Next to the Crystal, Toronto could be getting a grand new golden box.
21 Feb 2019

The University of Toronto has submitted plans to the city for a new building just south of the Royal Ontario Museum, where the old McLaughlin Planetarium now stands.

And while it’s a university building, containing a Tetris stack of classrooms and offices, the architecture by Diller Scofidio + Renfro will be bold and weird enough to put its mark on the city – and make a case for high architecture.

The nine-level structure is, in the early drawings, wrapped in glass, metal and brick that all glitter in shades of gold.

If approved, the building would rise on a crowded site next to the museum, in front of the university’s main music building and next to its law school. It would contain a 250-seat recital hall, an “urban lab” for public events and more, all stacked up along a staircase that slices diagonally upward to the sky.

“This building really is an attractor for the campus and the city at large,” Charles Renfro, the lead architect for the project, said in an exclusive interview. “Our intention is to make the building operate like a sponge on the ground floor, drawing in students and staff through multiple entrances.”

The 15,700-square-metre centre would house a collection of academic programs: among them history, music, law, Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and a home for the new School of Cities. The music department would get a new 250-seat recital hall on the sixth floor – with windows behind the stage framing a million-dollar skyline view.

When you have a crowd of different stakeholders bringing their own wish lists, the resulting building can be a mess. But the architecture by DS+R, along with Toronto firm architectsAlliance, turns such office politics into sculptural weirdness. Offices, classrooms and event spaces are gathered around a staircase – which, in a signature DS+R move, does some strutting as it cuts back and forth and slants upward through the building. The landings – also next to the elevators – are meant to be social places for colleagues and students.

…“The university had imagined this building as a collection of thinkers who are pondering the world’s problems,” Mr. Renfro said. Given that, he asked, “How do you make a building that is both singular and multiple? How do you give identity to the different programs and yet make it feel like one building?”

The answer: to break the building design into two parts. One end, to the north, is a box, with flat sides of gold-hued glass and glimmering metal. This simplicity of form plays into modern convention – or, if you prefer, straitlaced Toronto staidness. But the other end, to the south, is something else: the building crumbles apart into a set of layers, “eroding,” as Mr. Renfro puts it, to wind its way around a neighbouring building.

…[T]he university is signalling a commitment to architecture as an intellectual pursuit. …Here, they are aiming high in a very public place. …And it seems the institution now understands its responsibility to contribute to the city. That’s assuming that this design survives, in its peculiarity, through the inevitable slog of budgeting and construction. If so, it’ll be golden.

From the article “In place of McLaughlin Planetarium, the University of Toronto plans for iconic golden architecture” published in The Globe and Mail on 21 February 2019: