Centennial header

Canada’s First Zero-Carbon, Mass Timber Institution

Centennial’s A-Building Expansion is the country’s first zero-carbon, mass timber academic facility. The building’s design incorporates Indigenous principles and embodies the concept of Two-Eyed Seeing through its inclusive, flexible learning environments, gathering spaces and more.


Centennial College


Scarborough, Ontario

Project Scale

$105 Million

Sustainability, Truth and Reconciliation

Located in Toronto, Ontario, Centennial College (Centennial) has five campus locations, each specializing in unique areas of study. With student enrollment numbers growing, Centennial needed to expand the capacity of its Progress Campus, which resides on the treaty lands and territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. In acknowledgement of the Indigenous land the campus stands on and to support the college’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, Centennial decided to build a sustainable gateway structure that embodies Indigenous inclusivity and culture.

Read the Announcement: Centennial College open’s Canada’s first LEED Gold, zero carbon, mass timber higher education building

The new, state-of-the-art structure includes 1,057 individual pieces of locally sourced, cross- and glue-laminated Canadian timber. The use of timber is a conscious and sustainable decision, as the facility’s design also incorporates WELL, LEED and Net Zero Carbon elements to ensure that the building’s operations produce no emissions.

The six-storey, 150,000 sq. ft. facility designed by Smoke Architecture and DIALOG Design stems from the Mi’kmaq concept of ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’ and draws heavily from Indigenous creation stories, principles and nature. The expansion includes gathering spaces for Traditionalists, Elders, citizens of Indigenous Nations and members of Indigenous communities. It also includes indoor and outdoor learning spaces, communal areas, office space and areas suitable for smudging ceremonies. Its flexible learning spaces and modular furniture contribute to the concept of inclusivity, as students, staff and visitors can reconfigure the space to be more conducive to various learning models.

“At Centennial, we view sustainability, inclusivity and Indigeneity as wholly interconnected and we wanted to create a learning space that demonstrates the importance of that tripartite relationship,” says Dr. Craig Stephenson, President and CEO of Centennial College. “We’re so incredibly excited to see our unique academic building rising quickly. Indeed, rapid construction is said to be one of the many benefits of working with wood.”

Project management expertise

Building off the rapport developed over the course of Centennial’s Downsview Campus project, the college approached us in the early planning stages with its vision for this new building.

Based on a space assessment and overall Campus Master Plan, out team had several consultations with Centennial to establish a clear vision and strategy for its innovative A-Building Expansion.

With the strategy developed, we began to implement their comprehensive project management services throughout all phases of work, starting with a series of procurements for site investigations, bridging and compliance consultants, including the pre-qualification and eventual award of the Design-Build contract. With the team established and the concept design accepted, we led the project team through an extensive implementation plan which required accounting for the impact of the pandemic on costs and schedule.

Poetic inspiration

With Truth and Reconciliation at the forefront of this project, we met with Chief R. Stacey Laforme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation who shared some of his stories and learnings and recommended Living in the Tall Grass: Poems of Reconciliation – a book of poems he’d written and published. The college quickly obtained the book and took a moment of pause to truly assess the poems and stories. With these new learnings and understandings, the book motivated the team and profoundly influenced the concept, design and procurement strategies of this project.

Recognizing that they couldn’t convey the book’s messages in a Request for Proposal (RFP), the team purchased a copy for each pre-qualified design-build proponent well in advance of releasing the RFP, and recommended they read it to inspire their designs and overall submissions. This unique approach led to proponents that understood the importance of Centennial College’s project and aligned with its vision. During presentations, some team members expressed the emotional impact of the Chief’s words and how certain lines translated into the proposed design.

Centennial awarded the project’s design contract in December 2019, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Canada. The project management team supported the college amidst health and safety, supply chain and other unprecedented project challenges. Developing a comprehensive execution strategy, they were able to decrease COVID-19 cost and schedule impacts for the college by securing permits, arranging site inspections and resolving other onsite operational issues impacted by new physical distancing policies.

The future of higher education projects in Canada

Centennial College’s A-Building Expansion has already gained international recognition with its inclusion in Newsweek Magazine’s Climate-Friendly Buildings That Look Great and Do Their Part for the Planet article. The facility opened to students, staff and campus visitors in time for the Fall 2023 semester and is on track to receive WELL, LEED and Zero Carbon certifications. It is setting a new standard for the inclusion of innovative, sustainable elements and flexible learning environments in future higher education projects across the country.

Centennial 0030
Centennial 0039
Centennial 0016