John Andrews Brutalist Megastructure in Toronto

November 27, 2009

One of the best examples of 60’s brutalist monolith structures is a sizeable and well considered building designed for a dramatic site in cold climate. Since a significant slice was built as the first phase by a confident and dedicated architect, the functionality of the building can be assessed to measure various design criteria envisaged by John Andrews.

Unfortunately, the Canadians seem to be shy or ashamed of this significant building and the younger generations of architects seem to be unaware of this example of romantic brutalism, representing a significant branch of modern movement in mid 20th century.

I visited Canada as an architectural student to see Expo 67 and also took this opportunity to see as much architecture on East coast of Canada and USA I could cope on the Greyhound buses. Scarborough College, as it was known then, completely bowled me over. Even my semi-matured architectural understanding could not fail to grasp the ‘magic’ of this building. Luckily the slides I took, survived more than 40 years of storage and a bit of cleaning of digitised images is the basis of my photographs here and on Flickr pages. Set http://www.flickr.com/photos/iqbalaalam/sets/72157603763663802/

Kenneth Frampton wrote a critique of this building in April 1967 issue of Architectural Design. I am reproducing some of the drawings from this article and paraphrasing or quoting some other relevant parts.

Scarborough was designed as one of the first two satellite campuses to take all their undergraduate programmes. As it was a fair distance away from Toronto, the students were to gain access by car or bus. Kenneth Frampton was surprised to see lack of undercover walks from distant car parking to a building which entirely relied on warm covered student circulation. He assumed that this was either a cost saving measure or possibly certain architectural preconceptions about approach and entry to the building. Andrews wanted the open academic near the admin block to be a dignified, formal hub of the college activity giving access to all college buildings.

The layout is centralized in its organization. The positioning of radiating wings of the building was governed by the site constraints and maximum walking distance of 10 minutes.

“The choice of site has ruthlessly determined the plan profile of the building, making it an obsessive and rock-like extension of the escarpment upon which it rests. The old classic imperative that man-made form be rendered distinct from natural form is at once challenged by this organic parti.”

KF considers the building to be a biological organization on an irregular site, difficult to handle formally. Receding or cantilevered wings modulated, when possible, by structural or servicing elements as well as cranked ‘knuckles’ containing lecture halls, changing  the direction of wing segments. The entire building is thus ‘coded’ externally to express consistently four different component functions: lecture halls, offices, laboratories and staircases.

The projecting or receding elements also help to form continuous enclosed pedestrian streets rising two floors or full height of the building. The inclined service ducts serving laboratories not only feed and drain waste from the laboratories but also distribute forced air to and from ducts on the roof.

In the humanities wing a two-tiered counterpointed battery of lecture halls maintains a protective windowless wall on northern windswept face, while the faculty offices on south face project out providing solar protection.

Tiered sections also provide daylight to internal streets and full height court, ‘meeting place’ placed at the meeting of two converging streets.

“One cannot but be impressed by the ingenuity and generosity of this organization and by its evident operational success. It is a success that is ‘environmentally’ supported by the consistent use of high quality internal finishes and by felicitous light.”

Scarborough possesses a built-in allowance for variable patterns of use…..

As Oscar Newman has observed, ‘The continuous problem of change can to some extent be avoided by the further development of the organic logic and hierarchical organization of spaces and activities—a solution which in itself goes a long way toward limiting the need for large-scale future changes.’

“Scarborough departs radically from the traditional Anglo-Saxon quadrangular university complexes of recent years. It is by far the most daring, comprehensive and radical, and as such merits serious critical attention.”

Towards the end KF writes in some detail about the intellectual aspects of campuses as prototypical city form and compares Scarborough with work of Candilis, Josic and Woods. He considers  limits of growth, organization and classic vs. romantic thoughts. I suggest you read the article to read this analysis.

The article ends by stating, “Scarborough belongs to the nexus of thought… shaped by Camillo Sitte ….and travels to Frank Lloyd Wright….. and back in Europe is to be found in the thoughts of an Aalto, a Pietila. It is equally the thought of a James Stirling or a Paul Rudolph. These men are all positively not of the classic mind – and neither is John Andrews.”

After 40 years of expansion and changes, the latest master plan can be seen here http://www.daniels.utoronto.ca/node/753.

When John Andrews was designing and building this in Canada Denys Lasdun was in the middle of constructing University of East Anglia which has many similarities with Scarborough. While Patrick Hodgkinson conceived Brunswick Centre in London almost at the same time as Scarborough was being designed, although it was not completed till 1973. It has a much more urban and slightly formal context as one of the best megastructures of the period in this country.

More photos of this project and other Andrews work on my Flickr set http://www.flickr.com/photos/iqbalaalam/sets/72157603763663802/

For recent photographs see set from Ben http://www.flickr.com/photos/bencnh/sets/72157624082032257/

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10 Responses to “John Andrews Brutalist Megastructure in Toronto”

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  3. […] across Ultimo and Chinatown. The prototype for the ‘campus in one building’ was John Andrews’ Scarborough College, a self-contained campus for the University of Toronto. John Andrews Collection: Powerhouse […]


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