U of T’s scientific reserve buildings to marry sustainability with high design

The design for the Dining and Operations Centre at the University of Toronto’s (U of T’s) Koffler Scientific Reserve (KSR) in King Township, Ontario, reimagines the future of school design by combining sustainability and high design without compromising on esthetics.

Located at Jokers Hill on the Oak Ridges Moraine, KSR reflects the functions of a traditional college—with classrooms, dormitory, refectory, bathing facilities, commons rooms, sitting rooms, hall, cloister, quad—and has been designed to accommodate research students and faculty for extended periods of time.

The new venue is designed by Montgomery Sisam Architects to seamlessly integrate sustainable and environmentally conscious solutions, while boasting a simple yet contemporary design, and featuring carefully considered architectural details. The current property, stitched together for more than a hundred years, features an estate house, several small farms, beautiful woodlands, watercourses, and fish lakes.

KSR has seen a dramatic increase in use over the past decade and lacks in housing, teaching, and dining space. To overcome this challenge, the new purpose-built Dining and Operations Centre was proposed. Twenty new three-person seasonal bunkies will also occupy the site to provide more accommodation for students during the peak warm weather months.

The approach to the design evolved with the understanding of the work of KSR’s scientists and students. Their diligent study of the tiniest changes in one specific type of plant or insect species can yield findings speaking to issues on a global scale, such as climate change, and this relationship between micro and macro became a lens through which the development of the design was viewed.

The centre with its exposed timber structure will become the social heart of the reserve—a place to gather, share, enjoy. Nestled into the topography with generous glazing on both its upper and lower levels, the building will sit delicately on the site, with views both indoors and outdoors, lanterns for natural light, overhangs for appropriate solar response, covered walkways, and a courtyard. Other details of the project include:

  • Reminiscent of agrarian building forms, the venue’s design is inspired by the form of a barn that was taken apart, put back together again, and cut in half, with one part turned around.
  • Solar orientation was studied to inform the placement of the building on-site. The building is aligned to the cardinal co-ordinates North, South, West, and East. Its alignment with the sun, the moon, and the stars will augment research goals and measure the passage of time, in days, seasons, and years.
  • Extensive climate analysis was conducted to inform the design of each facade: exterior shading to deal with solar heat gain in the summer; south facing windows to leverage solar heat gain in winter; reducing peak indoor temperatures by leveraging natural ventilation and thermal mass in shoulder seasons.
  • The project will be built to target net-zero carbon, net-zero energy performance and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold. This sustainability mandate is met through passive design strategies that minimize energy use, while offering year-round comfort to students and faculty.
  • The building’s carbon footprint was reduced by the selection of low-embodied energy materials and renewable resources, such as the mass timber structure and wood interior finishes. Renewable energy resources on-site (the photovoltaic panels on the roofs and the battery storage) will produce and store 100 per cent of the annual electricity required by the building, while excess energy will be fed back to the municipal power grid.
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