To celebrate Concordia's 25th anniversary, we present a series on the past, present and future of our buildings, and next term, on the life within them and how it has changed.
by Frank Kuin
Against a backdrop of humming machines, Professor John Capobianco exposed the space constraints that plague chemistry students and faculty at Concordia these days. Gesticulating across a roomful of tables on the 11th floor of the Henry F. Hall Building, Capobianco, Chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, explained that they were originally installed to accommodate experiments with test tubes. But most of them are now occupied by modern, heavy equipment that shakes, separates, refrigerates or beams lasers.
"Look how crammed it is," said Capobianco, pointing at the limited bench space for students to work on. "You can see we have a lot of very high-tech equipment here, mixed in with the actual chemistry. Ideally, the equipment should have its rooms, and the 'wet' chemistry side should have its own facilities."
All of these rooms, he added, should preferably be well ventilated and free of vibrations and dust -- qualities which are lacking on the upper floors of the Hall Building, where students are sometimes forced to carry chemicals from one floor to another. The bottom line, said Capobianco, is that the Hall Building, first occupied in 1966, is simply "not adequate to do science in the 21st century."
Capobianco's tour of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is indicative of the extent to which Concordia's science departments have outgrown their facilities, which are concentrated on the Sir George Williams Campus. The Departments of Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Physics, Exercise Science and Psychology are itching to move to a planned science building on the Loyola Campus that is part of the long-term space plan for the university.
This new facility, which could cost $35 million to construct, will be combined with the old Drummond Science Building to create a "science presence" at Loyola, said Professor Bob Roy, Vice-Dean, Arts and Science. According to Roy, who represents his Faculty at the steering committee which is fleshing out the details of the space plan, the sciences are "very space-intensive," so it makes sense to concentrate them at Loyola, where space is more readily available and expansion is possible.
As both scientists point out, the new facility should be designed to accommodate the present-day needs of their disciplines, which have changed dramatically since the Henry F. Hall and Drummond Buildings were opened. Not only have Concordia's science departments grown to a total of about 3,000 students in undergraduate programs and 300 graduate students, they have also been transformed from mostly teaching departments to ones that engage in a great deal of graduate research.
For example, explained Roy, a biologist, "30 years ago, large parts of the Biology Department were committed to descriptive biology -- looking at skeletons, pickled specimens, microscope slides and so on. That's a very small percentage of what modern biology is." Nowadays, it is more common for students to be working with bacteria, yeast or fungi, plant or animal cells or model organisms, he said. "It has really shifted from a descriptive science to an experimental science."
However, the Hall and Drummond Science Buildings have hardly evolved the same way. "Both those buildings were designed as undergraduate, descriptive biology teaching labs -- very large laboratories, where students would sit and dissect at great length," said Roy. "What we need today are specialized facilities for specialized equipment -- smaller laboratories, in which students do experimental work and use a lot more sophisticated equipment, chemicals and biological materials."
Capobianco echoed that sentiment, pointing out that even classroom teaching has become much more dependent on machinery, such as computers. "If I want to show my students the structure of a molecule, I can use a computer, project it on a screen and give them the view as this molecule rotates in space," he said. "I can't do that very well on a blackboard."
He added that one of the most significant developments in science disciplines over the last 30 years has been a blurring of the lines between them. "Back then, the chemists were real chemists," he said. "Facilities such as laser equipment were considered more the domain of a physicist. Chemistry has also gone more towards the bio side. Traditional, 'wet' chemistry is still being done, but there's a lot more cross-disciplinarity."
One of the ideas for the new science building at Loyola is to create a greater sense of community among science students in different departments to stimulate interaction. The facility should also be a powerful recruiting tool to attract good students and ambitious young faculty members to Concordia. The university has to keep up with others, such as the Universit du Qubec Montral, which has recently built a new science building. "We are long overdue for something here," Roy said.
Plans for the new facility should be finalized by next spring. If one lesson has been learned from occupying the Hall Building, it is that plans for the new space should provide flexibility so that it can easily be adjusted to new needs that might arise in science in the future.
As Roy explained, "things are moving so fast, you can't design the perfect laboratory for tomorrow. The only thing you can do is to allow us to reconfigure."
