Who we are

Building 21 is an interdisciplinary idea lab supporting McGill undergraduate and graduate students in pursuit of bold and original ideas.
Get involved


Scholars who pursued a project at B21

$600 000+

Funding for projects and programs at B21


Different disciplines of scholars


Events held gathering scholars of all backgrounds
A event at Building 21

We enable scholars to pursue unconventional ideas.

Every semester, we run a cohort-based program that lets students of all levels and backgrounds pursue an idea of their own. We provide funding, mentorship, a physical space, and a like-minded community to help them further their idea.

Discover our scholars
A community of explorers
We run cohort-based programs that connect the most curious seekers to a tight-knit community. We offer structure, mentorship, and networks.
A safe haven for original ideas
We give scholars no-strings-attached resources to facilitate their exploration. Scholars collaborate to advance the most unconventional ideas.
For the sake of discovery
Projects at Building 21 are pursued for the sake of discovery. There are no credits, no grades, no evaluations. Only the pursuit of knowledge.

Vision and Mission


Building 21 is a space in which unique, daring, beautiful, and rigorous ideas and scholarship are welcomed and nurtured.

We gather intrinsically-motivated scholars of McGill University to create an inclusive environment of innovation, rigour, and experimentation. In collaboration with a global network of innovative communities, Building 21 maintains a commitment to challenge, refine, and support a diversity of approaches, processes, and thinkers across the spectrum of human competencies.


Attract, facilitate, and refine truly original and rigorous scholars and scholarship.

Create a home for complex, unconventional problems and hosts a multiplicity of diverse, sometimes contradictory, perspectives across disciplinary boundaries.

A event at Building 21

We're rooted in Québec, but our reach is international.

Building 21 gathers the brightest and most curious scholars under one roof at McGill University here in Montréal, Québec. Their work at B21 has directly led them to create impact on a global scale.

Made by McGill
Building 21 is proudly supported by McGill University and channels its core values of pursuing the advancement of knowledge.
Sparking global innovation
Alison Hirukawa, PhD, met her cofounder through B21 and is now CEO of DropGenie, a venture-backed biotech startup based in Boston and Montréal working to streamline cell line engineering to faciliate gene editing.
Investing in our roots
Micro-MBA program in Matane, Québec applies B21's educational model to local communities.

Our team

Building 21 is run by a small group of individuals from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds.

Anita Parmar

After completing her B.Sc. in Physics at McGill University, Anita Parmar continued on to complete her Ph.D. in theoretical condensed matter physics at the University of New Mexico, worked as a statistician and research manager in non-profit for health policy, as a logistician for an import-export company in Mexico City, as a management consultant in Montréal, and started her own company designing supply-chain analytics tools before returning to McGill University.

Ollivier Dyens
Founder & Co-Director

Ollivier Dyens is full professor in the Département des littératures de langue française, de traduction et de création. He is the author of 14 books. He was Deputy Provost, Student Life and Learning at McGill from 2013-2018. His area of research is the impact of technology on humanity.

Alex Nicholas Chen
Program Assistant

Alex Nicholas Chen recently graduated from McGill University’s Honours Cognitive Science program. His projects at Building 21 have involved disclosing blind spots in existing research paradigms and articulating novel ways of pursuing and understanding human phenomena. He is interested in un-forgetting the invisible delights, joys, tragedies, and vitalities of our everyday experiences.

Viola H. Ruzzier
Program Assistant

Viola Hallé Ruzzier is a Program Assistant at Building 21. She recently graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor's degree in Anthropology and Biology. She is interested in studying how science is written, and has written a short volume containing stories based on scientific concepts and phenomena.

Nakiya Noorbhai
Program Assistant

Nakiya Noorbhai recently graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and a minor in Linguistics. She has started a PhD in Biology and Geography, where she is taking a data science approach to look at the sand scarcity crisis and sand mining in sub-Saharan Africa. At Building 21, she is looking at ways in which art, particularly digital art, can be used to capture impressions of spaces, ideas, and communities.

Darius Valevicius
Program Assistant

Darius is a graduate of the cognitive science and neuroscience programs at McGill. His academic research and his project at Building 21 explore the neuroscience of aesthetics and emotion. Outside of B21, he currently works as a research software developer for the McGill Centre for Integrative Neuroscience.

Carole Graveline
Communication Mentor

Journalist by trade, communicator by profession. Director of Engagement and Partnerships at McGill and Director of Media Relations. Always concerned with communicating, popularizing, informing and  building bridges with the community. A career as a journalist with Radio-Canada radio and television, filled with travel, major interviews  and reports always imbued with humanism. Co-author of a book on the short history of AIDS in Quebec.

Claudia Raihert
Program Assistant

Claudia completed a M.Sc. in Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh and studied French Literature and Linguistics during her BA at McGill. Her research focuses on metaphor, and what metaphor processing can tell us about human cognition. She is also interested in category-learning, and how different categories can shape and influence our perceptions. Claudia has a soft spot for poetry, nature, and déjà-vus.

Past Staff
Damian Arteca
Researcher, Radical Futures
Rebecca Brosseau
Branding & Strategy Manager
Aditya Jain
Sustainability Officer
David 'Jhave' Johnston
Methodological Advisor
Jill Harrington
Intergenerational Leader

Origin of the name

MIT Museum, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The name Building 21 is in honour of MIT's Building 20, and we used the number 21 for the 21st century.

MIT’s Building 20

Building 20 was a temporary timber structure hastily erected during World War II. Since it was always regarded as "temporary," it never received a formal name throughout its 55-year existence.  

Because of its various inconveniences, Building 20 was never considered to be prime space, in spite of its location in the central campus. As a result, Building 20 served as an "incubator" for all sorts of start-up or experimental research, teaching, or student groups on a crowded campus where space was (and remains) at a premium.  

MIT professor Jerome Y. Lettvin once quipped, "You might regard it as the womb of the Institute. It is kind of messy, but by God it is procreative!"

(Extracts by Wikipedia)

Contact us

Building 21
General contact


Ollivier Dyens
Co-director, Building 21


Anita Parmar
Co-director, Building 21

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