Completed in 1859, the University College building at the University of Toronto, with its rambling hallways and winding staircases, is perhaps the best exemplar of the Canadian Gothic style. When renovating the building, Kohn Shnier Architects and ERA Architects sought to somehow rationalize the space without undermining its charm. They outfitted the interiors with ramps, added a copper-clad elevator shaft visible from the central courtyard and moved the library back into the East and West Great Halls, where it had originally resided before a fire destroyed it in 1890. In making the building more accessible, they’ve made it more beautiful, too.
A key part of the “strategic and surgical revitalization” of University College, at the University of Toronto’s Spadina campus, was the reintroduction of the college library (long ago levelled by a devastating fire) and the insertion of a grand reading room into its two great halls. But the architects also seized the opportunity to make the building universally accessible — through ramps that navigate “a Gordian knot” of level changes within the heritage circulation system — and celebrate the architectural solutions that render those changes possible in a dramatic palette of dark-stained white oak, blackened steel, grey stone and bright white and red accents. They even made a bold statement with the introduction of a new elevator by encasing it in a tower that protrudes from the Gothic structure on the courtyard side and cladding it in copper composite panels.
Team John Shnier (Kohn Shnier Architects) and Graeme Stewart (ERA Architects) with Maggie Bennedsen, Tristan van Leur, Roxanna Lilova and Kiana Mozayyan Esfahani (Kohn Shnier Architects); Max Berg and Leah Gibling (ERA Architects); Rebecca Ho-Dion (Alula Lighting)
Setting out to make the University College building more accessible, Kohn Shnier Architects and ERA Architects have made it more beautiful, too.