In the 21st century, creativity is increasingly identified as a core competency. It drives our ability to adapt, problem solve and innovate, especially in a fast paced and changing world. Recognizing that these abilities are a competitive advantage in the job market, Sheridan College has dedicated its brand to creativity. Under the College’s latest strategic plan, Sheridan is in the process of creating a physical and pedagogical milieu that nurtures creativity across its three campuses: in its people, programs, processes and places. The first building designed and built under this new mandate is the Hazel McCallion Campus Expansion Phase 2 (HMC2). Completed in 2017, this 223,534 sq. ft. facility is dedicated to the study of architectural technology, visual merchandising, interior design, creative writing, creativity and creative problem solving.

At the HMC2 building, formal learning spaces are designed to expand the ways in which information is delivered, received and processed.

Twenty-nine open, flexible and media-friendly classrooms encourage students and faculty to be more agile in how they approach learning material. By prioritizing daylight, these spaces boost cognitive functioning. And by maximizing views of the growing city centre outside, they connect classroom learning with the wider world.

Nearly as many maker-spaces help transform passive instruction into experiential learning. Among these spaces are studios, specialty labs, production spaces, a wood workshop and a 3D print facility. By supporting applied and hands-on learning opportunities, these spaces allow students to give shape to their ideas and to develop new, worthwhile techniques.

“Inquiry spaces,” like the Materials ConneXion Library and Resource Centre, help broaden the students’ knowledge base and boost their capacity for critical thinking and problem-solving by exposing them to cutting-edge resources.

Not only that, the building as a whole doubles as a living laboratory. With live performance infomatics, interpretive signage, mock-up displays, and exposed building systems, the building itself helps students understand and use the built environment. This is particularly important in light of our current climate crisis.

There are as many shared working spaces (otherwise known as social learning spaces) in the HMC2 as there are structured spaces.

The Tutoring Centre and Student Lounges, for examples, provide students with an enriching group setting to discover different approaches and interpretations put forth by their peers.

Faculty offices also include informal collaborative space, lounge seating and shared meeting rooms. This encourages informal consultations among faculty and faculty and students.

The ultimate shared working space, however, is the Creativity Commons. Located at the heart of the building, the double-height Commons is designed to host both large and small gatherings, from the year-end graduation ceremonies and all-school charettes and to casual study sessions between peers. More often than not, the space accommodates more than one type of gathering simultaneously.

The Creativity Commons is a space that invites individuals from across disciplines and campuses, to converge. It encourages exchange of ideas and outcomes, whether deliberately or fortuitously. And while it doesn’t boast Silicon Valley’s infamous beanbag chairs and napping pods, the Commons does have a well-loved ping pong table which is known to spark conversation, if not the imagination.

What weaves these shared working spaces together is the dynamic sectional character of the building which creates opportunities for serendipitous encounters between programs and peers. The feature scissor stair figures prominently in the building section as a vertical collision space. Ascending through the five-storey atrium, the stair creates physical and visual connections between the Commons and the floors above. It also doubles as a podium for presentations during building-wide events.

This stair, together with the glazed corridors around it and the atrium, offer stimulating sight lines across the floorplate and down into the Commons below. In certain sections, the corridors become strategically wider to accommodate open workstations; these also help to foster impromptu interactions between students and students and faculty.

Finally, the west stairwell, with its generous landings, impressive student displays and notable views out over Mississauga’s downtown core, is a favorite space for students and faculty to congregate, collaborate and feel inspired.

All of these different spaces, offering as they do opportunities for inter-and intra-disciplinary exposure and dialogue, help build more resourceful, resilient and flexible minds, minds that are open and responsive to diverse perspectives.

In addition to the formal and social learning spaces, the HMC2 includes a series of feature spaces that give life to the creative efforts underway within the building.

First there is the Centre for Entrepreneurship. This large, interdisciplinary flex space is intended as a place to incubate and launch ideas. It can be subdivided and booked by individual students or student groups.

Then there is the Creative Campus Gallery. Here students, graduates and professionals alike are able to display their work for the benefit of other building users, visitors and the wider public. The Gallery often serves as a venue for industry partner events, allowing students to connect with and showcase their work to potential clients and or employers.

And, of course, there is the small but important cluster of spaces known as the Institute for Creativity. Unique to HMC2, the Institute for Creativity is a microcosm of Sheridan’s vision for the creative campus.

As the venue for the College’s annual open house, the Institute is, for many, the entrée into the College. It is an ideal venue for industry engagements, public outreach events, and lunch & learns. These types of events bring students and professionals together, allowing them to exchange ideas and insights and, ideally, opening the door to potential partnerships and new opportunities.

The Institute for Creativity does not belong to one faculty. Rather, students from across all faculties are invited to partake of its wide selection of courses in creativity studies. This interdisciplinary dynamic is welcomed by students and faculty alike. Here, engineers sit next to artists who sit next to healthcare professionals. All are taught by an agile, vocationally distinct group of teachers.

Like the building at large, unconventional forms of teaching, learning, working, and sharing are encouraged through a variety of features, including white boards, partitions, material resources, mobile screens, and moveable furnishings. The Institute features an impressive resource room where faculty can gather a rich array of material – from flip charts and markers to Lego sets – with which to engage students.

Throughout the Institute, there is ample daylight and quality wood finishes. These features are intended to cultivate a sense of calm and comfort. Comfort inspires confidence and confidence inspires risk-taking.

Designing for Creativity

Creativity is about a culture shift. Creativity means different things to different people. But maximizing its potential requires everyone to be on board – from the administration to the student union to facilities management and everyone in between. And, even with a system-wide mandate such as Sheridan’s, users need time to adapt, grow into new spaces, and understand how to maximize their potential.

Creativity cannot operate in siloes. The design must make a concerted effort to weave together different space typologies to achieve cross-pollination between the different streams of creativity. Moreover, white walls crave animation. Vitrines, glass cabinets, frames, full scale mock-ups and writable surface paint provide important opportunities for display. And when these curated elements are supplemented by more spontaneous expressions of creativity, like pin-ups and posters, a building like the HMC2 becomes a place true to its people and purpose.

Creativity isn’t all about chaos; certainty and comfort matter too. Being able to nurture a sense of belonging is foundational to creativity. Belonging is nurtured amongst students when their environment responds innately to their needs – needs for inspiration and stimulation, comfort and certainty, contemplation and collaboration. And when a sense of belonging is achieved, students feel a sense of investment; they are encouraged to be themselves, to dream, and to take risks, something we increasingly need as we continue to tackle the problems of the 21st century.