University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty: Merging the past with the future

The nearly complete future home of the University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty is already one of the best Canadian buildings of the past decade, Alex Bozikovic writes for the Globe & Mail

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University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty: Merging the past with the future
The new wing behind Knox College, viewed from Spadina Avenue / © Nic Lehoux

Up front, the old Knox College is all Victorian adornment, an array of gables, turrets and lancet arches. But around back it has a very different vibe. A long, flat glass façade pulls in northern light. Green roofs feed on rainwater. Zigzagging concrete forms say, in their own language: Welcome to 2017.

These two sections, old and new, form a new home for what is arguably the country’s leading design school, the University of Toronto’s Daniels Faculty. The 156,000-square-foot centre will house, as of this fall, programs in architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and visual studies.

The Daniels Building’s design was led by the firm NADAAA, with the surrounding landscape by Public Work, and it will open for a preview during the Doors Open festival this month.

After years of complex construction, it’s not quite done (and the school is raising the last portion of $36-million in donations ). Yet it is already spectacular – one of the best buildings in Canada of the past decade, rich with arguments about how contemporary architecture, landscape and urbanism can work with history and build the city of the future.

And it has to be full of ideas. This will be a place where people learn how to design buildings, landscapes and cities. Plus it’s meant to welcome the public, including a central passageway that links this university campus to its downtown neighbourhood. “It’s a university space, but it’s also a civic space of the city,” says the lead architect, Nader Tehrani of NADAAA. “By creating a space and prospect” – a view – “where there hadn’t been one before, it extends the public imagination.” […]