From sketch to construction: Behind the striking design of Carleton U’s Nicol Building

From sketch to construction: Behind the striking design of Carleton U’s Nicol Building

Curvaceous and modern, the Nicol Building — the new home for Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business — is defined by its graceful profile and soaring views down campus avenue to the Rideau river.

But while it will be the finished structure that receives the accolades, the spirit of the building was first captured a few years ago in the simplest of sketches. Here, Hariri Pontarini Architects explains how they turned a sketch into a fully realized building.

Step 1: The Initial Sketches

Early line drawings of the front (left) and back (right) of the Nicol Building. Sketches by Siamak Hariri

It all begins with a sketch. When viewed in isolation, those early doodles don’t look like much. But compare them to the final rendering — those initial squiggles very clearly anticipate the curves and views that will unfold with the design process. The sketch establishes a conceptual direction, providing a starting point for the team, which then goes back and forth in four mediums — sketch, computer line drawing, physical model studies, and computer massing — to crystallize the idea.

Step 2: The Models

3D prototypes showing an aerial view (left) and a side view (right). Images courtesy Hariri Pontarini Architects

Working drawings become three-dimensional with the creation of prototypes. The landmark building is now sculptural, providing a beautiful sense of the design-in-progress and how it fits in with its neighbouring build-ings and the sightlines down Campus Avenue.

While many architecture practices now focus on digital modelling, Hariri Pontarini Architects has a model-making team and studio devoted to making the wood-and-acrylic maquettes.

Step 3: The Renderings

A rendering of the Nicol Building. Image courtesy Hariri Pontarini Architects

Almost there! The final 3D visualization brings the Nicol Building to life, translating the architects’ vision into a virtual tour. The exterior boasts a curved six-storey frame wrapped in bold vertical fins. Inside, that curving embrace is echoed in the atrium, the central gathering space from which all program areas radiate. The final renderings are usually produced at the same time as the final wood models.

Step 4: The Construction

Construction on the Nicol building was almost complete in 2020. Image courtesy Hariri Pontarini Architects

A ground-breaking ceremony in the summer of 2018 marked the start of construction. For the architects, the culmination of the design process is not simply about bricks and mortar. The three-year construction phase marks the final step in the process of telling the story of the Sprott School of Business through the medium of architecture. During this phase, the architects travel to the site about once a month to check on the progress and watch for deficiencies. The Nicol Building is scheduled to open this summer.