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ERA Architects


University College

Interior of University College Library from second floor balcony.
Interior of University College hallway with accesible ramp
Masonry and brickwork openings comply with AODA.
New elevator addition on the exterior of University College.
Interior of University College Library with view of curving stair \case
Interior of University College Library
Third floor cafe space.

University College

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The University College Revitalization project brings new life to the University of Toronto’s central architectural landmark, the Romanesque Revival University College, designed in 1852 by architects by Cumberland and Storm.  The updates to the National Historic Site respond to the demands of 21st century academia, renewing facilities to expand use and create a more inclusive space for students, mirroring the college’s diverse and inclusive programs of study.

ERA worked closely with partner Kohn Shnier Architects to develop sensitive intervention strategies for the important landmark. A main priority was to improve barrier-free access within the historic building. Accessible features were integrated sensitively into the heritage fabric including new ramps between existing floor levels and stone walkways, a new elevator 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.

Original architectural 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 dragon-scaled 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 together a team with focused expertise to ensure that, from cultural interpretation and design to technical execution, the renovations were complementary to the existing fabric. University College has a tradition of innovation, now also reflected in its revitalization, expanding use to fulfill the needs of  modern students and faculty. Improvements to the building have leveraged underused components of the existing layout, bringing 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, legible as a contemporary intervention while also closely attuned to the dense architectural richness of the original.

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 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 circular 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.

University of Toronto
Kohn Shnier Architects
Max Berg/Graeme Stewart


  • ACO Awards: Peter Stokes Restoration Award: Large-Scale/Team/Corporate, 2021
  • Canadian Interiors: Best of Canada: Institutional, 2021
  • Lieutenant Governor's Ontario Heritage Awards: Excellence in Conservation, 2021
  • OAA: Design Excellence Awards, 2022

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