Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Following a referendum asking students to decide whether more student space was needed in York University, CannonDesign architects were selected to create a brand new building that was completely driven by students.
The Second Student Centre is the result—a physical representation of the student body’s collective voice and has been awarded a 2021 American Award for Architecture from The Chicago Athenaeum and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.
Their input led to a four-story building that houses space for study, studios, club offices, meetings, multi-faith prayer, mental wellness, and food support.
The architecture of the new student center was generated through the intersection of five design drivers:
HIVE / representing the multiplicity of the individual and collective experiences of students;
FULCRUM / responding to the centrality of the site;
ICON / amplifying the potential for the building to express student identity;
LENS / articulating the dynamic connectivity between the building and the broader context of campus, city, and world;
and FLUX / which challenges the architecture to be infinitely responsive to change.
Investigated separately through drawing and modeling, each of these drivers provoked a diagrammatic exploration that examined how architecture can merge student experience with the many social, cultural, and physical realms within which the building must operate.
Located at the north end of an expansive campus green, the building sits at a critical intersection where an infinite array of student interactions play out.
It celebrates the site’s prominence as a sculptural object, a gateway that is transparent and open, a place of debate, advocacy, and engagement.
The form meaningfully reflects the major program elements while relating to and respecting the historical buildings on campus.
Outdoor and interior experiences converge via a sculptural stair that starts outside, weaving through the landscape and then each level inside — culminating on the fourth floor, which is fully devoted to multi-faith prayer space.
Here, the floor cantilevers out over those below and features dramatic uses of wood and glass to create a destination for spiritual reflection.
This prayer space, including two ablution rooms for the Islamic cleansing ritual, is especially important as York’s Muslim student population is estimated at more than 1,500.
Importantly, the building functions as a lifeline for students battling with issues such as food insecurity and mental wellness.
Centers for food support, wellness, and social services are all housed within the student center—not hidden from sight, but accessible in a completely welcoming building designed with clear sightlines, transparency, and progressive lighting to increase safety for all. The project was successfully completed under budget, on schedule, and with no design changes through construction.
Project: Second Student Centre York University
Client: York University
Landscape Architects: Scott Torrance Landscape
Photographers: Tom Arban Photography, and Connie Tsang