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Archeology students dig to the past

Field school excavates front campus

Archeology students dig to the past

It may be the summer, but on a Tuesday morning, University of Toronto’s front campus is already buzzing with activity. Grounds crews are hard at work under a cloudless sky. Tourists are especially prevalent, each taking more than enough pictures of University College’s iconic tower. Before they make their way south towards Convocation Hall, the tourists slow to stare at a group of approximately 15 students surrounded by a yellow rope barrier and intermittent piles of dirt.

This was a U of T Field School, part of the Archaeological Field Methods course. Initially, there were full-day classes on mapping and archaeology techniques. After practicing their mapping skills behind Gerstein Library, students began excavating in King’s College Circle. They were expected to run their one by one metre squares with the precision of a professional archaeology site, while taking detailed notes and photos of their findings.

[pullquote-default]The UC fire destroyed the interior of University College in 1890. Pieces of shell beads, buttons, and nails have been found by students in the dig sites, offering tangible evidence of U of T’s long history.[/pullquote-default]

“It’s not intended to find artifacts,” said Sally Stewart, one of the two professors teaching the course. “What [the students] are finding is a lot of construction debris… We’ve also found window glass as well, some of which look melted. We’re wondering if it came from when the fire that happened [at UC].”

The UC fire destroyed the interior of University College in 1890. Pieces of shell beads, buttons, and nails have been found by students in the dig sites, offering tangible evidence of U of T’s long history.

Despite tempering expectations, Stewart became increasingly excited as she discussed her students’ findings. A graduate of U of T herself, Stewart’s career has taken her all over the world, particularly in and around the southern European continent. Despite her latest site being close to home, Stewart still looked prepared as ever, observing her students in steel-toed boots and coveralls.


Piece of a clay pipe. NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Piece of a clay pipe. NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY


It may be the professional enthusiasm that energizes these students. Paul Duffy, who specializes in Eastern European Bronze Age Archaeology, is the second professor of the course. “It’s probably the best instruction I’ve had at U of T so far,” said graduating Archaeology major Diana Hansen.

Students have the option to attend field schools around the world, with opportunities in Peru and the Hungary. However, the costs are high and, as Stewart explained, there is little instructional time. The goal of international digs is to find artifacts, not necessarily to prepare students for their professional careers.

As the morning progressed, university staff began to appear, preparing the large, white convocation tent that is characteristic of this time of year. According to Stewart, the administration was worried that students digging up the northeast corner of the field wouldn’t look aesthetically-pleasing. However, they soon changed their tune with positive feedback. “Probably close to a hundred people come by [per day], from alumni events and then convocation… people just wandering by asking questions,” said Stewart.

Under the watchful eyes of a new crowd of tourists, the students settle in for another long, hot day. But the exhaustion of a full day is certainly worth the opportunity to finally do something they spent years learning.

Art review: four design proposals for front campus

Like any good piece of art, these pictures deserve a thorough critique

Art review: four design proposals for front campus

Last fall, four different design teams submitted proposals for the revitalization of U of T’s front campus. These beautifully rendered images paint a portrait of everyday student life with accuracy reminiscent of Enlightenment-era art. Indeed, many subtle themes — like weather and depth of field — are captured so elegantly that they deserve a thorough, unforgiving critique, just as any artwork would.


Courtesy Landmark Committee.

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

A bright and cheerful reimagining of the front campus is the concept behind this picture. It is  a place for escape and contemplation. The figures traffic leisurely, seemingly unaware that they have three assignments and two exams the following week. The sun — a symbol of life — shines brightly on the universities’ patrons. They do not face the viewer; rather, they move in a directionless fashion, blissfully ignorant to the crippling anxieties of student life.

KPMB Architects + Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates + Urban Strategies:

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

Here, the field is completely transformed by the artists, harmoniously combining the man-made with nature. The earth has been raised into a grove and fitted with an escalator. Clearly this is a metaphor for higher education and the unlimited possibilities it offers. The concept is depicted brilliantly, while also offering functionality, as the design centers on the best way to park more cars underground.

