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Joseph Sagaj talks standing on Circle of Indigenous Knowledge medallion

Indigenous artist Joseph Sagaj talks about the making of the Circle of Indigenous Knowledge medallion he’s standing on during the grand opening celebration of Seneca’s Centre for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship.

Oct. 3, 2019

Joseph Sagaj had the floor at the grand opening of Seneca’s Centre for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (CITE) at Newnham Campus last Friday.

Literally.

The Indigenous artist who created the award-winning terrazzo medallion inset in the floor of CITE took centre stage in the middle of his artwork, titled Circle of Indigenous Knowledge, and shared with students, employees and guests his journey in making what is now the centrepiece of CITE’s Innovation Gallery.

“The way the elders put it,” Sagaj said, “the foot prints of the clans of the animals and birds incorporated in the medallion serve as a metaphor to invite people to walk with us in the circle of life, the circle of unity.”

When he was working on the medallion, Sagaj said he kept in mind students from all over the world, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

“They have their beliefs and ways,” he said. “I wanted to make it neutral and inclusive for everyone.”

CITE as a building overall is, in fact, inclusive of many things. With 274,000 square feet of space over five storeys, it is the biggest construction project in Seneca’s history. Under its roof, CITE brings together applied research, commercialization, specialized training and an entrepreneurial incubator for both students and industry leaders. It will also unite, for the first time, all of Seneca’s administrative areas.

CITE exterior
CITE is the biggest construction project in Seneca’s history. It features several Indigenous design and graphic elements inside and outside the building.

To pay tribute to Canada’s Indigenous history and provide a connection to the land that supports CITE’s modern structure, several Indigenous design and graphic elements, such as the medallion, are featured throughout the building.

During the grand opening celebration, MC’d by President David Agnew, guests had the opportunity to listen to Indigenous storytelling and pitches from entrepreneurs. They also toured high-tech labs in the facility and checked out a series of large-scale visuals. Collectively called Manifesto for Making, the visuals highlight the relationships between Indigenous symbology and technology.

The western front entrance on Finch Avenue, as pointed out by Mark Solomon, Associate Dean, Student Services & Indigenous Education, shows a four-storey graphic element created by Bruce Mau Design. It’s the signature page and map from the 1787 Toronto Purchase land deal between the Mississaugas of the New Credit and the British crown.

Opposite of that, the eastern entrance wall shows the map of the universe, representing the progression of technology since the signing of the treaty.

Between the two entrances, 13 columns line the front façade of the building. Each column is emblazoned with a name (mnido, mkwa, ziissbaakdoke, etc.), representing the 13 moons of the Indigenous lunar cycle.

Inside CITE, a total of eight graphic elements are featured on the first three levels alone. In addition, the imagery on all the bulkheads in the building is a bathymetric map of the bottom of Lake Ontario, representing the importance the Great Lakes have in Indigenous culture.

At night, the large light fixture in the third-floor student lounge projects a light show that simulates the northern lights. The concept was developed by the architect for CITE, Andrew Frontini of Perkins & Will, to highlight the importance of the northern lights to Indigenous culture and mythology.

Shelley Carroll speaking
Toronto Coun. Shelley Carroll addresses more than 300 guests during CITE’s grand opening.

Since CITE opened its doors in January, programs in applied sciences and engineering technology have expanded with new spaces like the mechatronics, CNC and KUKA robotics labs. As well, students, faculty and industry partners have been better supported through the Innovation Centre, home to Seneca’s Applied Research, Innovation & Entrepreneurship work, which includes the new Data Analytics Research Centre and Seneca’s on-campus incubator HELIX.

These activities have not gone unnoticed in the community, said Toronto Coun. Shelley Carroll, who addressed more than 300 guests at the grand opening.

“I was gobsmacked when I came to see the plans — I was struck by the architecture,” she said.

However, the real excitement, Carroll said, was realizing that as the world changes, what’s happening at CITE is changing with it in all the right ways. She applauded Seneca’s foresight to build the facility as “an amazing thing” on an international scale.

“CITE is making the statement on the outside in that Seneca is in and of our community,” Carroll said. “And at long last, we see it.”

Take a 360° virtual tour below with Sammy Sting to learn more about the Indigenous and graphic elements at CITE or experience the tour in full screen.