University of Ottawa Learning Centre’s central location creates design and construction challenges
The Ottawa Construction News Special Feature
Collaboration, forward thinking and innovation is driving the University of Ottawa’s (uOTT) new Learning Centre (LC) ahead efficiently and on schedule. Pomerleau is building the project, designed by HDR Architecture Associates Inc.
The Learning Centre, at the eastern edge of the downtown core, is at the university’s main campus centre. HDR senior project architect Susan Croswell says the location was a key concept in the design. “The uOtt LC is conceived of as a new gateway building to the campus, responding to pedestrian and vehicular traffic reaching the campus” from various directions, she said.
While the centre’s location will one day be a key feature, its central location has created some construction challenges.
Pomerleau project manager Philippe Malette says the 40,000 student campus has been busy, even during the summer months. There is no laydown space.
“Deliveries have to be scheduled around class schedules, unloaded and unpacked right away,” he said.
He says at one point, concrete deliveries every 20 minutes required a team of 12 to manage traffic and signalling.
The site also has to be secured at all times. This required extra attention during back to school Frosh Week activities. As of October, construction was almost 30 per cent complete with the foundation and structure completed to the third floor. The objective is to have the concrete structure completed by the end of November.
In order to achieve the project’s tight timelines and winter construction goals, structural steel work has been going on in parallel, beginning in mid-October and scheduled to run through until the end of the year.
Malette says the project team has been planning since the summer how it would prepare and deal with future winter conditions. “We knew the envelope would be done during the winter, and that the large curtain wall installation would need open access so we looked at many options that would meet all of the combined needs.”
He said that kind of advance planning has been key throughout the project, including BIM (Building Information Modelling). “As of the end of October we have completed the BIM process to the seventh floor, though we are constructing only at the third.”
Malette says BIM addresses several design and construction issues, including clarifying mechanical design, which is not often co-ordinated with architectural drawings.
“When the two are not aligned, the general contractor has to find a way to make everything fit. This way, we have been able to work closely with HDR to address these challenges and modify the design in advance.”
He says though the process requires a lot of effort in the early stages to sort out – including a lot of RFIs (Request for Information) early on – the time and efficiency saved in later stages is worth it. “We meet with HDR on a weekly basis for BIM review. They have been supportive and effective throughout the process. The BIM successes we have achieved would not have happened without them.”
Croswell says HDR employs a collaborative team approach to all of its projects, which enables the company to “provide the global perspective and design expertise of the entire firm with a superior level of local service to the University of Ottawa.”
Advanced planning has also meant accelerating some processes to capture opportunities. Malette says an early engineering review has been undertaken so shoring could be removed from the foundation early, allowing important mechanical and electrical systems to be delivered and installed while work continues above.
Other challenges have included the fabrication and installation of 12m long concrete encased beams and ensuring equipment is available as teams are ready to install them. “The mechanical items are already ordered and will be stored in a secondary offsite location until they are needed so we know we have them and are ready to move forward.”
Dedicated to student services, the centre will house 26 classrooms, all of which will be equipped with technology for hybrid teaching. Four of the classrooms have been designed for active, collaborative learning.
The classroom spaces include two 350- seat lecture halls, two classrooms able to accommodate 120 students, and the balance accommodating 60 each.
Other spaces include 20 study rooms for groups of about 15 students and 800 spaces for individual or smaller group study. A main floor 350-seat food court with an outdoor dining patio will also make the centre “a meeting place for students, a place where they can eat, discuss, study and socialize.”
Croswell says several key priorities underlie the centre’s design, including accommodating new state-of-the-art centralized teaching and learning resources, achieved through a number of flat floor interactive teaching environments; an improved image and community engagement for the university through a contemporary aesthetic that promotes a renewed image on campus while accommodating new approaches to learning in a highly functional framework; and the best use of the site to maximize capacity aligned with the new campus master plan process.
She says one of the biggest challenges was to get the program to fit on a very tight site and at the same time work with the existing floor-to-floor heights of Lamoureux Hall, while providing the required 9 ft. minimum ceiling heights in all classrooms and corridor spaces. “This meant being very creative with the structure and mechanical design while still meeting all program needs.”
The biggest design consideration was to make the design as flexible as possible to allow for future modifications as the learning model changes. She said 75 per cent of the interior walls will be moveable.
There are no offices in the building so every room is dedicated to teaching and learning. “Even the circulation spaces are interactive with breakout and lounge areas throughout.”
There is also an opportunity for further grow beyond 2020 with the inclusion of shelled space within the design. “Using adjacent available open space for central campus development will allow the open area to be developed into a green space in the future,” she said. The more active spaces are closer to ground level, with quieter functions higher up. This is evident in the lower level large classroom spaces, food services, amphitheatre and business and welcome centre, located on levels two and below. Beginning at the third level, there are smaller classrooms, group study rooms and study suites.
Croswell says the student centred focus is further illustrated through an “interconnected atrium that allows for the interaction and learning from floor to floor by visually connecting all the floors and allowing for a total learning experience.”
The Learning Centre is expected to be open in January 2018.