By Anna Guy

Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings, and they shape us.” And so it is with Western University’s new Amit Chakma Engineering Building: a new structure that will both shape and reflect Western’s status as a leading Canadian institution.

Prominently located on Western Road directly across from the Richard Ivey Building, the newly unveiled Amit Chakma Engineering Building will be the cornerstone to Western University’s prominent Faculty of Engineering, the administrative home to a new School of Biomedical Engineering and a Centre of Engineering Leadership and Innovation.

For a little background, Western Engineering has over 2,500 undergraduate students and over 700 graduate students enrolled in 9 core programs for undergraduates and graduates respectively, as well as combined and concurrent degrees with the Ivey Business School, Western Law, the School of Biomedical Engineering and other programs on campus.

The 100,000 square foot building is the epitome of modern design. Designed to enhance connection, collaboration, and creation, the building features unique components at every turn, including tiered classrooms, collaborative research space, extended outdoor spaces, and flexible
meeting rooms, taking full advantage of the space and natural light, as per design by Perkins+Will with Cornerstone Architecture, with construction managed by London’s Norlon Builders.

“The building brings to life a vision set by Andrew Hrymak, who is the former Engineering Dean and now Provost and Vice-President Academic for Western University,” says Dr. Gregory Kopp, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Engineering.

“There is lots of collaborative research space to support interdisciplinary areas such as Mechatronic Systems, Biomedical and Sustainable Engineering,” says Dr. Kopp. “Many of the Mechatronics, Software, Biomedical and Wind Engineering faculty members have offices here and there is a space for the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction.

Through a combination of new innovative and collaborative learning spaces for our students, to the building’s sustainable features, to new program offerings, the Amit Chakma Engineering Building establishes Western University and its Faculty of Engineering as a leader both nationally and globally.

Expectations around the building are rightfully high—students themselves were given the opportunity to voice their requirements during the design process. Overarching themes included dedicated community space, classrooms structured for collaborative discussion, and a prototyping playground.

Dr. Kopp has gone on the record to say this building will transform the Engineering experience at Western. When asked how so, Dr. Kopp says, “Since the beginning of the building’s planning process, we involved our students. We asked what was important to them, and the primary request was for more space – learning spaces, lounge areas, quiet study areas and meeting rooms. The new Amit Chakma Engineering Building offers all of the above. It offers practical working spaces and serves as an inspiring environment where our students will integrate classroom theory with collaborative hands-on learning as they design, build, test and refine their concepts in this new space.”

The building is comprised of locally sourced materials (locally sourced Canadian maple, limestone quarried in Wiarton, Ontario and regional steel for all structural steel in the building) and includes features such as: rainwater collection for use in toilet flushing; electric vehicle charging ports; passive chilled beams providing energy efficient cooling; and renewable energy systems to improve energy efficiency and electrochromatic windows that can switch from clear to tinted to reduce heat gain from the sun. On-site generation reduces stress on the Ontario grid while renewable sources contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The team is on track to achieve LEED Platinum Certification and, if successful, the building would be the third university teaching or research building in Canada to achieve that level. Of the 2,600 LEED-certified buildings in Canada, less than 5 per cent are recognized as LEED Platinum.

Most recently, the Amit Chakma Engineering Building received the Canada Green Building Council’s (CaGBC) Excellence Award for New Construction, which was announced at the CaGBC Ontario Awards Night gala in Toronto on November 1, 2018.

The Person Behind the Name

Amit Chakma is Western’s 10th President. Jack Cowin, who is Western’s 22nd Chancellor, donated $5-million to name this building in Chakma’s honour for his work in heightening Western’s reputation worldwide.

“Jack Cowin’s dedication of this building in Amit’s name stands as a testament to the relationship between the two leaders and to the ongoing world-wide success of Western University,” says Dr. Kopp. “Chancellor Cowin has been inspired by President Chakma’s leadership in developing and implementing a focused international strategy that has increased partnerships with educational and research institutions; attracted the best and the brightest students from all over the world; and developed innovative curriculum and research initiatives that have better prepared students to become global citizens.”