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Centennial College – A-Building Expansion

Dialog, Smoke Architecture

Scarborough, Ontario, Canada

September 2023


Craig Applegath (Partner and Architect, Dialog), Eladia Smoke (Principal and Architect)


Larissa Roque (Architect, Smoke Architecture), Chen Cohen (Partner, Interior Designer, Dialog), Juan Carlos Portuese (Associate Architect, Dialog), Jason D'Altroy (Associate, Project Manager, Dialog)


Centennial College


Riley Snelling


Outdoor learning spaces interweave with interior spaces: Wisdom Hall, a student touch-down atrium, mirrors the rising topography of a north garden planted with native species, and an interior courtyard includes an outdoor classroom and viewing garden visible from all levels. At the Balance Centrestone, Haudenosaunee wampum and Anishinaabe Mishomis | Grandfather teachings are featured on the prominent northwest corner. Pavement markers at the internal courtyard student gathering circle align to the noon sun for each full moon, with Anishinaabe lunar month names that recall our connection with the life that surrounds and supports us. This outdoor classroom directly connects to the indoor Indigenous Commons and administrative suite to support Indigenous rhythms of work and gathering. This courtyard is a highly usable, semi-sheltered area that emphasizes a reconnection with earth, sky, and the natural rhythms of all life. A north garden is filled with native species and terraced to work with the natural rise of the land. An outdoor amphitheatre welcomes either informal student gathering or outdoor classes. Alongside the north garden and amphitheatre, the student-filled atrium Wisdom Hall mirrors the rise of land, and is designed on principles of the Midewigan, an open-frame bentwood teaching lodge.


This project demonstrates a successful and compelling realization of Indigenous values and principles in a learning space that integrates interior with exterior. Smoke Architecture led a collaborative design process with Centennial’s Indigenous Working Group, including knowledge carriers, faculty, and staff. A narrative of seed-growth-culmination-balance arises from Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee understandings of spatial configuration and pre-contact cosmology. The design integrates Indigenous principles and cultural markers with a contemporary aesthetic. Liaising closely with a multidisciplinary project delivery team, Smoke Architecture embeds Indigenous perspectives in a way that resonates with all cultures, since we all share a connection to land.


The mass timber used throughout the project channeled the spirit of the region’s woodlands, evoking the Highland Creek area’s natural setting. This symbolic approach aligns with the design of Indigenous teaching lodges, which were built from renewable, fast-growing saplings. These materials are not only environmentally conscious but also contribute to energy efficiency. The amount of mass timber and wood products used is equivalent to nearly 500 homes being powered for one year as well as the removal of 1,000 cars off the road, or a significant reduction in carbon emissions.
The A-Building expansion was designed as an opportunity to clearly demonstrate how higher education facilities can not only provide state-of-the-art pedagogical and cultural spaces but do so in a way that significantly reduces both operational and embodied carbon emissions. The structural system uses sustainably harvested mass timber glulam posts and beams that support cross-laminated timber floor panels. Efficient mechanical systems, in combination with the highly insulated building envelope, are integrated to reduce overall energy usage, of which 5% of the building’s energy requirements are powered by solar photovoltaic renewable energy.

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