Creating Purpose-Built Spaces for Experiential Learning With Premium Rubber Flooring
As a leading polytechnic and one of Canada’s largest apprenticeship trainers, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) offers world-class higher education that propels industry, innovation, and sustainability. Comprised of four campuses — three in Edmonton and one in Spruce Grove — NAIT serves more than 50,000 students from across Canada and around the world.
With a concerted focus on applied sciences and technologies, health and life sciences, skilled trades, and business, the NAIT facilities are comprised of dynamic consequential spaces, including dozens of labs, advanced medical simulation rooms, and classrooms – all backed by nora® rubber flooring.
In 2009, design began on one of NAIT’s newest facilities – the Centre for Applied Technology (CAT), effectively the hub of campus, which would house over 5,000 individuals at any given time. The new building – equipped with classrooms, labs, a 135-seat lecture hall, a food court, and a five-story gathering space dubbed Main Street – is home to the School of Health and Life Sciences, the School of Business, and the School of Applied Sciences and Technology.
“The historical approach to higher ed design has been more of a one-size-fits-all standard,” said Sonja Dutra, Stantec’s lead interior designer for NAIT at that time. “Now, class is more of an exploratory learning environment that allows students to work in groups as most people will in their actual career.”
“One of the desired outcomes with CAT is to have our next generation of healthcare practitioners be job-ready,” said Graham Westbrook, the acting director for the Centre of Advanced Medical Simulations. “Everyone wants to know that the person who’s operating on their loved one is competent, but you don’t want them practicing on your mom or grandma. This is the center that provides a space that’s safe and low-consequence to train for that.”
Creating a Built Environment to Support Experiential Learning
“Your space shapes you, and you shape the space,” said Leo Lejuene, principal, architecture sector lead, at Stantec. “In the case of higher education, it’s important that we create spaces where staff and students can be themselves and feel inspired to be their best.”
“Material selection is essential in higher ed settings as students come into contact with the materials firsthand,” said Carmen Williams, an Interior Design Specialist at Stantec. “You want the materials to be durable. You want them to be aesthetically pleasing. You don’t want facilities like this to feel so institutional.”
In addition to the CAT building, nora rubber was also chosen to cover the Productivity and Innovation Centre (PIC) as well as the HP Centre for Information and Communications Technology. From product testing labs, technology adoption, innovation and applied research labs, to flexible, collaborative spaces to host industry events and foster real-life industry partnerships – the spaces in these facilities need to support outcomes for decades to come.
nora rubber flooring was selected for its aesthetics, durability, ergonomics, acoustic properties, ease of maintenance and sustainability benefits. “You have thousands of students and faculty walking on the floor, and it needs to look good years into the installation,” Williams said.
The flooring reinforces student and faculty outcomes, supporting communal and classroom settings to allow for the highly experiential courses offered at NAIT while providing spaces for peers to collaborate and interact with faculty.
As students spend a large amount of time walking between spaces and standing in labs, ergonomics becomes very important. ”One detail that is often overlooked is ergonomics of the flooring, which can have a big impact on a student’s life,” Dutra said. “When students are standing for a long period of time, you want to make sure the flooring provides comfort underfoot.”
Similarly, the flooring must be slip-resistant to minimize safety concerns within lab spaces. “We are a very safety-conscious organization and have constant inspections,” Westbrook said. “But, things can get wet in the simulations, and we’re very cognizant of this. We make the students aware as they enter the space and have safety orientations to ensure we’re quickly cleaning up any mess and restoring the flooring.”
Building a Main Street to Encourage Community
The five-story atrium at the center of CAT serves a variety of purposes, such as a meeting area, career fair location, etc. For this “Main Street” area to support the expected volume of students occupying and traversing the space, acoustics were a considerable concern in selecting building materials for the project.
“Acoustics in such a large atrium are naturally a challenge,” Dutra said. “The flooring has
to minimize the sound that travels around the space.”
As students, faculty and staff move away from Main Street, nora rubber flooring contributes to helpful wayfinding, delineating classroom space through the use of contrasting colors.
“We created little alcoves with hits of color throughout the very long hallways that marked an entrance to a classroom,” Lejuene said. “We have these colorful pockets of magenta, turquoise and orange with a bench for students to utilize after class for a quick meeting with their instructor.”
Supporting Student Outcomes Through Flooring
Edmonton sees almost nine months of snow a year, which is treated with gravel and sand. This extreme weather warrants the most durable of materials. NAIT expected to see the effects of snow in the hallways and communal areas. However, nora’s premium rubber flooring is wear-resistant, providing a cost-efficient flooring solution that lasts for decades.
The extremely dense, nonporous surface entirely eliminates the need for waxes or coatings and easily repels liquids and dirt, making cleaning very simple. Additionally, the benefits associated with modular flooring were a significant draw in selecting nora. “All you have to do is lift one tile, if it’s damaged, and replace it. There is minimal disruption to the area around it, and the costs stay low,” Williams said.
For the experiential learning spaces, especially healthcare-related, a simplified cleaning procedure is particularly beneficial. Similarly, the flooring must be slip-resistant to minimize safety concerns.
“We use a lot of simulated blood made with food coloring and water as well as actual theater-type blood,” Westbrook said. “It’s easy to clean the floors, and the ability to mop it up quickly really helps us keep going through the day. We have safety orientations to ensure we’re quickly cleaning up any mess and restoring the flooring.”
Extending Benefits Beyond the NAIT Walls
NAIT selected nora rubber flooring for its sustainability benefits – all nora rubber sheets and tiles are carbon neutral across their entire product lifecycle¹.
“Sustainability is really important when we select materials,” Williams said. “We want to make sure they have low VOCs and can be reused. We want to be environmentally conscious and select materials with recycled content.”
“Our goal was to achieve LEED Silver,” Lejuene said. “But, as construction started drawing to a close, we realized we were garnering more points for recycled content and waste diversion than initially planned. In the end, we were able to achieve LEED Gold.”
¹ nora floor coverings are CO₂ neutral over the entire product life cycle. We are continuously working on further reducing CO₂ emissions within the value chain through various measures. Remaining CO₂ emissions are offset by the acquisition of certificates relating to audited emission reduction projects.