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Catching up with history

May 27th, 2014 · No Comments

Once completed, One Spadina Crescent will be a gateway that not only bridges the university to the community but the past to the future.  COURTESY?THE?DANIELS?CORPORATION

Once completed, One Spadina Crescent will be a gateway that not only bridges the university to the community but the past to the future.

One Spadina Crescent embraces the past and welcomes the future
By Annemarie Brissenden
With its grey facade looming eerily behind a chain-link fence, One Spadina Crescent seemed destined to become the ramshackle province of ghosts. Instead, the nineteenth-century Gothic revival building is undergoing an ambitious renovation that will transform it into the new home of the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.
The transformation will occur in two phases. The first, scheduled for completion at the end of this year, is the renovation of the existing building, once home to Knox College and Connaught Laboratories. An irregularly-shaped contemporary wing with a multi-storey north-facing glass facade will be added to the building in the second phase, for which construction is scheduled to begin in the fall. Completion is expected in the 2015/2016 academic year. The design by Boston architect Nader Tehrani, principal of NADAAA, and his collaborator Katie Faulkner, is marked for openness to the surrounding neighbourhood, sustainable urban design, and preservation of the historic building’s heritage aspect.
Neil Wright, chair of the Harbord Street Business Improvement Area, characterizes the design as a “stunning mixture of heritage conservation and modern architecture” that creates an essential link between the community and the university. “It’s an opening where people will know they are coming into an academic and heritage area.”
“We see this project as literally designed as a crossroads. The structure is meant to link to the community in the west and the university in the east,” said Professor Richard Sommer, dean of the Daniels Faculty.
Tom Dutton, senior vice president of the Daniels Corporation, echoes this sentiment. The company, together with University of Toronto graduate John H. Daniels and his wife, Myrna Daniels, has donated $25 million towards the $50 million project.
“We see this circle in the middle of Spadina as being a bridge between the university community and the rest of the community,” said Dutton. “It will be an inviting pathway and a reason to cross Spadina.”
“It should contribute to the transformation of the entire area,” said Sommer, explaining that the original building dates to a time when the university was on the north edge of the city.
“When [Knox College] was built, all the city’s institutions faced south,” said Sommer. The university then found itself at the centre of the city and, preparing for a highway artery, “turned its back on Spadina.”
Now, with the Spadina Expressway long since defeated, the university is “catching up with history.”
In this way, the project is also a gateway between the city’s built heritage and its physical future, something that attracted both the Faculty of Architecture and the Daniels Corporation.
“We’re tying into the broader discussion regarding the future of built design in Toronto,” said Dutton. The Daniels Corporation is responsible for some of the city’s most visible mixed-use buildings, such as the TIFF Bell Lightbox on King Street West and the revitalization of Regent Park.
They’re also helping to produce the urban designers and architects of the future, added Dutton. “We now have the opportunity within the University of Toronto to create a state-of-the-art architecture and landscape faculty that’s up till now been working out of an inadequate facility.”
The faculty’s new home is also much needed following its own transformation from a very small fledging faculty into a new centre for visually-based thinking that now includes the department of visual studies.
“The building is a way to claim and have a physical setting that is an appropriate expression of our work and ambition,” said Dean Sommer.
For his part, Neil Wright is delighted that this “lovely orphan heritage building” is finally being adopted after so many years. “It’s something that everyone will be proud of, and it will be there for another 200 years.”

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