Photo above: Seen from the corner of West Broadway and Sherbrooke Sts., the site of the new science building, which will link the Bryan Building with the Drummond Science Building.
by Frank Kuin
When Concordia's visual artists moved into their current location at Ren Lvesque Blvd. and Crescent St. back in 1980, faculty and students alike were thrilled to be out of the Henry F. Hall Building and into what seemed like the ideal venue to paint, sculpt and engage in other forms of artistic creation.
"People thought it was a palace, and temporarily, it seemed like it was," said John Locke, Associate Dean (Space Planning) of Fine Arts, of the four-storey converted car dealership. "They were moving into their own building. It was a very exciting period."
Nearly 20 years later, the people who teach and study there are decidedly less enchanted. The building suffers from air quality problems due to difficulty ventilating the residue produced by artists' materials. Natural light, the artist's most important tool, is at a premium. Structurally, the Visual Arts Building has had few modifications since its days as a garage, including the windows, which remain slits near the ceilings.
"Today, the Visual Arts Building is marginally adequate at best," said Locke, pointing to a "radical" increase in the student population for a large part of the building's shortcomings. "Fine Arts has gotten much larger than anyone dreamed of," he said. More than 2,600 students are enrolled in Fine Arts at Concordia today, making it the largest Faculty of its kind in Canada. Moreover, it is widely considered to be one of the best art schools in the country.
To live up to its reputation, the Faculty is eager to move into a new building, to be constructed on a downtown site. It will bring under one roof all fields of visual arts at Concordia, such as art education, art history, cinema, creative arts therapies, design art, digital imaging and sound, and studio arts. Some of these have been moved out of the VA building over the years for lack of space and occupy rented facilities downtown. (Performing Arts will remain at the Loyola Campus.)
Faculty members have high expectations for the new building. Lydia Sharman, Chair of the Department of Design Art, pointed out that "it's the first time we've had the opportunity to develop a new space, rather than taking an old space and trying to renovate it." Sharman, who is involved in planning for the new building, spoke enthusiastically of "an opportunity for bringing all the different departments and groups within the Visual Arts area together."
Indeed, cross-fertilization of artistic ideas is one of the basic premises of the new facility. Improved interaction between arts students and faculty in different departments should stimulate ideas at a time when, as Locke explained, arts practices are increasingly characterized by multidisciplinary forms of creation. "Instead of people coming in saying, 'I want to be a painter,' they may want to paint and do video work and do some music as well," he said. "We encourage that. But it leads to needing more multi-purpose spaces, more shared spaces."
Sharman pointed to the growing role of computers in all forms of art production. Standing in a veritable dungeon in the basement of the VA building, where a few dozen iMac workstations are arranged closely together, she said digital equipment now plays an important role in numerous forms of art across the Faculty, from photography to print-making to 3-D object making. The capacity of the digital lab, which started under the Department of Design Art, has been outstripped by demand from all other departments. "What we really need is a state-of-the-art computer facility, big enough for all the expansion that's going on," she said.
Still, Sharman and her colleagues envision more than just a bigger and better facility. The added value of the new Fine Arts building should be for the Faculty to claim a larger stake in the cultural character of the area -- in the words of Sharman, to form "a bridge" between the Museum of Fine Arts and the Canadian Centre for Architecture. It will feature as many as three different galleries, including one for works by faculty members, and actively try to engage the community in exhibits and performances, she said. Storefront, walk-in galleries in the vicinity of Guy Mtro should be more inviting to visitors than the current student gallery, run-down and tucked away on Ren Lvesque Blvd.
Moreover, the Faculty of Fine Arts is, probably more than most in the university, concerned with its new building's aesthetics. Among the Faculty's priorities is a structure of "distinguished architecture," said Locke. One of the ideas being contemplated is a 'green' building, environmentally sound with efficient spaces and proper ventilation. Locke, who was already at Concordia when the VA building was first occupied, now dreams of a modern building with indirect sunlight flowing in through a glass facade facing north -- a far cry from the grubby, boxy former car garage which the Faculty has desperately outgrown.
Photo above: A class in one of the Painting studios.
by Frank Kuin
To visit members of Concordia's Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science is like taking a walking tour of the university's buildings. Spread over no fewer than 13 facilities, most of them downtown, the Faculty's far-flung locations make for an alphabet soup that is almost as dense as some computer languages -- H, LB, GM, BE, ER, to name but a few.
