The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning makes its home in a cutting-edge building at the heart of the University of Calgary’s main campus.
The 40,000-square-foot building was designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, in association with Gibbs Gage Architects, and constructed on the site of the former Nickle Arts Museum. The building was designed with three guiding principles: flexibility, transparency and collaboration. These three principles are evident throughout the building.
An icon for teaching and learning
The building’s most striking feature is the translucent glass spine, which glows like a beacon at night. The spine projects out over plazas at the east and west doors: 35 feet over the west entrance and 55 feet over the east entrance.
The spine consists of a pair of 220-foot-long, 26-foot-high Vierendeel trusses. The trusses were delivered in 12 sections, with special permits required for the oversized loads. Vierendeel trusses have no diagonal elements, only vertical members connecting the top and bottom chords. This permits unobstructed views from the spine, and allows natural light to pour into the building through clerestory windows.
Inside, the spine forms an atrium, which is the main public space in the building. The spine supports a suspended amphitheatre over the west entrance, and a boardroom over the east entrance. A series of hanging pods are suspended from the spine’s trusses. Just inside the west entrance of the building is a gallery, which honours the legacy of the Nickle Arts Museum.
The south wall of the atrium is home to the Wall of Honour. The wall celebrates the recipients of teaching awards at the University of Calgary, including the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, the University of Calgary Teaching Awards, and the Killam teaching and mentorship awards.
The building has three flexible learning spaces that allow instructors to experiment with advanced teaching and learning approaches. On the south side of the atrium, the forum has retractable seating that allows it to convert from a flat-floor learning space to 340-seat public lecture space. Two other learning spaces, on the north and east sides of the building, have movable walls that allow them to subdivide into two or three smaller spaces.
All of the building’s learning spaces are fully flexible, with furniture that can be arranged in different configurations. The spaces are infused with technology, with a huge grid of floor boxes, and the teaching stations are mobile, so the instructor can set up the space in different ways.
The building’s transparent design – including observation pods outside the learning spaces – ensures that others can observe and learn from this experimentation. The Taylor Institute provides a window to the future of teaching and learning: the discoveries made in the building will inform the design of new learning spaces and new approaches to teaching and learning across campus and beyond.
A green building
The Taylor Institute was also designed to be as sustainable as possible, and the building incorporates a number of features to reduce its impact on the environment.
The attention to sustainability starts right at ground level; the Taylor Institute is built on the foundations of the Nickle Arts Museum. The original intent was to reuse the steel frame as well, but it had degraded too far and was ultimately recycled.