The new landmark building for the School of Continuing Studies at York University’s (YorkU’s) Keele campus exhibits a distinct twisted shape, emblematic of the school’s identity and culture, which is centred around accelerated professional growth in response to the rapidly changing labour market.
Located at the southern tip of the campus on Pond Street, the signature 11,148-m2 (120,000-sf) building spans five floors and emerges from a new public plaza, creating a distinctive new gateway into the campus. Its unique facade earned it a 2023 Excellence in Design Award from the Ontario Glass & Metal Association, for its complex design approach. Encased in reflective brushed aluminum panels, the building’s high-performance unitized curtain wall creates a continuous, taut, and efficient skin that maximizes views while reducing energy use. The triangular openings define the facade with a diagrid pattern that curves as it rises, in response to the building’s twisted form.
Established in 2015, the School of Continuing Studies serves students who are looking to further their educational and professional development, as well as English language learners. The programs, previously dispersed across York’s campus, are now centralized in a facility that features modular learning clusters, bright collaboration spaces, a generous public plaza, and wellness amenities.
The architect, Perkins&Will, deployed a geometric design process to articulate the dramatic contortion of the building by manipulating the rectangular floor plate around a common centroid. The rotation of the overall form introduces a two-way curve into the north and south facades.
Twisting open to a new plaza, the building’s form maximizes the composition of the urban campus. The structural makeup of its core is low-carbon concrete, which efficiently braces the building’s twisting shape.
The design explores the potential for net-zero energy and net-zero carbon and targets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. High-performance building strategies include direct outdoor air ventilation and active chilled beams.
All centralized on the lower level, the building’s amenities prioritize accessibility of education opportunities for underrepresented populations and include a communal dining space with a bank of microwaves, a meditation/prayer room, and a mothers’ nursing room, to support the wellness needs of the school’s diverse student body.
The building’s design dismantles traditional lecture halls and labs in favour of spaces fostering high interaction and active learning. Interconnected lounges and open collaboration spaces line the perimeter of the building, encouraging interaction and collaboration, creating opportunities for students and faculty to form social bonds.
On each floor, classrooms and meeting rooms are designed to be modular. The learning spaces are set inwards, creating learning clusters that leave open spaces at the light-filled perimeter. Each cluster can be reconfigurable in size. The adaptive nature of the building layout creates a new way for the school to adjust to new technologies, evolving pedagogy, and enrolment rates.
“The building’s unique, twisted form begins with a desire to create engaging public spaces, both within the building and at the scale of the campus,” says Andrew Frontini, lead designer and design director at Perkins&Will. “We responded to the neighbouring buildings, road networks, and pedestrian desire lines by nudging the building over, to create a gateway plaza to the west and a discrete drop off zone to the east. With this, the twist was born. Each of the five floors rotates to lean out and shelter the public realm, as well as engage people at the scale of the campus with a bold sculptural presence. Inside, the twist creates light-filled spaces to engage outside of the classrooms. It’s a bold form, but one that’s born out of a desire to build culture and community.”