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November 23, 2000 SGW buildings: The deans speak...




The deans of the three schools to inhabit the new buildings speak about their future homes:

Mohsen Anvari, Dean of the John Molson School of Business

Nabil Esmail, Dean of Engineering and Computer Science

Chris Jackson, Dean of Visual Arts



Mohsen Anvari, Dean of the John Molson School of Business

Mohsen Anvari, Dean of the John Molson School of Business

Commerce wants a cutting-edge learning environment

Mohsen Anvari, like the other decanal stakeholders, was on the jury that selected the winning design for the downtown buildings, but he still has some questions about the process.

The Dean of the John Molson School of Business wishes more visits had been made to new business schools around North America or even beyond to get a clearer picture of what would be best for Concordia.

“I don’t think it’s too late, but I felt uncomfortable, and I said so,” he said later. “We went with the Toronto architects who seemed most competent, and we had some very good people on the jury, but I felt that all the [competing] architects were provincial in their outlook. They said, Well, we’ll look at HEC…”

The École des Hautes Études Commerciales, a prominent business school linked to the Université de Montréal, has new quarters, and Anvari regards the HEC building somewhat critically.

“People have strong feelings for and against its architecture,” he said. “It has a lot of detail that is extremely expensive, [but] functionally, it’s not innovative.”

Anvari is aware of the technological revolution now going on. Wireless communication, for example, is too recent even to have been taken into account for the new HEC building. “We’ve been experimenting with it on our fourth floor. We have an apparatus the size of breadbox in a closet, and as long as it has the right card, we’re on the Internet.”

That’s just one example of coming change. “We’ve been organizing our offices the same way for decades, but you can go into companies now where even the top executives don’t have offices of their own. In the hard sciences, I hear that the newest concept is ‘collaboratories,’ where various labs come together.”

The key is to build flexibility into the new buildings to accommodate new ways of delivering knowledge we can’t even foresee now. “My hope is that we can create a learning environment that really responds to the needs of the 21st century.”




Nabil Esmail, Dean of Engineering and Computer Science

Nabil Esmail, Dean of Engineering and Computer Science

Design fits right in with ECS’s academic plan

Dean Nabil Esmail had his eye on the Kuwabara design from the start. “I identified it right away — it is excellent,” he said in an interview.

As an engineer, Esmail was impressed with the architects’ thrifty use of space. The St. Catherine St. site can take only 58,000 square metres of construction, although the two Faculties to be housed there need 32,000 square metres each of gross capacity (i.e., including walls, elevators, etc.), or 64,000 square metres in total.

That shortfall of 6,000 square metres was made up by putting some facilities, such as parking garage and heavy labs, below ground, a solution preferable to spilling over into the GM Building, which some of the other architects suggested.

Esmail also likes the way the winning design encourages synergy among the four departments in his Faculty, something that is sadly lacking now. “We have suffered for a long time,” he said, pointing to the haphazard location of labs and departmental offices.

The design of the new engineering block calls for four stacked departments, with the main reception area and the dean’s office on a floor in the middle. This creates a “vertical campus” linked by “stacked atria with spiral stairs,” and lounges and glass-fronted meeting-spaces, a design that encourages movement among the departments and breaks the building into smaller volumes.

Dean Esmail is pleased with the internal phase of fundraising within the Faculty. He wants the results known, because he is fostering a competitive spirit among his faculty members. Pledges now total $154,817, and were received from 63 per cent of the ECS professors and lecturers.

The highest rate of participation came from the Mechanical Engineering Department, 73 per cent. The rates for the other departments were as follows: Electrical and Computer Engineering, 67 per cent; Building/ Civil/Environmental Engineering, 58 per cent; and Computer Science, 52 per cent.

Esmail said that his biggest problem these days is keeping up with enrolment. He estimates that he is short about 30 faculty members now, and this problem can only intensify as enrolment continues to grow, especially in the intellectual technology sector.

Finding more professors on top of their own workload is a challenge for his administrators, and Esmail said he would like some professional expertise to conduct a worldwide search.

“I don’t need a student recruitment officer, I need a faculty recruitment officer,” he exclaimed. “Hiring practices have not kept up with the times. This is a problem at all universities.”

Financially, his Faculty used to be “a basket case,” he said, but no more. Through increased enrolment, encouraged by government funding, “we have increased the university’s operating grant by $10 million.”

However, he added that while growth is greatly preferable to downsizing, it brings its own stresses. “It creates enormous tensions and pressures,” Esmail said. “We are exhausted.”




Chris Jackson, Dean of Visual Arts</font>

Chris Jackson, Dean of Visual Arts

Visual Arts will have a glamorous showcase

For Dean Chris Jackson, a new building for visual artists is long overdue.
“We have been so cut up in pieces and spread all over,” he said recently. “The Visual Arts Building was obsolete the day it was opened.”

That was back in the 1960s, when a car dealership on René-Lévesque Blvd., then Dorchester Blvd., underwent renovation for use by the university. While Concordia now has the premiere art school in Quebec and one of the top two or three in Canada, you’d never know it from its piecemeal, inadequate quarters.

Few people realize that the graduate students in Studio Arts, for example, are housed in an old school on Mountain St. with “Bourget Academy” carved on the front. Workshops, labs and foundries are stuck into available corners and have had to be replicated in other buildings as the need arises.

The synergy created by having all the visual artists in one building will be an enormous benefit, Jackson said. Another will be the chance to make a visual statement on Montreal’s busiest street — something that is virtually impossible on René-Lévesque, which sees precious few pedestrians.

The visual arts will be housed where the derelict York Cinema is now, at the corner of Mackay St. Along St. Catherine, the building will be kept low to match the scale of existing buildings, with some cafes and other commercial outlets. There will also be art galleries here to show off Concordians’ creativity, and a huge, changing video screen to interest passersby.

The visual arts part of the building will look as much as possible like a loft. Artists like to turn the upper floors of abandoned industrial buildings into studios because of their abundance of natural light, and much of this sweep of sunlight will be provided by an atrium to the west. The design encourages movement between floors, and there are places for mingling on the west and east sides of the building.

Jackson said that one of the most difficult challenges for his Faculty’s planning committee is to provide for an uncertain future. Digital technology is transforming some of the visual arts, and fast.

For example, he said, digital filmmaking is “practically upon us.” Concordia’s Cinema Department turns out some of Canada’s best filmmakers, and this can only continue if a huge investment is made in digital equipment.

Photography has also been invaded by the new technology, and “it’s anybody’s guess where it will be in five years,” Jackson said. As a result, new facilities have to be multi-purpose and eminently flexible.

Jackson looks forward to the interaction between visual artists and computer scientists through education and research in the digital arts, a marriage of disciplines that will be possible in the new building.

Fine Arts has something else in common with ECS. Like its neighbour-to-be, the Faculty is bursting at the seams with students.

“This Faculty is not going to grow, except in the emerging media,” Jackson vowed. “It is already probably the biggest [fine arts faculty] in Canada, and one of the best.”