The downtown campus has its first new building in 20 years, thanks to the combined efforts of a large number of people, and to the pooling of some remarkable individual gifts with funds from alumni, staff, faculty, students, government, industry and private foundations.
The collaborative character of the project extended even to the process of building design, where faculty and researchers were able to tell the architects and engineers exactly what their needs were.
Collaboration will also be a hallmark of the kind of work done in the new facility. Its tenants will be from chemical and metallurgical engineering, along with some units from chemistry and physics. Projects ranging from plastics simulation to mineral processing and toxic waste disposal will call on the expertise of other McGill departments and of other universities and research centres.
The building is named for Jimmy Man-Hung Wong, who graduated from McGill's School of Architecture in 1981 and subsequently became a successful real estate developer in Hong Kong. Before his death in 1994, he told friends and family that he wanted to make a gift to McGill. They saw to it that his wish was honoured, donating $8 million from his estate to the $35 million project. Another donor from Hong Kong, who wishes to remain anonymous, contributed $1.9 million in honour of the late chemical engineering professor John Philips.
Architect and McGill governor Arthur Lau, who heads the University's Building and Property Committee, was one of the speakers at the April 3 inauguration of the M.H. Wong Building. Quoting a Chinese poet and diplomat from the sixth century, he explained the philosophy behind such generosity.
"Yu Xin wrote, 'When you eat fruit, think of the tree that bore it, When you drink water, think of its source.' Chinese graduates of McGill remember that the University has given them a very important element in life--a good education," said Lau.
At a dinner before the inauguration, Vice-Principal Derek Drummond, who was director of the School of Architecture when Jimmy Wong was a student, offered another possible reason for Wong's fondness for McGill.
He told of the budding architect's intelligence and drive, but said Wong was a student who sometimes avoided attending class. Thus he apparently missed a reminder to empty his locker before leaving for the summer. Upon his return in the fall, he found that the expensive draughting equipment he had left behind was gone, and he couldn't afford to replace it.
Distraught, he took his problem to Drummond, who called then-principal David Johnston in his behalf. Johnston took pity on the impoverished international student and provided the money for new equipment.
Wong's gratitude to McGill means that generations of students will now benefit, even those who may never set foot in the building. According to Dean of Engineering John Dealy, "Completion of the M.H. Wong Building... represents not only an ultramodern facility for two engineering departments and two science departments but also an opportunity to rationalize and improve the space available for the other engineering departments. We will finally be able to provide the new laboratories needed for our most rapidly growing new program--computer engineering--and we will be able to bring back mining engineering from its exile in a Montreal office building."