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Canadian Architect: Knox College becomes Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design
Ken Greenberg | November 9, 2017

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Turning Full Circle

From Issue No. 263 | November 20, 2017

Established in 1890, University of Toronto’s architecture school—of which I am an alumnus—has migrated to several makeshift locations over the years before landing in a purpose-built building. It has finally found its permanent home as the new Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto in a remarkable feat of form-making, site planning and city building. 

The lead architects, Nader Tehrani and Katherine Faulkner of Boston-based NADAAA, apply the metaphor of “landscape” to the whole project describing it as an occupy-able ground plane of layered strata whose topography has been manipulated inside and out, seemingly enlarging the terrain. Working with local architects Adamson Associates, heritage architects ERA and landscape architects Public Work, they seized as an opportunity to reshape the edge of the campus – from hard border to interlacing blurred boundary, fluid and interpenetrating.

John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, NADAAA, Toronto, Public Work

The historic Knox Building is now integrated into the new structure. The site posed a special challenge for meaningful heritage preservation that acknowledges the cultural memory of the university. Photo by John Horner

The circle known as One Spadina Crescent had been an idiosyncratic punctuation point and 19th-century touch of gentility in a patchwork of streets stitched together in a quasi-grid. Until now this circle has projected the unfulfilled promise of something special. In the postwar era, it was neglected and largely inaccessible, swallowed by streetcars and then car traffic. Now seen with fresh eyes as the emphasis shifts from auto-dominance to pedestrian life, its shift from introversion to extroversion is a civic invitation to the larger community. 

It is fitting that the urban design catalyst for the western edge of the campus should be an architecture school. The reframing of the periphery revives the suppressed relationships of this campus corner on all sides of the circle: the prominent south-facing Spadina Avenue axis is celebrated with a raised Belvedere and event space. A generous promenade circumnavigates the building within the circle. Five enhanced crossings of the traffic “moat” and ample bike parking extend the welcome mat inviting the public into the circle. These convivial gestures speak to a new understanding of the university’s place in the city as committed steward and active contributor.

John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, NADAAA, Toronto, Public Work

The new north elevation. Photo by John Horner

The formerly “blind” northern face of the building transforms from a back to a new front, re-engaging in dialogue with the city on all sides. From within the building, strategically placed openings offer 360 degree glimpses of the city outside, creating the pleasurable sensation of being in a ship moored off the edge of the campus. One enters that ship effortlessly through beckoning “portals” bringing the shared sense of the street indoors. Once inside much of the space is defined in plan and section by undulations in the floor, wall and ceiling that create subtly defined and fluidly interconnected places. 

No opportunity to use space has been wasted. Defeating the traditional drive to maximize the net-to-gross floor area ratio, “unbounded” circulation spaces are also fitted out as the important spaces of learning and gathering. The lower level is exposed by the earth “heaving” down to true ground, exposing and making it habitable. As Faulkner and Tehrani tell it, the visible surface is like the tip of the iceberg, revealing only part of what is usable space below.


Editors Notes: this is my alma mater and in my neighborhood, very exciting addition
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