The Peter George Centre for Living and Learning
at McMaster University

McMaster University’s Peter George Centre for Living and Learning (PGCLL) is a new kind of scholastic building. In the words of The Globe and Mail’s David McPherson, it is “a community hub – a 335,000-square-foot hybrid high-rise that brings together a diverse collection of university functions under one roof.” The building stands eleven stories above grade with two stories below. It is the largest building on McMaster’s Hamilton campus, designed to serve 8,000 people daily. That’s equivalent to the population of a small city. In fact, the building was conceived to comprise a total campus experience for new students. It serves students through communal events, health care and the privacy of residences.

As disparate as these functions are, they share a common goal: to create a welcoming and comfortable space for students and staff. Architects Diamond Schmitt used smart design choices to achieve this goal. For example, managing sightlines and daylighting with custom acid-etched glass helped to create a sense of home and community at the heart of the PGCLL.

The Atrium

Care for human well-being begins with the building envelope. Vision panels are glazed in patterned acid-etched glass from Walker, alternating with unetched panes. Diamond Schmitt developed two halftone dot patterns for this project. The patterns are etched onto the first surface of the glass and calibrated to look almost transparent from inside the building. On the other hand, they appear opaque from outside. This establishes a level of privacy for occupants while still giving them a clear view of the campus. Furthermore, while the first surface etched treatment was conceived mainly for human considerations, it has the added benefit of deterring bird strikes. Solarban® 67 from Vitro Architectural Glass on surface two improves the glazing’s energy performance.

McMaster University Daylighting with custom acid-etched glass
Nooks and seating clusters around the perimeter encourage socialization, while rows of columns “create a really grand, processional, active space,” in the words of Diamond Schmitt’s Jeff Mitchell. The atrium rises four stories tall and ends with a bank of large skylights, increasing its sense of openness and grandeur. These skylights are angled to catch the most daylight possible, creating a light well at the building’s centre. To improve energy efficiency, the selected glass uses high-performance low-e Solarban® 70 from Vitro Architectural Glass on surface two.

A sweeping spiral staircase joins the main floor of the atrium to lecture halls and classrooms, which are stacked at the centre of the building. Diamond Schmitt initially chose a helical stair as an efficient use of space. However, it quickly became an important part of the building’s humane aesthetic. Seen in context at the center of the atrium, the spiral shape can read as a human spine or a coil of DNA. This is a fitting transition to the Student Wellness Centre on the next floor.

Student Wellness Centre and McMaster Children’s Centre

At the top of the spiral staircase, The PGCLL’s fourth story is devoted to health care and child care. Most of this floor comprises McMaster’s Student Wellness Centre. After years of being crowded into the basement of the student centre, these services now enjoy 20,000 square feet of well-lit space. Acid-etched window glass is especially important in this part of the building, since high VLT levels and minimal glare are known to benefit human health. Managing the daylighting with custom acid-etched glass also provides privacy to students seeking medical support.

At the McMaster Children’s Centre on the south side of the building, curved benches and brightly coloured nooks offer kids welcoming places to play. Just like the Wellness Centre, the Children’s Centre is full of large windows. The windows supply generous daylight to the kids inside, while the acid-etched patterns cut glare and increase privacy. With its comfortable touches and soft daylight, this centre is a welcoming space for youngsters.

Residential Tower

Just above the Student Wellness Centre and the Children’s Centre, student residences occupy seven levels of a U-shaped tower. These levels are the heart and soul of the PGCLL. This is where first-year students eat, sleep, study and socialize. Lounges at each end of the tower, complete with kitchens, anchor the space and offer views onto McMaster’s campus.

On the north side of the building, study rooms look toward Cootes Paradise, a wooded nature preserve at the western tip of Lake Ontario. Throughout the PGCLL, views of nature and campus life connect occupants to the outside world. At the same time, the private rooms are shielded from the outer world by the custom etched patterning on windows.

Custom Acid Etched Patterns at the Peter George Center for Living and Learning of the McMaster University | Walker Glass
McMaster University’s Peter George Centre for Living and Learning is a big building with an even bigger job to do. Students go there to live, attend classes, study, and take care of their health. It was important for people to feel at home in this enormous structure. Strategies such as managing daylighting with custom acid-etched glass helped Diamond Schmitt make that happen. The first-surface patterning softens natural light without reducing visible light transmission. It also creates selective opacity, giving privacy to students while maintaining their view of the outside world.

A note on solar performance

While prioritizing human well-being and a sense of belonging, this building was designed to also meet LEED® Silver standards. Smart glass selection was key to balancing these two goals. A Solarban® 67 low-e coating on surface two makes the building’s vision panels energy efficient, while custom acid etching on surface one reduces glare without cutting VLT levels. The glazing is complemented by light-sensitive switches on panels closest to the windows in order to use daylight most efficiently and reduce energy consumption.

First-surface etch placement was essential for all glazing. This left room for a solar control coating on surface two, where it would be most effective.

For the bank of skylights over the atrium, Diamond Schmitt chose Solarban® 70 low-e coating on surface two for extra-powerful solar performance.

About Diamond Schmitt

Diamond Schmitt is a global architectural firm designing transformative, purpose-driven, and highly sustainable buildings from its four studios located in New York, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. The firm is a boutique practice of accomplished design architects who collectively create innovative design solutions for leading cultural, academic, research, healthcare, and civic spaces worldwide. Always drawing inspiration from each site’s surrounding community, architecture, and historical contexts, Diamond Schmitt’s visionary designs can be found in more than 50 cities around the world.
Learn more at

About Vitro Architectural Glass

Vitro Architectural Glass, part of Vitro, North America’s largest glass producer, is exclusively dedicated to glass innovation and fueled by the same people, plants and products that made PPG Glass one of the industry’s most respected and reliable commercial glass manufacturers.

Throughout their storied history, collaboration and innovation have been central to Vitro’s advancements. Today, the key to their success continues to lie in the strength of their partnerships. With a foundation formed on trust, teamwork and shared excitement, the possibilities for impactful innovations in glass are truly endless.

Learn more at

Related product in this article

Share This