"We're all over the place," said Dean Nabil Esmail, from his office in the J.W. McConnell Building. Across the street, on the ninth floor of the Henry F. Hall Building, Professor Charles Gigure, Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, agreed. "We are scattered in bits and pieces everywhere."
This diffusion of facilities reflects the vigorous growth of the Faculty since Concordia was formed in 1974. The number of full-time faculty has increased from 16 to about 110 in that period, while the student population has gone up to roughly 3,000. In recent years, computer labs have hardly been added fast enough.
Whenever additional space was needed, extra rooms were made available in various buildings the university either owned or rented. It was a strategy that Esmail ascribes largely to doubts on the part of the provincial government about whether the expansion would be permanent.
The situation is finally about to change. For the first time in its history within Concordia, the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science is about to be consolidated into a mere handful of locations. The centrepiece will be a new building exclusively for Engineering and Computer Science, to be constructed on one of the downtown lots the university owns.
Esmail is ecstatic about the prospect, and looks forward to the academic opportunities he predicts will be created when the faculty members will all be under one roof. "Synergy between professors is an enormous academic power that our Faculty has never experienced in its history," the Dean said. "To put them together in one place will be a recipe for leaps of success in the next few decades."
The new facility, which it is hoped will open in the fall of 2002, will house all offices of the four departments: Mechanical Engineering; Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Computer Science. In addition, the majority of research laboratories and graduate students will be accommodated there.
The new structure should give Engineering and Computer Science the "identifiable presence" it has always lacked, Gigure said. "That's an important factor in attracting people, whether they are students or faculty members," he explained. Still, out of a sense of "realism," the Faculty will also retain its space in the Hall Building, primarily for undergraduate computer labs and heavy-equipment research facilities that would be very difficult to move.
The new building, which should raise the Faculty's net floor space from about 17,500 square metres to the 24,000-square-metre range, will go a long way in accommodating the additional computer labs that are needed to facilitate the rapid expansion of the Faculty. Enrolment in information technology is growing quickly, already accounting for about 60 per cent of Engineering students. It's expected to double in five years.
With that emphasis in mind, Esmail envisions an "intelligent building," one that is completely wired and equipped with the latest technology for teaching. "More than any other sector of science, our discipline has been affected by information technology," he said.
To help finance the new structure, the Faculty has received a grant of more than $12 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the government of Quebec, some $10 million of which is for the construction of facilities to house research laboratories. Moreover, it is in close touch with corporate donors, such as Ericsson, Bell Canada, Abitibi-Consolidated and Bombardier. In fact, the industry in the region has an interest in seeing an improvement in the stature of the Faculty, which is a source of many of its employees.
"The creation of a unified, first-class academic engineering facility at Concordia will go a long way in supporting and enhancing our relations with the industrial partners of Montreal, Quebec and beyond," Esmail said. "The confidence of our industrial partners in our ability to provide the proper education and to conduct first-class research will increase tremendously with this facility."
Photo above: Seen from the corner of Guy and Ste. Catherine Sts., the site of a major downtown complex for Concordia.
by Frank Kuin
Of all of Concordia's Faculties, Commerce and Administration may be the one suffering most severely from lack of space, particularly in view of its anticipated growth in both public and privatized programs.
To hear Dean Mohsen Anvari tell it, it is a wonder Concordia manages to produce business graduates at all. The Faculty has about 5,000 students, who should typically come to university equipped with laptop computers. Instead, it barely has an identifiable presence in terms of conventional classrooms -- never mind the wired rooms that are required for business education in the 21st century.
"We are in dire straits," Anvari said. He pointed out that his Faculty, which is based in the outmoded GM Building (over the Guy Mtro station), has only two fully wired rooms at its disposal. Regular classrooms with blackboards and overhead projectors are spread out across the Henry F. Hall Building and rented facilities, but they are often unsuitable or too small. Adequate conference rooms and meeting places are, for now, only a distant dream.
"I know other Faculties have experienced difficulties as well," said Anvari, "but our situation has been particularly terrible. We have almost no space for research, no case rooms, no room for computer labs. It has not been a happy scene."
Understandably, the business school can hardly wait to move into its own proposed facility, to be built on one of the downtown lots that are owned by Concordia. The structure should increase the floor space of the Faculty from about 4,000 square metres to approximately 14,000. It will be completely wired and equipped for videoconferencing and distance education. Hopes are high that it might be completed in two years.