DTAH + Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates:

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

Taking the award for planning negligence a random and, yes, sloppily placed ice rink that appears to simultaneously block the flow of pedestrian traffic and completely isolate the J. Robert S. Prichard Alumni House? The fictitious skaters spin round the house, presumably deaf to the pleas of the trapped alumni, cold and hungry in their poorly designed captivity. 

Janet Rosenberg & Studio + architectsAlliance + ERA Architects:

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

This image depicts the front campus as an inclusive, picturesque, and communal space where everyone can enjoy a traditional Canadian winter activity: ice-skating. Students will appreciate this perfect excuse to procrastinate on their studies. Later, in summer, the space may be used for a running track. Both options allow local residents to overcrowd campus space while everyone else circles ‘round and ‘round, as though they are on a never ending merry go round.

Redesign team for front campus revitalization chosen

Connecting pathways and student spaces to take over front campus project

Redesign team for front campus revitalization chosen

The walk through the middle of the St. George Campus will soon have a new look. Front campus, connecting the west and east ends of St. George, will soon be redesigned by KPMB Architects, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), and Urban Strategies.

Shirley Blumberg, the design team leader, said that she is ecstatic to be working on the project. Their team consists of multiple U of T architecture graduates, including Blumberg.

The consortium of these firms was chosen after a lengthy selection process with over 600 proposals in consideration. The public was invited in September 2015 to review the proposals and select the winner.

In this new design, students can expect webs of pathways that connect both side of Front campus, a pedestrian bridge connecting Hart House to Queen’s Park, pavilions that house exits to the parking garage, coloured pavement and a new lighting scheme. 

“In any creative work there is a high motivating factor of fear that keeps you going,” said Blumberg, alluding to the high profile nature of the redesign. “The most exciting thing in the bold vision is finally removing the cars from the circle. There is no point in doing anything unless you do that.”

KPMB, MVVA and Urban Strategies will have until September 2016 to submit an outline including estimated cost and engineering needs.

First-year life science student Mahreen Khan said that she is excited about the design even if the construction disrupts students. “There is the esthetic purpose, but also after it’s built completely I am sure that it will be worth it in the end.”

“As long as they manage it properly and like I said we are not trying to run through construction to get into class on time,” said Khan.

In the proposal, King’s College Circle will become car free, moving parking underground. Instead, a focus on pedestrian and cyclist needs will take precedent.

Julie Hudson, a fourth-year statistics specialist, is also excited about the redesign but is worried about those with mobility issues. “I broke my ankle and I am in a cast, and I am sure that there are lots of people with mobility issues who need to be dropped off in front of where they need to go and if they close off to cars that wouldn’t be possible, so that is one concern.”

Blumberg noted that the underground parking garage will be on a mixed-use space that could house bicycles and scooters. “We see it as an incredibly important space,” she said. “We are hoping to make the best garage you have ever seen.”

All three firms have worked on university redesign projects before, bringing green spaces and student-centred design to campuses across North America.

Blumberg noted that their’s was the only design that did not retain the campus’ circular shape. Joseph Bivona from MVVA agreedL “our design is inspired by the idea of thickening that edge to welcome lingering and invite occupation. That space after all, is actually larger than the central part of King’s College Circle itself, which I don’t think people realize.”

Until the final draft in September 2016, the plans are open to critique.

“In the end, university is about social and intellectual exchange and interaction and discourse and I think these spaces could have a tremendous impact. What we are trying to do here by removing the cars from the circle [is that] we are changing these spaces from being parking lots and sports fields into a public realm that is really for pedestrians and cyclists,” Blumberg said.

Bivona said that they treated the redesign as a park more than anything else. Both he and Blumberg alluded to the connection the space has to Toronto as a whole. “We spent a lot of time thinking about the interface between city and campus and about how to really celebrate those moments of arrival and to welcome members of the greater public into the space,” Bivona said.

“Our proposal has also been based on the premise that the site actually works pretty well as it is, that the bones of it are actually very strong – and it’s just a matter of amplifying all of the site’s great qualities,” he added.