ERA Architects
Interior of University College Library from second floor balcony.

University of Toronto: University College

The University College Revitalization project updates the National Historic Site to respond to the demands of 21st century academia, renewing its facilities to expand its use and create a more inclusive space for students to mirror the college’s diverse and inclusive programs of study.

A main priority for the project was to improve barrier-free access within the historic portion of the building. Accessible features were integrated sensitively into the heritage fabric. These features include providing new ramps between existing floor levels and stone walkways, a new elevator tower providing centralized vertical circulation, and the provision of concealed accessible hardware into historic door assemblies.

Interior of University College showing an accessible ramp hallway between levels.

Historic elements are referenced throughout the new spaces, additions and restored areas. New wood and stone materials were selected to complement the original material palette, and motifs drawn from the existing carvings informed crucial parts of the design vocabulary, evident most prominently on the elevator tower.

New elevator addition on the exterior of University College.

Masonry and brickwork openings comply with AODA.

Given the historic importance of the building, ERA brought a team with vast areas of expertise to the project to ensure that from cultural interpretation and design to technical execution the renovations were complimentary to the existing fabric. University College has a long history of innovation, now also reflected in its revitalization, expanding use to fulfill the needs for modern students and faculty. Improvements to the building have leveraged underused components of the existing layout, providing contemporary uses to these spaces while reinforcing the cultural heritage value of the institution. The project provides seamless barrier free access to all crucial programs, which aligns the physical space to the values of the institution. The design vocabulary strikes a careful and deferential balance with existing fabric, both legible as a contemporary intervention while also closely attuned to the qualities of the remarkable context.

The project provided an added opportunity to further celebrate the building’s history by reinstating programs lost over time. Extensive research into the historic layout of the institutional spaces led to contemporary interventions that brought back some of the original flow lost through decades of renovations and alterations. The library, lost to a fire in 1890, was reinstated in its original location with the layout of the stacks and mezzanine level a direct reference to the original library form. A new window opening in the West Hall study room mimics the original connection between the Museum and Library in the pre-fire building layout.

Main floor view of the library at University College, showing the second floor balcony and book stacks.

Other improvements include renovated classrooms, a new study room in the West Hall, and the addition of a student café on the building’s third floor. A new conference space at the Croft Chapter House required AV and sound baffling, which were concentrated in a centralized medallion off the historic fabric, allowing these alterations to remain reversible for future technological demands.

Third floor cafe space.

A high-ceilinged round lecture room.