ERA Architects

Centennial Downsview, Bombardier Centre for Aerospace and Aviation

The Bombardier Centre for Aerospace and Aviation, Downsview Campus, expands and adaptively reuses a historic building that was once the centre of aviation manufacturing and design in Canada — transforming it into an innovative learning institution for Centennial College’s Aviation and Engineering Technology Programs. The new campus includes teaching, research, testing labs and learning spaces for aviation engineering and mechanics, along with student services, admissions, a library, and dining options.

Drawing upon the heritage of one of Toronto’s most remarkable and yet least known historic sites, Centennial College’s new campus encourages a generation of students to push innovation in the aerospace sector. The mix of old and new is a unique and special attribute to the project, paying tribute to the building’s original use while maintaining the site’s ongoing affiliation with Canadian aviation history.

doublespace photography

The site is a unique entity within Toronto; the appropriation of land to establish CFB Downsview in 1947, and the purchase of the de Havilland properties in 1954 generated over 500 acres of land completely within the control of the Federal Government and shielded from development pressures. In 1996 when CFB Downsview was closed, the city had matured around the site for almost 60 years. In 1999 the property was designated Canada’s first urban national park, with an international competition launched in 2000, won by OMA’s Tree City entry. In 2012 the Downsview Secondary Plan was created, introducing a modified street network, and defining areas of rapid transit, residential development, urban park, and employment.

In keeping with the goal of designing a building that provides a broad range of experiences and environments for students, the emphasis of the public space is on variety and connectivity. Spaces for student activity are designed to achieve a maximum variety of experience types, ranging from quiet study rooms and small group rooms, to social seating and lively ping-pong tables. The public spaces aim not only to connect students with each other, but also with the Aerospace program and the essence of the building. Public spaces have been designed with optimal views into the primary Hangar, as well as into the labs and teaching spaces, connecting students to and garnering interest in the campus’ program offerings.

The overall heritage value of the site has been retained through the rehabilitation of the building, paying special attention to the north façade of the structure. Much of the conservation scope on the building involved careful masonry work to retain the attributes of the building. Original brick piers on the oldest section of the south elevation dating back to 1937 were retained, and the north façade completely rehabilitated. New additions to the building, including an expanded Hangar to accommodate the size of modern aircraft, were executed in a modern way that remains harmonious to the original design of the building.

Creative interpretation of the building’s history onsite connects the site’s history to its new use, providing an opportunity for students and faculty to interact with the site’s past. This program includes inlays along the exterior perimeter of the building complex that mark the year each component was constructed. Interpretative panels with imagery of iconic da Havilland planes flank the entrance of the building, and the da Havilland sign visible in historic photographs has been recreated in the glazing system on the exterior of the building.

doublespace photography

A history that was once widely unknown now has a continued life due to the transformation of the plant at 65 Carl Hall Street. Its adaptive reuse has continued to progress the site’s interaction with Canadian aviation history, both by recognizing its considerable contribution during the World Wars and by creating an opportunity to support the next generation of innovators in Canadian aviation.