Transforming one of Toronto’s iconic landmarks

Revitalization of 1 Spadina Cres. coincides with expansion of U of T's architecture program
Monday, July 22, 2013
By Daniel Viola

The University of Toronto is building up its architecture program in addition to rebuilding one of Toronto’s neglected architectural landmarks.

One Spadina Cres., an old 19th century heritage building stranded on a traffic circle on Spadina Avenue just north of College Street, sits largely forgotten by the rest of the university and surrounding neighbourhood. However, the property is about to undergo a major redevelopment and has been named the future home of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design.

The university says the redevelopment of 1 Spadina Cres. will be the largest architecture school expansion ever undertaken in Canada.

The project will consolidate U of T’s architecture, art and urban design programs into one area. Currently, the faculty has both undergraduate and graduate students. According to faculty dean, Richard Sommer, the university will offer a PhD program in two years. By the time the university completes the two-stage redevelopment in 2015, the faculty will boast approximately 1,000 students.

Nader Tehrani, principal of Boston-based architecture and urban design firm, NADAAA, is spearheading the property’s redesign. The renovation will feature glass, steel and brick elements to give a more modern look to the Gothic Revival structure. But important parts of the property’s original design, like its notable turrets, will not be overwhelmed. The preservation of the past is important as, according to Sommer, “It’s one of the landmark properties in Toronto.”

The revitalization of the historic structure will also emphasize sustainability. The building will include natural daylighting, bicycle parking and a rooftop rainwater harvesting system. A green roof laboratory is also in the works, giving students a practical space to test the environmental performance of green roofs and walls.

Other notable building features include new fabrication labs, an expanded library, rooms for public events and common spaces for staff and students.

According to Sommer, the university is giving careful consideration to the durability of the property, effectively looking at how it can change and adapt. In addition to updating the main south side of the building, the design aims to open up the long neglected north face. This will change the look and feel of that particular stretch of Spadina Avenue.

Despite having TTC stops mere blocks to the north and south ends of the building, the site remains cut off due to its insular design and lack of public space.

“Right now there is a fence around 60 to 70 per cent of the site,” says Sommer, noting the barrier restricts the building’s occupants and people walking through the area from getting in or out.

The university plans to tear down the fence to increase walkability and promote more foot traffic.

“(We are creating a) large sidewalk around the edge of the site to create porousness,” he says.

The school has launched a $50-million fundraising campaign, $45-million of which will go towards the cost of rehabilitating 1 Spadina Cres. The remainder will be set aside for student awards. So far, the university is halfway to its goal.

“(One Spadina Cres.) never really found its seat in the 20th century,” says Sommer.

However, once complete, the building will break from its past and become an integral part of U of T’s campus and the neighbourhood.

“Ultimately, (we are) rethinking the cadre of Spadina.”

Daniel Viola is the online editor for Canadian Property Management and Building Strategies & Sustainability magazines. He is also the editor of Property Management Report.

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