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Globe and Mail: Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design
Dave LeBlanc | November 20, 2017

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Hiding in plain sight

From Issue No. 263 | November 20, 2017

Daniels Graduate Studio, spectacular roof
The John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at Knox College, part of the University of Toronto.

The John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at Knox College, part of the University of Toronto. The original Knox College portion is on the left, facing south down Spadina Avenue. 

"Have you seen the new faculty of architecture?"

For the past six months, every architect or designer I've spoken with has asked me that question, and then shared his or her thoughts on the stunning new design by Nader Tehrani and Katherine Faulkner of NADAAA. Few, if any, have talked about the Knox College portion except to perfunctorily say it's wonderful that an old building was saved.

Perhaps James Smith's and John Gemmell's gothic-revival building, designed in 1873 and completed in 1875, has been staring down the wide barrel of Spadina Avenue for so long, folks just take it for granted.


Or, they don't even see it any more: "This is a weird black hole," says Richard Sommer, dean of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. "Because my job is to go out and tell people about this project for the last six years, well, they'll ask, 'Where is that?'" he says. "And then they say, 'Oh, I run up Spadina,' so I'll say, 'Okay, so you've been running past this site.'"

The University of Toronto didn't really "see" Knox College either in the decades leading up to its rebirth. Just before talks began to transform the Spadina Crescent building into the heritage portion of the new architecture HQ, it had been taken over by visual-arts students who didn't care about the "rotting" building with the "Barton Fink atmosphere."

Knox College, on the University of Toronto campus.

Knox College, on the University of Toronto campus. 

"It became this place where [the university] stuck things that didn't fit elsewhere," Prof. Sommer continues. "They had the eye bank here, they had the department of elevators, [and] they had the parking office." The reason for these rather unceremonious usages – on what is a very ceremonial circle of land designed by landowner, lawyer, reform politician, responsible-government advocate and gentleman architect William Baldwin in the 1830s – can be attributed to the faint echo of the Spadina Expressway controversy of the early 1970s.

In the 1960s, when the invasive asphalt monster was still on the books and the university was rapidly expanding to the west, buildings were designed to show their backs to Spadina: why face 10 lanes of traffic? Even after the 1971 cancellation, there remained a "psychological" factor for decades, Prof. Sommer says: "They just never thought of it as a major asset; this was really the backwater of the campus."

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