Architecture graduate students report subpar working conditions in One Spadina

Students cite lack of privacy, noise concerns, limited workspaces

Architecture graduate students report subpar working conditions in One Spadina

Architecture critic Alex Bozikovic of The Globe and Mail once called One Spadina, the central hub for the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, “one of the best Canadian buildings of the past decade.” But since the faculty celebrated its formal opening in November 2017, graduate students have been voicing complaints about the building’s design. Specifically, the graduate studio space in One Spadina has come under fire for its limited desk space and bad acoustics.

The New York Times once praised the studio as a “110-foot-wide column-free room,” but the lack of columns and walls, paired with its high ceiling, have created an environment where hushed conversations and even clicks of keyboard typing echo across the room.

In addition to the high noise levels, there is also limited desk space and privacy in the studio, due to desks lacking dividers and the absence of walls.

“You don’t have a ton of room for your own stuff,” said Louisa Kennett, a first-year Master of Architecture student. “I think having a low wall might be alright, but I don’t think having cubicles would necessarily be a positive change, because it would inhibit discussion amongst classmates.”

In response to the lack of privacy, many students have resorted to constructing their own dividers as a solution.

However, there are no tools available for graduate students to construct these dividers, said Nassim Abdollahi Sani, a second-year Master of Architecture student. Furthermore, the time for construction is too costly, especially for students inexperienced with woodwork.

“I feel like for someone who is here maybe two, three days a week, four days a week for a short time, it doesn’t make sense,” said Sani.

Speaking on the problem with acoustics, Shawn Johnston, a second-year Master of Architecture student, said that, “When there’s a bunch of people in here, no matter what, it just feels noisy. And when people are stressed, you can hear it — if there’s one or two people in here, you can hear the conversation across the room.”

The noise levels are a partial result of having no dividers on the open desks. The undivided desk surfaces have also resulted in no privacy and unclear boundaries of space, explained Sani.

“Each person doesn’t even have enough room to do anything in. So even if I wanted to do something, it would take some space away from the next person.”

There is limited desk space and privacy in the studio. ADAM LAM/THE VARSITY

The motivation behind the open spaces

Sani recalled that in the old building for the graduate studio spaces, students were assigned cubicles with tall walls for privacy.

But in the new studio space, according to Daniels Dean Richard Sommer, they have “arranged the studios to facilitate more collaboration, and distribute some of the space that was previously dedicated to individual desks to more collective work.”

“I’m not sure the real evidence exists to say that they’re working here less than they were before,” Sommer said.

“There was no poll to know how many students were working in our old building. According to our Faculty, just as many students are working in the studio now.”

He also noted that studio spaces in the current building have more floor space than in the previous building but acknowledged that the “change is one that not all the students welcome.”

Suggesting solutions to the problems of acoustics and privacy, Sommer recommended students go to the libraries, fabrication labs, and the main hall.

The feasibility of these suggested solutions

In response to Sommer’s suggestion for graduate students seeking silence to work in non-studio spaces, Johnston agreed that it made sense for non-modeling work. “The library is definitely more private, and it’s totally an option for the students to go. I think that’s good.”

But for the construction of models, Johnston noted that “if you want to build a model in a quiet place, you can’t really go to the library to do that. I mean, it’s kind of weird, right?”

“All of our materials are here, we can’t store anything in the library,” added Sani. “We can’t go back and forth. Everything gets messy. So you want your desk to be where you want to build your models and store everything.”

As an alternative, Sani said an expansion of workshop space would be useful. “I think a workshop would be a much better space for modelling than a library,” she said. “A library is for writing essays, and papers, and researching – it’s not really meant for building models.”

While all three graduate students interviewed in the open studio spaces preferred the collaborative environment more than the previous individual environment, they still believe that the space could be improved.

“Working in the studio space means you get a lot of feedback from other students and things like that,” said Johnston. “The great thing about it being as open as it is, I think what they’re trying to do is encourage collaboration.”

“The problem with that was how it was a smaller room, with a lower ceiling. It just felt like an office,” Sani added.

