The traditional image of an engineering school filled with bespectacled students toting calculators in pocket protectors was officially vanquished on Friday, April 8 with the opening of the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence at York University.
The building, which is a light-filled space dedicated to innovation and discovery, officially threw open its doors with a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the beginning of a new kind of learning.
And with the opening, engineering will never be the same.
Several hundred guests from government, higher education, engineering and architecture gathered with senior officials from York University for the opening, and to honour alumnus Douglas Bergeron, Pierre Lassonde and Ignat Kaneff, the principal donors whose generosity and vision made both the building and engineering school a reality.
“If you could change the world, where would you start?” asked the Lassonde School of Engineering’s founding Dean Janus Kozinski, the event’s emcee. “Likely most of us would create a place and the culture where young people can succeed. Today is a very special day for us and for the entire university. It is about big ideas, big minds, big hearts, big ambition and big future. Today, we are formally opening the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence, the home of the Renaissance engineer. It is a terrific opportunity for us to celebrate those who contributed to this project and those who are benefitting from this project.”
Known for its stunning architectural design, the Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence is the physical home of the Lassonde School of Engineering, which is dedicated to educating and inspiring the next generation of engineers by fostering creativity and hands-on learning.
The award-winning building was designed by Toronto’s ZAS Architects + Interiors, built by UK-based construction firm Laing O’Rourke in partnership with the Gillam Group and named in recognition of York alumnus Douglas Bergeron and his wife Sandra for their $10 million donation. The provincial government invested $50 million in the construction of this advanced learning and research centre. An additional $5-million donation was given to the building by philanthropist Ignat Kaneff.
A striking facility, which overlooks the Stong Pond on York University’s Keele campus, the 169,500-sq-ft centre with five floors and a green rooftop, boasts a facade of 8,000 triangular metal panels and windows in a mathematically derived Penrose pattern that never repeats. The design drew its inspiration from Georgian Bay and the iconic Canadian image of a cloud floating over a rock.
The building is primarily home to the University’s three newest engineering programs – civil, mechanical and electrical.
“The Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence is a truly forward-looking, uniquely designed facility that will offer our engineering students unsurpassed experiential learning opportunities,” said York University President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, in his opening remarks. “The centre is an exciting addition to campus life at York – one that will give our students a distinct advantage through access to flexible, collaborative learning spaces and research labs. This is how students prefer to learn today, and we’re proud to be able to provide facilities that support and reflect 21st century education.”
Shoukri told the story about how the provincial government, in partnership with the University and with the support provided by the principal donors, made the building and school a reality. Shoukri, who is an engineer by training and a professor in the Lassonde School of Engineering, spoke about his own passion for the engineering school and the joy of a dream fulfilled.
Next to the podium was Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges & Universities, Reza Moridi. Educated as an engineer, Moridi spoke with pride about the role the new centre and program will play in the province’s economy.
“Our government is proud to support York’s Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence, a facility that is providing the next generation of engineers with the expertise they need to thrive in Ontario’s knowledge-based economy,” said Moridi to those gathered for the opening.
“I’m pleased that within this cutting-edge new learning space, York is advancing an innovative curriculum that is giving students access not only to training across a variety of engineering disciplines, but also to a number of critical skills employers are looking for like entrepreneurship, collaboration and creativity,” said Moridi. “I look forward to seeing the contributions future graduates will make to our society and to our economy as they turn these skills into high value jobs.”
Designed with students in mind, there are no lecture halls. Instead, there are several active learning areas which offer students, who hail from Peel Region, North York, York Region, Toronto, and far beyond, the latest in learning technology and a place to tackle real world issues.
The first-floor “High Bay Lab” was primarily created for civil engineering research to test the strength of materials such as concrete to see, for example, if it can withstand an earthquake. The second-floor “Sandbox” is a student space designed to allow the free-flow of ideas, many of which can then be turned into a prototype using one of the onsite 3D printers. The idea is to get students from various programs and disciplines interacting to develop innovative solutions and create new concepts.
The centre is also home to the Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science & Technology (BEST) program created by the Bergerons. BEST integrates curricular and experiential activities to develop business skills and help students understand what it takes to launch a technology start-up enterprise.
“Tomorrow’s entrepreneurial engineers need to be open-minded collaborators working with talented people from a variety of fields,” said Bergeron. “The Bergeron Centre for Engineering Excellence gives students the freedom to think creatively, to imagine solutions that defy conventional wisdom and to take their ideas from sketches on a whiteboard into real world technology ventures.”
The building is expected to receive LEED Gold accreditation in recognition of its environmental performance and sustainable design.
In his comments, philanthropist and entrepreneur Pierre Lassonde, whose donation of $25 million established the engineering school bearing his name. “The most precious natural resource our country has is the human ingenuity of its people,” said Lassonde. “Today we are celebrating human ingenuity.”
Lassonde spoke with passion about the need to bring more young women into engineering and the school’s progress toward its goal of having 50 per cent of its student population represented by young women. “We are making progress to becoming the first engineering school in North America to do this,” he said.
In closing, York University Chancellor Greg Sorbara took time to pay special tribute to the hundreds of men and women who did the physical work to build the Bergeron Centre. “We made history today,” he said.