The Arbour – Toronto’s George Brown College


THE ARBOUR- Design Statement

The Arbour is the hinge of the George Brown College Waterfront campus, joining the School of Design with the Daphne Cockwell building, and serving as the gateway to future development. Located at the intersection of the urban grid and nature’s grid, the Arbour interlaces both to boldly respond to the site’s conditions and reconcile the many ambitions set out in the design brief. As the Waterfront de-industrializes, the Arbour is an expression of our creative culture, establishing a new framework for future buildings across many fields.

The site lies in the shadow of the Corus and Daphne Cockwell buildings and the future Innovation Center. Cutting a diagonal across the site from top to bottom, the Arbour organizes itself around the available daylight on site, creating an escalating atrium that serves as the extension of the public realm. This atrium brings light from the south deep into the building’s floorplate and percolates down to illuminate the entrance on Queens Quay to the north. Around this atrium, an innovative staggered truss system organizes the community, learning and research spaces in a efficient and adjustable way. Moving from 2D flexibility to 3D oppertunities, the trusses create resilient and generous spaces using mass timber construction.







Arup / Turner Fleischer

Adapting to the programmatic needs of the Arbour, the structural matrix is boldly expressed on the Sherbourne Common and Queens Quay facades, reinforcing the urban fabric. Crowning the Arbour is the Tall Wood Research Institute (TWRI), which is oriented along nature’s grid, maximizing it’s position to harness energy from the sun, wind from the west, and frame views on the city.

The TWRI’s structure is a lightweight post and beam construction set on a “plan libre” transfer floor, allowing the crowning volume of the Arbour to adapt and change in time.


Internally, the layout consolidates a coherent vertical campus master plan, working symbiotically with the Daphne Cockwell building on both spatial and technical levels. Movement through the Arbour is organized on either side of the north-south axis defined by the spine.



The public gathering spaces extend east towards Sherbourne Common and Lake Ontario, creating contemplative and restful common ground. The classrooms and labs are located west of the central atrium, and take advantage of the column-free spans. The central atrium connects to a bridge that is the extension of the Daphne Cockwell circulation scheme, reinforcing the notion of a vertical campus. Students, staff and visitors alike can easily orient themselves throughout this redefined campus as all public spaces lie to the east and all classrooms to the west.

To better serve the community and large crowds, the auditoriums are placed closest to grade, with the largest one located on the ground floor. Transformable, this auditorium can convert into a conference space or expo centre. The adjacent lobby facing Sherbourne Common supports these options and can open to the park, making the Arbour a true connection to the community that uses the city as a classroom.


As an educational institution, the Arbour’s mandate requests evolutionary transformation with the changing realities. The team chose to prioritize this temporality in the design, creating three-dimensional program flexibility. A resulting reality of this framework is demonstrated in the proposed staggered truss structural system. The architectural language is defined by this measurable resistance, stacking program as a cellular system. In such, 8.4-meter high by 17.4-meter wide by 40-meter long cells are calibrated to house programmatic elements such as classrooms and double-height auditoriums. Due to the macro scale of this structure, it is possible to adapt the building function to host diverse programs such as basketball courts, column-free startup space or future auditoriums. The CLT floors can be interchanged with new types of structure without taking the whole building down. Moving from flexibility to resiliency, the Arbour is futureproofed to accommodate any programmatic need, and reinforces it’s identity as a living lab.


The Arbour’s goal of net-positive energy performance can only be achieved by recognizing the potential to produce energy through the facade’s exposure to sunlight and wind by actively inspiring public participation and understanding. The envelope and roof designs are articulated by the solar path, responding to changes in weather and building program without overheating the building. The fluctuating surface of the facades ensure maximum insulation and maximum views in the appropriate orientations. By responding to nature’s grid, the facade turns opacity into capacity.

The roof system will be the primary energy producer, consisting of sixty-five-percent PVT panel coverage in a modular system adaptable to climate change through physical participation. The secondary energy producer is the south-western solar facade; this facade dedicates 100% of the southern surface to generating energy while simultaneously framing views to the park.


Taking advantage of the north-west winds, the Queens Quay facade serves as the lung of the building that brings fresh air up through the atrium. Here we underline the importance of achieving net-positive through participation, with manually operated windows that invite user participation. The Arbour represents a multifaceted learning campus for education and behaviour, and connects the buildings users with the site’s functional performance. The last two floors, dedicated to the TWRI and academic offices, use the roof as test labs and the double envelope as research infrastructure for various cladding and energy generating systems.

Casting away traditional approaches, the Arbour turns opacity into capacity. Its building envelope responds to the various contextual conditions in both human and performance frameworks. Views of Toronto, Sherbourne Common and the Waterfront are multiplied as 100% of the south-facing facades are used to generate energy.

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