University of Toronto’s Daniels Building creates a dialogue between old and new
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University of Toronto’s Daniels Building creates a dialogue between old and new

The new home for the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design melds urban design with sustainability, bringing a heritage building back to life.

by Meghna Mehta Oct 05, 2019

The design of the building must follow its function, and it is rare to witness a proposal where the building would itself become a learning, where its experiences and knowledge would inspire the users. Such was the case when NADAAA architects were asked to design the Daniels Building at the University of Toronto, Canada. As the new home for the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, its purpose became two fold - to provide a new facility for the department, and to engage and instigate students and the broader community to bring forth dialogue about the impacts of the built environment.

When asked about what exactly were the requirements, principal architects Katherine Faulkner and Nader Tehrani explained, “The client's brief included a two-phased project to both renovate and expand the iconic structure formerly known as Knox College at One Spadina Crescent, transforming the existing building into a framework more relevant to the faculty’s teachings and aspirations, while expanding into a flexible facility that can foster changes of pedagogy in the years to come.”

  • The design of the building addresses the city with sensitivity | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    The design of the building addresses the city with sensitivity Image Credit: Courtesy of Nic Lehoux
  • The Bleacher/stairs becomes a social space | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada |STIRworld
    The bleacher/stairs become a social space Image Credit: Courtesy of Nic Lehoux
  • The Bleacher/stairs becomes a social space | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    The bleacher/stairs become a social space Image Credit: Courtesy of Nic Lehoux
  • Graduate studios on the uppermost level | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    Graduate studios on the uppermost level Image Credit: Courtesy of Nic Lehoux
  • The uppermost level with skylights | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    The uppermost level with skylights Image Credit: Courtesy of Nic Lehoux

The building lies at the centre of one of Toronto’s few circularly shaped parcels. The design of the project anchors the southwest corner of the University and opens the entire circular piece of land to the public after years of inaccessibility. The firm also makes an effort towards respecting and honouring the old by simultaneously restoring the historic and forgotten building to its original grandeur, while also integrating a new addition. This has been done in multiple ways, by making sure the height of the new building does not overpower the old one and the ‘new’ stands at a comfortable distance while co-existing with the former.

Adaptive re-use of the old structure incorporates various functions, such as classrooms, office spaces, mediatheque and other areas that would immediately bring about an interesting contrast yet conscious connect with the heritage for students studying there.

  • A model shows the consideration of the heritage structure with respect to the new building | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada |STIRworld
    A model shows the consideration of the heritage structure with respect to the new building Image Credit: Courtesy of NADAAA
  • Conserved heritage building stands comfortably with its new counterpart | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada |STIRworld
    Conserved heritage building stands comfortably with its new counterpart Image Credit: Courtesy of Nic Lehoux
  • Heritage building with its adaptive re-use | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada |STIRworld
    Heritage building with its adaptive re-use Image Credit: Courtesy of Nic Lehoux

The response of the site and the building to the city has been paid careful attention while reinventing, and opening it to the locals - making it a thriving part of the urban fabric. The placement on the north-south axis characterises symbolic relationships to the city, while the east-west axis is activated by pedestrian traffic. On the western edge, a discreet arcade addresses the residential scale of the adjacent neighbourhood. Meanwhile, a public plaza to the east creates a prominent relationship with the campus. The renewed site invites activity, with circulation for pedestrians and cyclists.

  • Site Plan | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    Site Plan Image Credit: Courtesy of NADAAA
  • Plan- Level 1 | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada |STIRworld
    Plan- Level 1 Image Credit: Courtesy of NADAAA
  • Plan - Level 2 | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    Plan - Level 2 Image Credit: Courtesy of NADAAA
  • Plan - Level 3 | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    Plan- Level 3 Image Credit: Courtesy of NADAAA

The functions with respect to the flow and division of spaces within the school have been thoughtfully divided into four levels. “On the ground level, a ‘street’ cuts through and connects two public plazas, opening up the building. Through portals in this ‘street’ students and public can see into the fabrication lab below, the studios above, the Principal Hall, and the library. Studios are primarily in the upper levels in the new open floor plates, with smaller studios, classrooms, and offices within the renovated portion of the building,” explained the architects the zoning of the spaces.

