Debate Club is a column that pits writers head-to-head on questions that matter to students. Though it lacks the shaky knees and microphone feedback screeches that typically accompany any oratory competition, rest assured that Debate Club is not for the faint of heart.
“Be it resolved that Robarts Library be deemed the ugliest building at the University of Toronto.”
In favour: Zach Rosen (ZR), first-year History student at Trinity College
Opposed: Sam Routley (SR), second-year Political Science, History, and Philosophy student at St. Michael’s College
ZR: It is my contention that Robarts Library — our concrete monument to academia and claustrophobia — is the ugliest building on campus. Frankly, it’s not even a close call to make. If the mere sight of the thing isn’t enough to convince you, let me categorize my complaints into four distinct arguments: exterior design, interior design, feel, and what I’ll term the ‘blemish factor.’
Firstly and most obviously, buildings in the shape of things are never a good idea. I’m not in the architecture department, but a building in the shape of a roosting turkey is maybe the worst idea ever. The centrepiece of our library system looks more like the evil lair of some poultry-themed super-villain than an institution of higher learning.
SR: In contrast, I contend that Robarts Library, a world-class standard of brutalist architecture, cannot be the ugliest building on campus. There are others much worse in terms of all of the aforementioned components.
Robarts is a bold, monumental structure that can bring pride to this university. It signifies the grandeur of learning education, for inside its impenetrable walls are more than 4.5 million items of human knowledge. It is the core of one of North America’s biggest library systems.
ZR: Robarts is notorious for its fluorescent lights, and anyone who has tried to concentrate within the confines of one of its concrete cubicles can’t help but be reminded that sensory deprivation is a form of torture. Robarts is world-class only in inducing a general sense of despair.
Furthermore, the “monumental” size of Robarts is not its redemption, but rather its downfall. All of Robarts’ faults could be forgiven if only we had the capacity to escape them. Instead, Robarts towers menacingly above us no matter where we are. There is no respite, no repose, from the tyranny of the turkey.
SR: The real claustrophobia and terror is found in those obscure buildings where our tutorials always seem to be; stuffy and narrow halls that lead only to empty rooms with utility pipes overhead, indicating that not even the builders cared to finish the project. Whereas Robarts is an example of fine, intricate architecture, these buildings are just dull and mundane.
Moreover, Robarts provides large, open-concept rooms. The ceilings are high, and large windows provide plenty of natural sunlight and fantastic views of Toronto. For example, the area surrounding the reference section on the fourth floor is lined with bright windows, providing a more pleasant learning atmosphere than any University College basement cellblock.
ZR: Our campus has no shortage of tree-lined quads and copper roofs stained green by time. Hart House, Trinity College, Knox College, Old Vic, and even University College are all reminders that St. George is a campus we should be proud to attend. Robarts is nothing more than a blemish on an otherwise impressive record.
A library, especially one that houses such an impressive collection, should inspire — yet Robarts inspires only nausea and seasonal affective disorder. Our avian fortress perches in an undeserved place of honour, looking like the world’s sorriest Transformer. However, nothing I can say here can convince you of this as persuasively as a single visit will. Proceed at your own risk.
SR: A visit to Robarts will inspire awe and wonder at such a feat of architecture. Perhaps you may follow the writer Umberto Eco; Robarts inspired the design of his library in The Name of the Rose. It has become a Toronto landmark, even sparking a student protest to allow undergraduates to gain access to the stacks in 1972.
If you really want to find the ugliest buildings on campus, they’re right down the street. Sid Smith, Ramsay Wright, and Lash Miller are dreadfully fortunate to find themselves situated in Robarts’ magnificent shadow.