The John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture is getting a major design overhaul over the next few years, a move encouraged in no small part by the faculty’s new dean, Richard Sommer.

The building located at 230 College St. was originally home to U of T’s School of Dental Surgery. It has housed the Faculty of Architecture for over 48 years, which was previously run out of the Practical Sciences Building (which was demolished in 1961 to make space for the Medical Science Building). In recent years, 230 College has been criticized for its lack of studio space, both at the graduate and undergraduate levels.

The renovation project comes on the heels of the appointment of a new dean to the architecture faculty. Professor Richard M. Sommer of Harvard University recently replaced the retiring professor George Baird as dean, and has been hired for an initial term of five years. Sommer was previously Director of Harvard’s Urban Design Programs, a position he held for six years.

The redesign project is being led by architectural firm Office dA of Cambridge, Massachussetts. Office dA was selected through a closed competition process; also on the shortlist were the European firm Sauerbruch Hutton and the American Steven Holl Architects. “I wanted an office that was younger and more innovative, and we got it,” explained Sommer. Office dA is renowned internationally as a small, relatively new firm that pushes modern-
looking and energy-efficient designs. When asked about why there were no Canadian offices on the shortlist, the dean explained that while there were several firms that could have competed against the shortlisted offices, the faculty was looking to hire a firm that was younger and willing to be more experimental. That way, the result wouldn’t necessarily be as predictable.

Sommer made the point that the renovation would lead to “rethinking this building, but also thinking about this building as a prototype for the reuse of older buildings with a mind to creating architecture that performs better from an environmental standpoint.” The proposed renovation would greatly reduce the building’s carbon footprint. Additionally, he noted that the building would be used as “a kind of ongoing experiment” in emergent sustainable technologies, and that part of the process would include the students in these experiments.

Dean Sommer highlighted the importance of expanding the building’s studio space as essential to the continued development of the faculty. Among other things, he hoped that the redesign would lead to “sharpening and to some degree redefining the mission behind the design studios.” He noted that the studio method of teaching architecture (designing, drawing and building within a studio), which has existed for hundreds of years, has changed considerably in the past three decades due to the digital revolution. As such, the redesign project will also seek to retool the studios, giving students more access to digital design methods.

The renovation will be phased. “We hope to start the first phase within a year or so,” he explained. He noted the building would be occupied while the renovation was taking place. “That’s one of the design challenges, how you phase a project while people are still in it,” he added. “We’re arranging for some studio space for the undergraduates [at One Spadina Avenue], where the arts students and art studios are, and we’ll maintain the studio spaces for graduate students. If they are going to be restored or renovated, it’ll happen during the summer when students are off.” Pending completion of the first phase, subsequent phases for the renovation project will require additional investments, which the faculty is currently seeking.

The entire renovation project’s designs, as well as a scale model, are available for public viewing in the lobby of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, across from the Eric Arthur Gallery.