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Observatory gets the Munk Touch

July 13th, 2012 · No Comments

Munk Centre expands to Bloor-Devonshire site

The classic architecture of the old observatory at Devonshire Place and Bloor Street West was preserved quite well in the new Munk Centre renovations. Photo: James Murdoch/Gleaner News

By James Murdoch

An old but familiar building at the corner of Bloor Street and Devonshire Place is now the “new face” of the University of Toronto’s northern entrance.

The building once housed the Dominion Meteorological Services but is now home to the University’s Munk Centre for Global Affairs.

The original Romanesque Revival style building opened in 1909 and was home to this country’s weather service until the mid 70’s when the University acquired it.

Its exterior has been scrubbed clean, revealing golden tan sandstone and the round turret where the early weather service kept their huge telescope has been re-purposed into three floors of extraordinary meeting space.

A recent gift to the University of $35 million by Peter and Melanie Munk spurred a further $50 million in funding from the provincial and federal governments allowing the University to renovate the building over two years and expand its programs of Global Studies and Cyber Security.

Janice Gross Stein sits in her second floor office and beams. That’s understandable because as the Centre’s director, Gross Stein had a hand in helping to design her new digs. She was consulted at every step of the renovation process by well known architect Thomas Payne of the firm Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB) and E.R.A. Architects, which specializes in historic buildings. Gross Stein enjoyed the consultative process. “I think there was a wonderful give and take through the whole phase, right down to the furniture.”

Many of the original building features from the gargoyles guarding the entrances to the art deco style floor tiles in the front foyer and the staircase and banister were kept.

Gone are the false ceiling tiles and the reclaimed open space has added a sense of soaring height in the hallways and offices. “Everybody who comes in remarks on it so that part is truly wonderful,” says Gross Stein. The new modern double height doors round up to points giving them an almost medieval look. It is a “marvelous experience,” adds Gross Stein, to see “these wonderful doors that both reflect the past but are contemporary in design.”

Walls that used to close off rooms now roll away to create large public meeting spaces. The main floor houses administration and meeting rooms and a library, while the basement contains student spaces and seminar and project rooms. The third floor, which requires a security pass, buzzes as the Cyber Security Studies Centre. Its once dark, windowless hallway is now bright with the addition of large skylights. The building is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified. It is wired for internet and other communication needs, and is fully accessible with the addition of an elevator.

A small cottage at the rear of the property will be transformed into a seminar room this summer while the terraces fronting Bloor Street have been landscaped and will be available to host functions as well.

In Gross Stein’s words, “It’s wonderful repurposing of the building where we were able to respect its integrity, which is very important, but adapt it to new challenges and new uses.”

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