University of Toronto are undertaking an ambitious building project, the new home of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. But it’s not that it’s a tall building or a unique shape; that’s not what’s especially daring about it.
It’s more a matter of principles, a question of integrity.
When you think about it, where should you house a school of architecture? Academic departments can be housed just about anywhere: so long as the school’s home is not in any sense symbolic of its mission or its values.
Ideally a discipline should connect theory to practice, building a bridge between words & deeds. When the discipline is the one concerned with building & design, the place to teach those disciplines isn’t an incidental matter. If no one investigates or questions the relationship between the design of the space & the school’s functions & objectives, there’s a potential disconnect.
I’m excited to hear of this development, right in my neighbourhood. A great deal of thought has gone into it. I am impressed by the idea of an architecture school that seeks to embody important principles such as sustainability, inclusiveness and equity. The new building has the potential to inspire students as though it were a kind of embodiment of their goals, a kind of practical manifesto.
The project also seems to rescue a beautiful old building that’s in need of renovation, namely the old Connaught Lab at 1 Spadina Crescent. There’s a curious echo of one of the oldest tendencies in housing artists. Again and again we’ve seen parts of our city (as in other cities on this continent) that once were the most affordable neighbourhoods for artists—usually marginal real estate no one else wants— gradually transformed. What is unwanted then becomes known as cool. Eventually the neighbourhoods become gentrified, becoming the jewels of the city. It was true for Yorkville, as it was for Queen St W. In this case, the cool old building –1 Spadina Crescent– was home to the student newspaper and Art Department studio spaces. If I don’t miss my guess, the coolness of the gorgeous old Gothic building won’t be lost in the new project; indeed that’s probably one of the subtexts driving the design. The new building seems to function as a new gateway to the west side of the campus.
I can’t wait.
Watch the video for a sense of the ambitions underlying the project.