Good news

New UVic engineering expansion will be a place to learn—and a structure to learn from

The building will be a living lab, embedded with sensors and controls that invite students' experimentation

Good news

New UVic engineering expansion will be a place to learn—and a structure to learn from

The building will be a living lab, embedded with sensors and controls that invite students' experimentation

Rendering of the new building expansion. Image: UVic
Good news

New UVic engineering expansion will be a place to learn—and a structure to learn from

The building will be a living lab, embedded with sensors and controls that invite students' experimentation

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New UVic engineering expansion will be a place to learn—and a structure to learn from
Rendering of the new building expansion. Image: UVic

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A roomful of first-year engineering students works in small groups in a lab specially designed to help them fine-tune their robots for the challenges they’ll face in the arena across the room.

In another class, students entering their lecture see the room’s ambient temperature and carbon dioxide concentrations projected onto a wall, and watch as both numbers tick upwards throughout the session while their bodies influence their surroundings.

Hidden in a small lab nearby, upper-year students tinker with energy models to watch as the building’s environment changes, through both real-world sensors and computer simulations.

It’s all still a few years away, but it turns out that when you let a bunch of civil engineers’ imaginations run wild in designing a building of their very own, the possibilities are endless. At the very least, it’s a step up from what engineering students have had available since the creation of UVic’s civil engineering program, scattered among borrowed space across campus.  

An $89.6 million engineering building expansion coming to the UVic campus by 2023 will add room for 500 new students. The expanded building will act as a multidisciplinary living laboratory, in more ways than one. For starters, the process of designing the structure has involved student work, with undergrads studying specific technical issues and graduate students taking on the building in case studies. Faculty research ideas, too, have been included in the building’s design.

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The learning opportunities won’t end once the ribbon is cut, however.

“The building itself is an experiment,” says Thomas Froese, chair of UVic’s civil engineering department. Sensors will be incorporated into the structure to measure things like seismic activity, loading, heat, light, and humidity, so that a complete real-time model of the building can be compared to a digital copy under experimental conditions. “In addition to the normal building controls, there will be a whole set of research-oriented controls.”

The building’s design, too, will be the subject of learning opportunities. With a green roof and solar panels among its energy-saving systems, the building is intended to emit essentially no carbon dioxide, produce some of its own electricity, and be extremely efficient in its use of water and heat. Students will be able to study how green buildings operate, what their opportunities and constraints are, and come out of their program accustomed to green design.

“To my knowledge we don’t have anything near that in BC,” boasts Mina Hoorfar, the recently-appointed dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science. Hoorfar hopes the building will help UVic stand out and attract top-notch professors and students.

The building expansion, and the companion High Bay Research and Structures Lab, will also be outfitted with high-tech systems to learn on—like shake tables for testing how a building will respond in an earthquake—as well as a water lab and a soils lab. Together, these facilities are intended to help students and researchers experiment with materials and techniques, and innovate the kinds of buildings that will be needed to respond to future needs.

“You’re producing new types of structures, and then you’re testing them,” Froese says.

Planning for the expansion began in 2019, and its first class should be taking place there by 2024. For Hoorfar, who came into the process as it was underway, the project has invigorated the new job with the possibilities it will bring.

“I’m so blessed as a new dean, coming in and realizing this vision,” she says.

It’s likely it won’t be the last bold vision that begins on the grounds of the engineering department—but Hoorfar hopes the ideas to come will push beyond the cleverly designed walls of the new structure, beyond the campus, and into a world that needs new ideas to build with.

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