The Many Styles of Architecture at U of T – The Varsity

The rich and expanding architectural landscape of the U of T began in 1859 with the completion of its first permanent building: University College (UC), designed by Cumberland & Storm, an architectural firm established in 1852. Since then , a wide variety of buildings encompassing styles across many different architectural movements have found their way onto campus. Modern structures complement and play off older buildings in this ever-changing architectural zoo.

A mix of styles

Although the U of T was established as a successor to King’s College – an Anglican university which was established on the same grant as the U of T and closed in 1848 – in 1850 the UC building was completed in 1859. For nine years the school existed in temporary spaces. When UC was completed, it marked the beginning of U of T’s architectural contribution to Canada. The U of T’s collection of colleges soon joined the ranks one by one, with each college’s architect having stylistic freedom when designing their buildings.


The University of Toronto’s eclectic approach has resulted in a motley collection of styles that define the older campus buildings. UC is a unique medieval Romanesque revival-style building; St. Michael’s College includes the Neo-gothic St. Basil’s Church, built in 1856, alongside various historic 1890s-era houses of various transitional styles; Victoria College, built in 1892, embodies a Richardsonian novel style; and Trinity College, built in 1925, is built in a Collegiate Gothic style.

Going further into the 20th century, we had New College in 1962, Innis in 1964 and Woodsworth in 1974, all built in a modern style with brick, a rather traditional material. This kind of homage to the past is characteristic of the U of T campus and is evident in Innis College’s incorporation of a renovated 19th-century Victorian townhouse facade, set alongside a modern addition. constructed of matching orange brick, steel and glass.


Next door to Innis, the Max Gluskin House, renovated in 2008, also artfully integrates historic homes by connecting them with glass and steel additions as well as an intentionally rusted bright orange steel facade in the courtyard that matches the color of the old orange brick buildings that surround it. This meeting of old and new is also present in the iconic Daniels Building, home to the U of T faculty of architecture. Daniels is comprised of the former One Spadina crescent building, built in 1875, which remains intact and faces south with a large, new modern segment added from 2017 facing the opposite direction to north.

Meanwhile, Massey College offers a different approach to integrating the past into modern structures. Designed by Ron Thom and built in 1963, this project was a non-standard blend of traditional and modern styles resulting in a truly unique building that defied the architectural laws of its time. The modern school of architecture at the time rejected ornamentation and instead emphasized the exploration of new forms and materials, while the traditionalists differed by following a strict set of forms uninteresting in design. abstraction. In the 1960s a modernist building with ornamentation was just as unheard of as a traditional building with an abstract design – yet Massey College gracefully brings together abstract forms and ornamentation in a traditional courtyard layout, making it a unique example of what could be considered early postmodernism. .

The Medical Sciences Building, built in 1969, is an example of University of Toronto Brutalism built with great consideration for the relationship of architecture to public art. The sculpted concrete exterior facade was painstakingly designed by artists Ted Bieler and Robert Downing and covers the majority of the building, blurring the line between art and architecture.

Another piece of pure modern architecture on campus is the Robarts Library, built in 1973. monumental brutalism.

In an interview with the universityProfessor Emeritus and former Dean of the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Larry Richards, pointed out that the composition of the library around the triangle and geometry is well planned and the type of raw concrete used commands respect. Richards also noted that Robarts admittedly lacks design when it comes to his relationship to the ground.

“I really like Robarts, [but] which has never been very good [it] is how it meets the ground,” Richards explained. “You have these kind of monumental steps going up here, all the way to the main level, but the real entrances where everyone entered were sort of what looked like backdoors or fire escapes.”

Either way, Robarts is certainly an impressive and ambitious architectural structure that gives character to UTSG.

Rework the old

Ensuring that older buildings are up to date is another important part of honoring traditional architecture on campus. UC has undergone numerous repair renovations throughout its tumultuous past, including, most recently, the 2018 accessibility and library renovation led by architectural firm Kohn Schnier.

The ever-growing list of building standards meant that UC needed an accessibility overhaul. Although this would normally consist of a standard technical building update, Kohn Schnier takes a few clever design approaches to make this mundane task worthwhile.

A big part of that is the addition of the elevator. The challenge of integrating an elevator into a medieval-style building was playfully met by adding the dark elevator shaft to the exterior, decorated with large scales resembling the skin of a dragon. Although visibly modern, the zoomorphic addition fits perfectly with the medieval style of the building.

While some buildings need to be renovated, not all are saved. Sid Smith, built in 1960, is an example. Although at first glance the building may not look like anything special, this concrete structure holds a highly valued position in Toronto’s architectural history as one of the earliest examples of the modern concrete slab , the shape of the podium and the radical structure.

His redevelopment project, however, evokes the very complicated subject of heritage. Directly opposite is UC’s Sir Wilson Residence, built in 1954, which is also another significant modern-era building designed by Mathers & Haldenby – the architectural firm that worked on Robarts. This building has designated protected status under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act for its architectural significance as an example of the 20th century Georgian Renaissance style.

Sid Smith, on the other hand, has no level of heritage recognition, despite his history. Ontario’s Heritage Part IV allows buildings of cultural or architectural value to be designated after a registration process for legal protection from demolition.

Richards talked about the complicated value judgments that come with heritage. While older buildings such as Sid Smith or UC can certainly be kept in their original form throughout renovations, preservation is a very expensive process, and unless the building is of exceptional value it would be sometimes it makes more sense to completely redevelop the building. Despite Sid Smith’s architectural significance as an iconic modern pioneer, parts of the building need to be demolished for the site to meet environmental and accessibility standards.

Ultimately, the complications of renovation are a money issue. There’s no right or wrong answer, but at this early planning stage, we don’t even know the architect and design associated with the Sid Smith redevelopment yet. For now, there’s not much we can do but watch and wait.

A better future

The university offers a comprehensive education listing of his architectural projects to come to the public. The ambitious Landmark project is one of the most obvious of the UTSG. It aims to rebuild King’s College Circle to include Canada’s largest urban geothermal field and underground parking while making the surface more walkable. This geothermal field aims to save approximately 15,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, which will significantly contribute to the sustainability of the campus.

Another project Richards is particularly excited about is the Schwartz Reisman Innovation Center being built at University Avenue and College Street, which will add a new pyramidal building to the character of the U of T.

Richards raised an important consideration for U of T’s future built environment: the advancement of technology and a future in virtual reality spaces. We are already seeing the emergence of a virtual learning space, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic, and they will continue to grow. As virtual spaces expand, the implications of coexistence between the physical and virtual worlds suggest new challenges and possibilities.

However, it is important to remember the purpose served by the story and the physical structures. Although classes can be taken from home, that doesn’t mean they should be. The physical architecture plays an important role as a kind of historical museum of the university, and the spaces provided for in-person or virtual learning must be designed to inspire educational inspiration.

Comments are closed.