouse, a captivating floor artwork by nêhiyaw/Anishinaabe/British artist KC Adams takes centerstage. Her “Morning Star” design pays homage to traditional Indigenous technologies, artfully arranging elements reminiscent of birch bark in a morning star pattern, symbolizing new beginnings.

Moving to the roof level, the City Room becomes a radiant beacon adorned with vibrant, colorful artwork. This artwork, created by Anishinaabe/Winnipeg artist Jackie Traverse, embodies traditional Indigenous teachings and local history. Visible both on the fully glazed ceiling and exterior soffit, the painting adorns this space located at the pinnacle of the centre, complemented by the golden hues of the PV cladding.

The main structure of the new building is the steel structure with a hollow-core floor, while the exterior features brick, along with the PV cladding system, a triple-glazed low iron curtain wall, and high-pressure laminate (HPL) panels with artwork finish. Some of the interior materials are white oak, terrazzo artwork floor, acoustic plaster, coloured-felt panels, and dry-erase walls.

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  1. There is a typo in the article; I am partially of British descent, but not from British Columbia. Thanks – KC Adams

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