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.

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 avssu@daniels.utoronto.ca if they would like to express questions or concerns regarding any aspect of the transition to the One Spadina facility.

Suspect wanted in break-and-enter case at UTSG

Surveillance video and photos released to the public

Suspect wanted in break-and-enter case at UTSG

The Toronto Police Services and U of T Campus Police are asking for the public’s help identifying a man wanted for an ongoing break-and-enter investigation near the intersection of Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue.

A man was reported to have broken into Daniels Studio Commons in the early morning of July 26 and stolen two LED televisions. The Daniels Studio Commons, located on 665 Spadina Avenue, functions as a workspace for undergraduate architecture students.

COURTESY OF TORONTO POLICE SERVICES

COURTESY OF TORONTO POLICE SERVICES

The suspect was captured on security cameras wandering the building attempting to cover his face while searching for items of value. The man is described as having a thin build; medium, brown hair; and appears to be in his in his 30s. He was wearing a black T-shirt with a grey hat.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police or Crime Stoppers.