Getting Schooled: George Brown College Waterfront School of Design

Incubator space. Photo by Tom Arban

George Brown College (GBC)’s innovative approach to campus expansion aims to bridge the gap between academic curriculum and real-world solutions by designing a future-focused learning facility within Daniels Waterfront – City of the Arts. Driven to align the expansion of its already sprawling downtown-Toronto campus with the growth of Canada’s largest city, GBC chose to locate its state-of-the-art learning, innovation and exhibition facility within Daniels’ 1.3 million square foot master-planned, mixed-use arts community—a four-building complex designed by RAW Design, Giannone Petricone Associates and Rafael + Bigauskas Architects, and completed in fall 2019.

Ground floor entry lobby. Photo by Tom Arban

GBC’s new Waterfront School of Design, whose interior was designed by IBI group, is a 103,000 square foot immersive learning facility, intended to support students to adapt and succeed in the age of digital disruption. The college’s new outpost is replete with classroom, auditorium and interdisciplinary studio space, in addition to its expansive Innovation Exchange, a collaborative lab in which students can work alongside industry-leading professionals to test their concepts and design solutions. The Innovation Exchange includes a Digital Media and Gaming Incubator, a Future Living Lab, and specialized labs for augmented and virtual reality displays, each designed to address critical-skills development in industries that demand user-centric, technology-driven solutions.

Gallery and display corridor. Photo by Tom Arban

Focus was placed on developing technology-enabled, flexible spaces, capable of adapting over time to changing programmatic and industry trends. To achieve this, the space leverages demountable partitions in several areas, and mobile furniture throughout. Areas for teaching, creating and exhibiting are woven throughout the campus, and connective spaces, including entranceways and hallways, are animated by display cases and rotating installations.

The collection of arts incubators, co-working spaces, and professional design firms that now share an address with GBC represent additional opportunities for students to connect with the design world beyond their coursework, and to gain the skills they need to remain competitive in a quickly evolving workforce.

Classroom corridor. Photo by Tom Arban

“The new Waterfront School of Design continues George Brown College’s commitment to the revitalization of the eastern waterfront in downtown Toronto, and captures the spirit of the innovation-focused district,” said IBI Group’s Stephen Donnelly, design lead on the project. “The new campus reflects the evolving nature of education, and successfully facilitates a transparent collaboration between students, faculty and industry partners, who in turn will develop leading design solutions for the smart economy.”

“This modern, flexible space is a perfect match for our holistic approach to design – which encompasses not only aesthetics, but also technical feasibility, business feasibility and social purpose,” said President of George Brown College, Anne Sado, in a recent press release. “As digital disruption transforms the design, arts and digital media sectors, we’re preparing creative people to apply their skills in relevant, career-focused ways, while enabling enhanced industry research and innovation.”

Drawing studio. Photo by Tom Arban

The state-of-the-art facility will play host to up to 1,800 students per year in a combination of learning and collaborative spaces, including a 200-seat flexible meeting space, and an auditorium with room for 135 seats.