May 24, 2007


This rendering of the new Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building shows two unique suspended pods located in the atrium.

Ontario Steel Design Awards

Innovative space-age pod design houses lecture halls, lounge area


Motorists and pedestrians passing by the University of Toronto’s new Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building at College Street and Queen’s Park could be forgiven for thinking there are two space-age pods floating in the building.

That’s exactly the impression designers and builders of this soon-to-be-opened $75-million building wanted to create.

London, England-based Foster and Partners, in association with Toronto’s Cannon Design (formerly Moffat Kinoshita Architects), are the designers of the 17,000-square-metre structure, which has been shortlisted for the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction’s 2006 Ontario Steel Design Awards in the engineering category.

Halcrow Yolles is the structural engineer. Hamilton-based Walters Inc. is the steel detailer/erector. Mississauga-based PCL Constructors Canada Inc. is the general contractor.

Located just a few hundred metres from the Ontario Legislature, it will house the university’s expanding Faculty of Pharmacy, and provide facilities for more than 1,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students. Some of its features include two large lecture theatres, a student lounge, a resource centre and specialized teaching and research labs.

The centrepiece of the building is a dramatic five-storey atrium with two steel pods hanging from the sixth floor with steel tension hangars. The larger, lower pod houses a 60-seat lecture theatre and a reading room, while the higher pod features a 24-seat computer-training centre and a faculty lounge on its roof.

“A complete integration of architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical design has gone into the building,” says Cannon Design project director Trevor Pereira.

The origins of the pod design was the University of Toronto’s insistence on a dramatic building that would literally turn heads while complementing its existing building and academic reputation, says Hallow Yolles designer Crispin Howes.

In order to create a landmark building that would minimize the impact on existing structures, they decided to make the lower levels of the pharmacy building as transparent as possible to allow views of the historic buildings.

“But while atriums can be visually exciting, they aren’t generally an efficient use of space.”

This meant the design team’s additional mandate was to create an open space, without losing usable functional area, which would allow the university to meet its objective of increased enrollment and staff.

The solution was the creation of the floating pod lecture halls and assembly space. With it, however, came a number of design and structural challenges, says Howes.

“The first challenge was to meet the architect’s demand to make the pods appear free floating and to make the supporting structure as transparent as possible.”

A critical component in achieving that appearance was the high tensile steel rods or hangars. Six hanging rods support the larger pod, while the smaller pod has four rods. At the top of the pods is a ring truss system.

Another element in achieving the floating image is a number of pedestrian bridges. Not only do they provide access to the pods, the bridges conceal mechanical and electrical services that are routed through them.

“It’s an important feature that reinforces the free-floating appearance of the original design.”

A considerable amount of modelling and three-dimensional drawings, and an intensive amount of co-ordination and planning between the architects, structural, mechanical and electrical consultants, were required on the pod design, says Howes.

The modelling was done in CATIA and then those files transferred to fabricator Walters Inc. Manufacturing the pods required the fabrication of numerous sections, preassembling them in a custom falsework jig and then conducting dimensional testing to ensure the geometry was correct. The pods were then dismantled, the sections trucked to the building, reassembled and hoisted into place.

“It (the hosting) took about a day per pod.”

While the pods are the most dramatic and visual use of steel, they weren’t the only use of this material in what is primarily a poured concrete structure.

A 19.2-metre-long transfer truss between the sixth and seventh floors eliminated the need for two interior columns, and made the high and unobstructed lobby space possible, says Howes.

“Without it, the columns would have gone right through the pods.”

The sixth floor will be constructed of structural steel — as opposed to floors seven to twelve, which were built with poured concrete. Using steel eliminated the need for formwork, which sped up construction and made it easier to install the hangar rods.

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