According to Anvari, construction of a state-of-the-art facility for the Faculty of Commerce and Administration simply makes good business sense. Competing business schools in the province, in particular the Hautes tudes Commerciales (HEC), UQAM and Universit Laval, all have better facilities than Concordia, he said. In a fiercely competitive market for good business students, "that is really putting us at a distinct comparative disadvantage."
For instance, HEC, Concordia's main competitor in business education, has a brand new building of about 60,000 square metres on Cte-Ste-Catherine. Although that includes facilities such as registrar's offices and a library, which in Concordia's case are shared, the comparison explains why the Faculty of Commerce and Administration was labeled "the business school in the dowdy building" in a recent evaluation of business schools across the country, Anvari said.
"Inevitably, we're losing a lot in terms of attracting good students who much prefer to be in facilities of the kind that HEC has than to be in ours, all other things being equal," Anvari said. That is especially true in programs like the Executive MBA, where students are shelling out tuition fees of more than $40,000. "In that particular market niche, students expect to have first-class facilities."
The new building should allow Commerce and Administration to re-stake its claim of being among the best business schools in the country, The Faculty, with just under 120 full-time professors, has had to put new ideas on hold for sheer lack of space. For instance, it wants to create a trading room (where students will be able to manage an investment portfolio) for which the Faculty has received a grant of $1 million.
Ideas like this are indicative of how education in programs like investment management and business administration have evolved in recent years. "From a technological point of view, the manner in which we teach business has changed tremendously, with use of the Internet, databanks, and satellites," Anvari explained. To have a modern building will not be a luxury for the Faculty of Commerce and Administration, "it will let us do our job."
Plans are well in hand for new Concordia buildings, and some of the funding has already been earmarked. That's the optimistic message from the university's space planners, who predict that our enrolment will grow by about 18 per cent over the next 15 years.
Garry Milton, Executive Director of the Rector's Cabinet, has led a team who have held about 75 visits with academic administrators and department heads, lasting from an hour to a full day, to hammer out just what is needed, how soon, and where.
The results show that more space and better facilities would be needed even if the university didn't grow at all. In addition, the Quebec government has told the university to move from rented to owned facilities. For all these reasons, the university is expected to require about 42 per cent more space.
A new science building is planned at Loyola, and construction is planned downtown for commerce, engineering/computer science and the visual arts.
In the process, other needs will be met, including new recreation facilities downtown and a better athletic complex in the west end. Student areas, such as lounges and food courts, will be greatly increased. Classrooms should be more numerous and more appropriate, there should be more library study space, many residence units are likely to be added, and there will be a lot more downtown parking.
"There is obviously too much to do all at once," Milton said, "so we are setting priorities." First will come the new science building, which is expected to breathe new life into the Loyola Campus by creating an academic home for a distinctive and important group of scholars. This new building will dovetail with the renovation of the floors on the Hall Building that the sciences will vacate.
Some of the money needed for the science building has already been identified, including a recent donation of about $7 million from an anonymous source. An architectural competition will get under way as soon as a shortlist of appropriate candidates has been drawn up.
The architectural competition will also extend to development of a major downtown academic complex, taking in the city block on Ste. Catherine St. between Mackay and Guy Sts., the empty lot on the southwest corner of de Maisonneuve Blvd. and Guy, and possibly other areas. It's an opportunity that has excited many architectural firms -- 74 requests for information were received when the call went out last month.
A new building for Engineering and Computer Science is not only needed, but must be constructed fairly soon to meet the requirements of a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. This Faculty is likely to see a precipitous rise in enrolment -- by as much as 50 per cent in its information-technology programs.
In their consultations around the university, the planners have tried to encourage an imaginative stretch, Milton said. Establishing a robust wish-list for the next 15 years is better than settling for the bare minimum. The university's real estate planning committee, chaired by SGW alumnus Jonathan Wener and made up of experienced volunteers, is encouraged by the progress so far, and the master plan will soon be presented to the City of Montreal for approval.
- Barbara Black
Crowded conditions in one of the Chemistry Department's laser labs on the 10th floor of the Hall Building.
The Wood Shop in the VA Building is used by virtually all art students. The duct collects sawdust.