“The good thing is that it’s open, you get to interact a lot with people, you get to see what other students are doing — I love that about this space, but at the same time, there’s no privacy,” Sani said. “So I think it has to be something in between.”

Sommer added that it is an “incredible privilege” for Daniels graduate students to have their own space, but acknowledged that the changes in the new building are ones that “not all students welcome.”

When asked whether the form of the building achieves the function of encouraging collaboration, Sommer said that “for the most part, yes. We could get it better. But for the most part, it was conceived for this.”

Editor’s Note (November 1, 11:02 pm): This article has been updated to correct a mistake made in the editing process that misattributed a quote to Sommer.

$30 price tag for writing surfaces in lecture hall stirs controversy at Architecture & Visual Studies town hall

Daniels lecture hall doesn’t have desks, faculty offers to sell ‘lap desks’

$30 price tag for writing surfaces in lecture hall stirs controversy at Architecture & Visual Studies town hall

Students at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design (FALD) are being sold $30 “lap desks” to use in the Main Hall of the Daniels Building, which was built without desks.

Concerns over the departmental decision to sell students these writing surfaces were brought up at the first town hall meeting of the Architecture and Visual Studies Student Union (AVSSU) on September 26, which was held in conjunction with staff from the FALD.

Assistant Dean Andrea McGee announced the decision in an email to FALD students on September 21.

“Daniels is offering students the opportunity to purchase ‘lap desks’ (writing surfaces) for $30,” she wrote. “Some students may find them helpful when using their laptop or taking notes by hand in the Main lecture hall.” The email included a link for students to purchase a lap desk.

McGee explained the decision to sell lap desks at the meeting, saying that she did consult “a couple of students” about whether they would prefer ownership of a lap desk over a rental.

Citing cleanliness concerns of using a used lap desk, McGee opted to sell lap desks for ownership. Explaining the price tag of $30, she said that the administration is “taking a loss on the lap desks,” and “it’s not that we’re trying to gouge the students.”

However, recognizing student preference for rentals, McGee said, “If now we’re saying that students would like to only rent them with a deposit, we can change that.”

Dean Richard Sommer provided specifics for the deposit system, explaining that there would be “a system where people can sign [the lap desk] out when they pay the deposit, and then they can return them at the end of the year, and have the deposit returned.”

But Paul Berkun-Drevnig, Architecture Comprehensive Representative of the AVSSU, said the faculty should cover the full cost of writing desks and lend them to FALD students for free. He said that the lack of writing surfaces was a “design error from the beginning.”

In response, Sommer said that the decision “was not an oversight,” but a “long and involved discussion with the Faculty, with our Architecture team, and with many people.”

He added that the decision was made because “the hall is meant for a variety of functions.” Lacking a writing surface enables chairs to be stacked and reorganized quickly. He also said that there is pedagogical value for the absence of writing surfaces, as it discourages students from “sitting at their desks on their laptop, doing other things, which is what occurs a lot in other kinds of classes.”

Professor Jeannie Kim added that there is literature that shows that “it’s actually better to take notes by hand first,” reinforcing that the decision was made for pedagogical purposes.

Berkun-Drevnig then suggested, as a “potential stopgap measure,” to include a “row of desks” with a writing surface at the back of the Main Hall.

Sommer responded by saying that he would “look into a scattered or assembled area for people who feel strongly about” attending lectures at desks.

“That’s a fair request, entirely,” said Sommer.

Editor’s Note (October 1, 3:22pm): This article has been updated to correct a quote by Sommer.

Editor’s Note (October 1, 3:44pm): This article has been updated to correct Berkun-Drevnig’s name.

Daniels students commute to classes off campus as One Spadina construction continues

Current classes hosted at Scotiabank Theatre

Daniels students commute to classes off campus as One Spadina construction continues

Although the new home for the John H. Daniels Faculty of Landscape, Architecture and Design at One Spadina Crescent was slated to officially open this September, many second-year students in the faculty find themselves commuting to places far away from the location.

