The Nicol Building is the new home of the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Double room photography

A series of watercolor sketches with a dramatic swirl were first steps to distilling design inspiration for the Nicol Building, a unique new home for the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University in Ottawa, says architect Siamak Hariri.

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“Our intention was to create a building that would have enough presence to stand out in the business school landscape, but balance it with a sense of intimacy – a place where students would feel supported and embraced by their community “Says Mr. Hariri, a founding partner of Hariri Pontarini Architects in Toronto.

The university’s architectural competition for the Nicol building called for it to be a landmark on a convergence of pedestrian walkways and an arch of the street overlooking the Rideau River. The first sketches and scale models, as well as research stints at several other business schools, resulted in a plan for a curved, six-story structure with an interior space where all the classrooms and meeting rooms are visible around a series of spiral staircases were inspired by DNA, he says.

“It was very conscious to have a staircase that doesn’t twist like a corkscrew. There are landings and places to pause. You can meet a classmate or professor on the stairs and pause and have a discussion or watch a team at work and get curious about what they are up to, ”says Hariri.

This underlines that Sprott is a creative place.

“I think that’s important in business. It’s not just monotonous, read your textbooks and go. You will be asked to come in and be resourceful. There is an energy in this school, ”he explains.

The ground floor is designed for flexibility in configuration.

Double room photography

The building’s ground floor, known as the forum, provides the framework and includes a research center, a resource center and a business incubator. It’s designed for flexibility in configuration, with tables that can rotate and face each other, and a series of floor-to-ceiling windows that can be covered to become a presentation wall. All around the light-flooded three-storey atrium, glass classrooms and a large lecture hall can be seen on the second and third floors.

The glass classrooms are available in a variety of sizes to suit different configurations, with moveable furniture for flexible teaching styles that enable virtual and personal teaching formats.

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This is unique among business schools, found Mr. Hariri and a group from Sprott School while attending several Canadian and American business schools during the design research phase in 2018.

The buildings of many well-known schools lacked flexibility and visual interest, says Hariri. The curved walls of the six-story Nicol Building also give every classroom and office a view of the surrounding landscape and campus.

The main entrance has a plaza and a cantilevered overhang to protect it from the elements, and a café is right inside on the left, making the building accessible to the entire student body, not just business school students. A new LRT line is also being built across the street, which will provide excellent views of the building.

“You can’t help but walk through the front door and say this is interesting. In the forum and the innovation center behind it, you can observe people in a really dynamic environment and the large lecture room offers flexibility, ”says Dana Brown, Dean of the Sprott School of Business.

“It enables more experience and collaboration. Our professors have different methods and we don’t have to limit ourselves to case studies. Everyone can teach in different ways, such as problem solving and bogus negotiation, and whatever they do they have a nice view of the outside world, ”she says.

“We think the building really reflects the school’s culture. It’s not just the size of the school, it’s the diverse and accepting community as well. When we ask students why they chose Sprott and not another business school, they often tell us that they feel that this is a place where they can be themselves and feel safe and that the people take care of each other. After COVID, it is more important than ever to have this sense of community and this support. “

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The curved outer walls of the Nicol Building contrast with the rectangular geometry of the neighboring buildings on campus and adapt to their heights. The glazing is accentuated by striking vertical slats, which emphasize the curves of the building and arouse visual interest.

The project budget has been set at $ 65 million.

“We had to meet the budget and I’m happy to say that not only did we do that, but we were also below our total quota amount. We could do what a business school should do: innovations based on solid project management, ”says Hariri.

On-campus face-to-face tuition will resume for the 2,700 students on the Carleton Business Program. While the design was completed prior to the pandemic, nothing needed to be changed to the building or its mechanical systems to prepare for the post-lockdown era, Ms. Brown says.

“There are a variety of areas to move and work in different parts of the building,” she adds. “This is how things will be in new collaborative workplaces.”

The Nicol Building is not Hariri Pontarini’s first business school project. Other examples of the firm’s work include the Richard Ivey Building at Western University and the Schulich School of Business at York University.

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“For every business school project, we want to do something permanent and not the hot style of today. It has to respect the nobility of aspiration and represent a school that will consist of it in the long term, ”says Hariri.

“Architecture can be very dramatic and excessive, and a great university cannot afford to have people ask, ‘What were they thinking?’ ”