Open Your Mind: The Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence redefines teaching and learning space

Appearing at regular intervals in YFile, Open Your Mind is a series of articles offering insight into the different ways York University champions fresh ways of thinking in research and teaching. This week YFile departs from its usual focus on people and shifts emphasis to a place that was inspired, designed and built with a vision to seek the unexpected in a teaching and learning space. Today, the spotlight is on the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence, the new home of the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University. The grand opening of the Bergeron Centre at York University takes place Friday, April 8.

The Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence at York University
The Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence at York University

Q. What is the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence?
A. The Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence building, which houses the Lassonde School of Engineering, has created quite a buzz for its architecture and flexible, inspired learning spaces. The building boasts an eye-catching façade of 8,000 triangular metal panels and windows arranged in a mathematically derived pattern overlooking the Keele campus.

Above: Sandra and Douglas Bergeron
Sandra and Douglas Bergeron

Q. Who is the behind the building?
A. The building is named after Douglas and Sandra Bergeron for their $10 million donation to York University. The award-winning building was designed by Toronto’s ZAS Architects + Interiors and built by UK-based construction firm Laing O’Rourke in partnership with the Gillam Group.

Douglas Bergeron is an alumnus of York University. He graduated in 1983 with a degree in Computer Science. He later become a highly successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur and was CEO of Verifone (a card chip technology firm) until 2013. Part of the Bergeron’s donation will go toward the cost of the Bergeron Centre ($8 million) and the rest has been used to establish the Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science & Technology (BEST) program at Lassonde ($2 million). BEST is the school’s entrepreneurial program. Lassonde students enrolled in the BEST program learn what it takes to launch their own start-up venture.

Q. What is the design concept behind the shape of the building?
A. The design of the Bergeron Centre is a cloud floating over a rock on Georgian bay. The “cloud” represents the learning of knowledge floating above the “rock” where ideas become reality. The “cloud” is the building itself, while the “rock” is the green roof over the mechanical workshop and team rooms, and the plaza area overlooking the Stong Pond on the Keele campus. The Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence was recently named one of the top buildings in Toronto by BlogTO. The listing names the Bergeron Centre one of most architecturally significant buildings on the York University Keele campus. The building is also listed among some of the greatest architectural gems in Toronto. Other names on the list include the Aga Khan Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Q. How many floors are there in the Bergeron Centre? What are some of the other components of the building.
A. There are five floors (including the basement) plus a green rooftop complete with a terrace. The total area is 169,500 square feet. The total reinforcement weight of the building is 1,600 tonnes, including 10,300 cubic metres of concrete. There are three different panel shapes and 8,000 in total on the facade. The pattern was created with the help of a mathematician – it’s called the Penrose Pattern (named after Sir Roger Penrose). The Penrose tiling is an infinite tiling pattern that never repeats.

The flexible "flipped classroom" teaching and learning space
The flexible “flipped classroom” teaching and learning space

Q. What is unique about the teaching and learning space housed within the Bergeron Centre?
A. There are 18 teaching labs, eight active learning labs and zero (nada, none) lecture halls in the Bergeron Centre. This reflects the Lassonde School of Engineering’s intention to “flip the classroom” with increasing number of lectures delivered online and classes focused on hands-on learning. Flipping the classroom in essence means that students can watch lectures online anywhere and at anytime. They come to class to solve problems together in flexible classrooms equipped with the latest technology and furniture. The school’s laboratories use world-class equipment. Design studios, such as the Sandbox, are student-focused spaces. The laboratories in the Bergeron Centre are for Lassonde’s three new engineering programs: Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering.

Above: The Sandbox
The Sandbox

Q. What happens in spaces such as the Sandbox?
A. The Sandbox, a space located within the Design Commons on the second floor of the Bergeron Centre, is a place to study, work on projects, come up with ideas and test them out through prototyping. The Sandbox encourages a maker culture at Lassonde by encouraging students to explore their ideas in design, this is evident with the many signs that say “make something cool” and “prototyping is always a good idea”. Sandbox has “gurus” in the space who are people who can help students rent equipment, book meeting rooms or get advice on projects. The area is equipped with meeting spaces for learning and brainstorming. Both private rooms and comfortable open meeting areas are available for Lassonde students who need to work together on projects. There is a 3D prototyping lab, which is a space where students can try out their ideas. Outfitted with computers, printers and other equipment, the Sandbox gives students an opportunity to bring their projects to life. Student design projects are embedded into every stage of the undergraduate experience at Lassonde, from the first year onward.

Q. How long did it take to build the Bergeron Centre?
A. The groundbreaking for the Bergeron Centre took place in June 2013. The construction work started with the relocation of underground services traversing the site. Building construction commenced in January 2014 and was completed (on time) in September 2015. It took just 19 months. The Bergeron Centre will receive LEED Gold accreditation in recognition of its environmental performance and sustainable design.

The building features many light-filled, comfortable learning and gathering spaces for students
The building features many light-filled, comfortable learning and gathering spaces for students

Q.  How much did it cost to build the Bergeron Centre?
A. The total budget for the Bergeron Centre is $113 million. That includes $15 million of equipment and classroom technology. The funding comes primarily from the Ontario Government, which contributed $50 million. In addition, York University received $10 million from the Bergeron family and $5 million from Canadian real estate developer Ignat Kaneff and his family. The balance was funded by York University and other philanthropic donations. Pierre Lassonde’s donation of $25 million went toward establishing the Lassonde School of Engineering and creating scholarships for undergraduate students.