An architect has been chosen for McMaster’s new liberal arts building, which was announced last summer following a funding commitment from the Ontario government.

Although the details will not be public until the University’s Planning and Building Committee approves the architect later this month, the Wilson Building for Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences will seek to accommodate new ways of teaching.

“We were looking for an architect who had experience in designing innovative learning spaces,” said Mohamed Attalla, the University’s Assistant Vice-President (Facility Services). “It’s part of our mandate at McMaster to develop learning space standards that meet the needs of the future.”

The traditional lecture-style teaching method may not fit with that vision, he said. The new spaces will be better suited to discussion and group work, as well as the infusion of more technology into teaching

Construction will begin in May 2013, and the building is scheduled to be complete by September 2015, when the incoming class of undergraduate students will be going into their fourth year.

The Wilson Building comes in part as a response to the ageing of the arts quad, the set of buildings adjacent to the student centre where most of the offices and classrooms for the humanities and social sciences faculties are held.

Funding for the $65-million building will come from a $45.5-million provincial grant announced last summer, $10 million donated by McMaster’s chancellor Lynton (Red) Wilson and a $1-million gift from the McMaster Association of Part-time Students. The University will cover the rest.

Wilson, the building’s namesake, donated his portion in 2007, which prompted the University to seek the remaining funds.

In addition to classrooms, the building will include lounge spaces and a performance theatre.

The building will go on the current site of Wenthworth House, which is set to be demolished at the end of the school year. The Phoenix, a bar owned by the Graduate Students Association, recently closed its Wentworth House location and will reopen above Bridges Café in the Refectory building on Sept. 4. The other tenants of Wentworth House have until the end of the year to find new homes.

A team has been assembled to consult on the building’s design. The team includes the deans of Social Sciences and Humanities, four professors from the two faculties and the McMaster Students Union’s president Siobhan Stewart.

“My priorities are whatever humanities and social sciences students deem to be appropriate for the space. I think it’s about trying to find a balance between both faculties, because they have unique needs,” said Stewart.

Stewart has consulted with Alex Burnett and Lisa Bifano, who are current students and presidents of the social sciences and humanities societies, respectively. She is pushing for two additional seats for student representatives, one for each faculty society.

“As it is now, we’re in the older building with the lead problems in the water and Internet access not reaching certain lecture halls,” said Burnett. “By constructing this Wilson Building, it’s validating that we are appreciated as an academic discipline, as opposed to being those students in the arts quad. Having updated facilities in terms of Internet and capable desks that aren’t falling apart and places where professors can actually project their slides that’s not the wall is the most universal stuff.”

In choosing an architect, McMaster also looked for someone who would be sensitive to the needs of the community, said Attalla. The Wilson Building will be situated near campus’ main entrance on Sterling Street, close to neighbourhoods where students and permanent residents cohabitate.


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