The ground floor, providing entry into the building, incorporates a large double height central flexible hall, library, admin areas, cafes, IT offices, 3D printing lab and other ancillary activities. The level two includes flexible work and lecture spaces for graduate students with hotdesks, crit rooms, a mediatheque, and few classrooms. At the next level are multiple classrooms and few offices among other functions. All the upper two levels are connected with the bleachers or stairs, making them an extremely thriving and interactive mode of social space for the students. This space is of much importance, especially in the schools of architecture, to help keep students from all classes connected and establish a thriving community. The basement level of the new campus contains all the workshop areas for wood, metal, digital fabrication, along with a central gallery area.

  • Exploded axonometric | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    Exploded axonometric Image Credit: Courtesy of NADAAA
  • Section | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada |STIRworld
    Section Image Credit: Courtesy of NADAAA
  • Roof and clerestory under construction | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    Roof and clerestory under construction Image Credit: Courtesy of Eastern Construction
  • Systems designed for optimum light and ventilation | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    Systems designed for optimum light and ventilation Image Credit: Courtesy of NADAAA

The new Daniels Building at the University of Toronto embodies not only a holistic approach to urban design but also towards sustainability. Environment-friendly features include stormwater management, while simultaneously bringing a heritage building back to life. The integrated systems of water organisation, daylight control, landscape, and the school's curriculum are some of the significant features and have been made most obvious in the design of the roof of the graduate studios. The floor slabs are created as an innovated ‘bubble deck’ system, and the construction of the graduate studio ceiling has also been designed as a unique edifice.

  • The building as a part of the urban realm | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    The building as a part of the urban realm Image Credit: Courtesy of Nic Lehoux
  • Flexible Central Public Hall | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    Flexible Central Public Hall Image Credit: Courtesy of Nic Lehoux
  • Studio space | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada |STIRworld
    Studio space Image Credit: Courtesy of Nic Lehoux
  • Library | Daniels Faculty of Architecture | NADAAA architects | Canada | STIRworld
    Library Image Credit: Courtesy of Nic Lehoux

The design of this building presents a case where problems of pedagogy come face-to-face with a physical environment that is inhabited and tested daily by an audience of experts, critics, teachers, practitioners and students, the very protagonists of the medium. It is perhaps one of the few occasions where the audience is engaging with the building and its authors, making it an added challenge – and responsibility – to speak to architectural questions with a greater degree of nuance.

The building, thus, becomes a pedagogical tool, almost as if it is an integration of the curriculum with both sustainable elements and school programmes on display, both to students and the public.

Project Details

Name of the project: Daniels Building at One Spadina Crescent
Location: Toronto, ONT, Canada
Area: 155,000 sqft
Year of completion: 2018 
Architectural firm: NADAAA
Principals: Katherine Faulkner, AIA; Nader Tehrani
Project managers: Richard Lee, Tom Beresford, RA
Project team: John Houser, Amin Tadj, Tim Wong, Alda Black, Marta Guerra, James Juricevich, Parke Macdowell, Dane Asmussen, Laura Williams, Peter Sprowls, Noora Al Musallam, Tammy Teng, Wesley Hiatt, John Mars, Mazyar Kahali, Matthew Waxman, Luisel Zayas   

Associated Architects

Architectural firm: Adamson Associates
Principal: Claudina Sula, OAA
Project team:  Jack Cusimano, Tina Leong, John McMillan, Martin Dolan, Zbigniew Jurkiewicz, Michael Lukachko, Zale Spodek, Gilles Leger, George Georges, Ke Leng Tran

Consultants

Heritage consultant:  ERA Architects
Structural:  Entuitive Corporation
Building envelope consultant:  Entuitive Corporation
Electrical / Data / AV / Lighting design:  Mulvey Banani International, Inc.
Mechanical / Plumbing:  The Mitchell Partnership
Acoustics:  Aercoustics Engineering Ltd
Civil:  A. M. Candaras Associates, Inc.
Landscape:  Public Work
Hardware:  Upper Canada Specialty Hardware, Ltd.
Construction Manager:  Eastern Construction Company Ltd
Select furniture design and construction: Daniels Faculty
Exterior Wall System, ultra high performance concrete: TAKTL
Hollow Deck System: Bubbledeck
Curtainwall System: Alumicor
Radiant system: Rehau
Ceiling framing system: Armstrong

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About Author

Meghna Mehta

Meghna Mehta

An architect by education and a journalist by passion, Mehta pursued a crossroad between her two interests. Having completed an M.Arch from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, she has worked in the field of architectural journalism for over 5 years. Besides content generation for STIR, she continues to teach in architectural schools in Mumbai.

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