For a few hours in early November, Toronto's Spadina Crescent felt like the heart of the city. With under a year now remaining until the University of Toronto's students fill the new John H. Daniels Faculty of Landscape, Architecture, & Design building, an event celebrating the private donations making the project possible offered an encouraging preview of the re-invigorated space taking shape north of College Street.
The faculty adds a three-storey, 100,00 ft² modern complement to the restored 1875 building that once housed Knox College and still forms a terminating vista up Spadina. Designed by Boston-based NADAAA in partnership with Toronto's Adamson Associates Architects and heritage consultants ERA Architects, the $80 million redevelopment will see the long-disused Spadina Crescent re-integrated into the city around it, combining public space and amenities with a facility serving some 1,200 students and 120 faculty.
At the south end of the crescent, the Gothic Revival exterior of the Knox College building already meets the city with a refreshed face. While the 20th century's grime and exhaust hid the once stately building behind a worn and darkened façade, the restoration—which, given the age of the bricks, had to proceed very carefully—has revived an intricately grand, if no longer ivy-covered, presence.
Past the central doors that look down Spadina Avenue, the new interior combines heritage elements with contemporary spaces. At the south end of the building, a series of shared and private offices line the hall, while the Eberhard Zeidler Library (named for the renowned architect and Zeidler Partnership founder) is now being outfitted on the quiet west side of the complex.
Meanwhile, the east side of Spadina Crescent (below) will serve as the primary access point to St. George campus. Outside, the upcoming Delaney Family Courtyard will front the faculty's east side, linking the new facility with the central campus to the east.
Moving north, the space between the heritage-designated building and the new addition is deftly negotiated via the Principal Hall. Seating up to 400 people, the flexible space will also serve as a the faculty's preeminent venue for major lectures and events.
While the Principal Hall appropriately bridges the new and the old, the facilities to the north are housed in the contemporary addition. Running east-west, a wide corridor now fills in the formerly U-shaped building, facilitating greater connectivity between spaces. Outfitted with a café and an attractive seating/lounge area, the corridor will be open to the public, encouraging people to linger and enjoy the space.
According to NADAAA Principal Nader Tehrani, the corridor's indoor street will "invite people to experience the space as part of the city,"creating a de facto extension of Russel Street through Spadina Crescent. "Since the building is in the middle of a roundabout, integrating it into the urban fabric is a challenge," Tehrani explains, "and the architecture and landscaping have to be closely integrated to make that happen."
Encircling the site, a landscaping plan by Toronto's Public Work will shape a variety of programming throughout the site, including a passive area by the library on the west side, and a more active plaza space fronting the busier east elevation. The building is designed to slide into these spaces, furnishing a sense of permeability that welcomes passage through the facility.
"In designing this facility, we never really thought of the landscaping and the building as separate," Tehrani adds, describing the desired continuity between outdoor and indoor spaces. Along with crosswalk and sidewalk improvements—creating more assertive pedestrian spaces—the landscaping program is designed to invite students and community members to interact with the building, providing a variety of communal spaces and public seating. At the south end of the site, the hope is that a restaurant space will also take shape, taking advantage of the expansive view down Spadina.
Upstairs, the second and third floors are given over to classrooms, offices and undergraduate/graduate studio space. With a combined 30,000 ft² devoted to studios, the new faculty building presents a notable increase in student amenities, featuring flexible workspaces, devoted fabrication areas, as well as informal—and sociable—presentation spaces.
Throughout the re-imagined heritage building, subtle but surprising "Proustian moments" highlight elements of the spaces that once were, Daniels Dean Richard Sommer notes. Leading the tour through the facility, Sommer draws our attention to the south-facing classroom spaces, which offer views down Spadina Avenue thorugh century-old windows.
Facing north, the third floor's graduate studio is a very different kind of space. Unapologetically contemporary in its design, the expansive, light-filled space is an elegant counterpoint to the south-facing spaces. Expansive windows provide the ample natural northern light ideal for studio work, while smaller skylights fill in parts of the space with the warmth of indirect southern light.
Via a terraced seating area—dubbed the Daniels Corporation Atrium—which reads as an architectural statement piece from below, the studio space also overlooks the Principal Hall, potentially adding auxiliary seating for large events downstairs. (Meanwhile, on the other side of the curtain wall glazing, the three-storey addition is now being outfitted with cladding, while the studio's dramatic roof stakes a distinctive presence).
Below ground, the basement will house a 10,000 ft² professional gallery devoted exclusively to architecture and design. While plans for the gallery's programming are still taking shape, Sommer noted that the size of the space may be conducive to a partnership with Montreal's Canadian Centre for Architecture, potentially bringing exhibits to Toronto.
With the opening of the new faculty, Dean Sommer stressed that the quality of the student experience will be significantly enhanced. While the University of Toronto's preponderance of commuters makes the creation of an intimate student community difficult, Sommer noted that the emphasis on "communal areas, seating, and lounge spaces" will help the relatively small faculty's students develop closer bonds. "At four storeys, it's also a pretty horizontal building," the Dean added, "which means individual spaces are less separated, and more communal interaction can take place."
Set to open in time for next year's Fall semester, the John H. Daniels Faculty of Landscape, Architecture, & Design will revive a long-neglected part of the urban realm with new energy. For the 1875-built landmark, it's a happy ending to a checkered history of near demolitions and cultural erasure. Beyond the bricks and mortar, there's also a rich history of uses and tenants, who—in the facility's various iterations—included Amelia Earhart, Banting & Best, and tens of thousands of human eyeballs.
In the years that the building lay dormant, that history remained. Although those iconic terminating vistas were never destroyed, however, the place still faded from our socio-cultural horizons. Even for those of us who live at Spadina & College, it felt almost invisible in plain sight. In the wake of those empty years, seeing the refreshed icon filled with donors and urbanists was a promising portend for the future. Once the students—who may average a good few decades younger than our crowd—arrive next year, a piece of the city will hopefully return for good.
Much of the new faculty buildings' $80 million cost has been funded by private donations, and this week's event celebrated the 920 contributors who have so far raised over $28 million dollars. Spurred on by a $24 million contribution from Daniels Corporation founder John H. Daniels and his wife Myrna, a wide variety of prominent companies and city-builders have reached 80% of the $36 million private fundraising goal. A more complete overview of contributors is available via the faculty's website.
We will keep you updated as construction continues, and completion of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Landscape, Architecture, & Design nears. In the meantime, further information is available via our dataBase file, linked below. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a comment in the space below this page, or join the conversation in our associated Forum thread.
|Adamson Associates Architects, Eastern Construction, Entuitive