The students of Daniels courses ARC251, ARC252, ARC281 have been commuting to classes at the Scotiabank Theatre at John Street and Richmond Street, approximately a 23-minute walk from UTSG. While the theatre was occupied by TIFF during the first week of classes, the students were split between lecture locations at Chestnut Residence and a Cineplex theatre located at Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue. These locations are a walking distance from UTSG of 20 minutes and 1 hour and 15 minutes, respectively.

Andrea McGee, Registrar and Assistant Dean at the Office of Student Services for the Daniels Faculty, told The Varsity that the faculty has been booking off-campus spaces to accommodate increased numbers of students in the Daniels undergraduate program. The current number of 1,000 students enrolled in the program is a significant increase from the program’s launch in 2012.

Although the Principal Hall at One Spadina has been designed to hold the growing student body, the hall is one of a few spaces at One Spadina that is still undergoing construction.

Despite the challenges posed by the alternate locations, McGee hopes that the temporary locations of these second-year courses allow Daniels students “to see different parts of the city and to incorporate that [perspective] into some of their classes.” She added that the students have been said to be “having a lot of fun with it,” and “they’re even talking about getting concession stands popcorn during class.”

For second-year student Jennille Neal, these new class locations are not as much of an adventure as they are an accessibility concern. Students have the option of walking the distance to the Scotiabank Theatre, taking the subway, or even taking a cab. “I have seen so many students being dropped off in cabs,” Neal said. “Who’s paying for our extra expenses for transit? We are. It’s coming out of our pockets.”

All three courses being held in the Scotiabank Theatre are required for Neal’s undergraduate program. “There is only one section and one spot,” Jennille explained, “so it’s not like I’m able to move them to next semester so that they’re in a different location.”

The Architectural and Visual Studies Students’ Union (AVSSU) presented a brief concerning the situation to the Office of the Vice-President & Provost on September 21. The document highlights that “the physical location of these classes pose a barrier [for Daniels students], especially those who cannot afford to take a two-way transit trip every week for twelve weeks.”

The brief expresses concern for students with accessibility needs who might be impacted by the long commute, as well as a worry for the months of bad weather when “students will likely have longer commuting times and… will have to face the elements with their graded oversized architectural models.”

Scott Markle, the Vice-President of Student Life at AVSSU, told The Varsity, “While I agree the ability to explore the city is a valued part of our architecture degree, there should be a precedent for a smoother transition between classes and spaces on campus.”

McGee believes that this situation will be repaid through opportunities offered by the new Daniels facility. In addition to studio space, the location will include an amphitheatre, digital fabrication laboratory, commons space, and a testing laboratory for green roof innovations. One Spadina covers over 100,000 square feet — twice the space available to the students and faculty at their former 230 College Street location.

McGee projects that students will be able to attend classes in Principal Hall starting in the winter semester. The AVSSU invites students to contact if they would like to express questions or concerns regarding any aspect of the transition to the One Spadina facility.

Toronto-based Superkul selected to design Student Commons

Construction of downtown student facility expected to commence this fall

Toronto-based Superkul selected to design Student Commons

The Toronto-based architectural firm Superkul has been selected to design the Student Commons, a much-anticipated facility that will be located at 230 College Street.

Superkul has a history of working with the university. Past projects at U of T include the Enrolment Services building for U of T’s Faculty of Medicine, the Chestnut Residence and Conference Centre renewal, the Undergraduate Medical Education Suite, the Department of Family and Community Medicine, and the Linguistics Department within Sidney Smith Hall.

Discussion surrounding a space for students on St. George campus began in the 1960s. In 2007, members of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) voted in favour of a student levy that would go toward building a student centre; the project became known as the Student Commons. In 2015, the Governing Council finally approved the Operating Agreement drafted by the UTSU, allowing the project to go forward.

The Student Commons will include student workspaces, a multi-faith space, a storage space, a lounge space, and multi-purpose areas. It will also feature accessibility services and will house the student-run bike shop, Bikechain.

The site on which the Student Commons will be built is currently home of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. The faculty will relocate to One Spadina Crescent upon construction of the commons.

The Student Commons is slated to open in 2017 and construction is expected to commence in the fall.

With files from U of T News