Parkin pioneers U of T’s West Campus

Completed in 1961 for the Faculty of Arts and Science, Sidney Smith Hall at 100 St. George Street was one of the University of Toronto’s first Modernist buildings and an early focal point of the new West Campus.

Following International Style orthodoxy, John B. Parkin Associates planned the building as two offset volumes atop an expansive raised podium. A long six-storey slab tower sits at right angles to St. George Street, and houses faculty offices, seminar rooms and a library. Extending to the south is a low-slung wing for lecture halls, flanked on the east and west sides by broad concrete terraces. Linking the two volumes is a skylit double-height entrance hall; the mezzanine level overlooks the constant stream of activity below. Exteriors are a muted palette of Indiana limestone, grey precast concrete and brick in tones of greige and purplish brown.

The original interiors were little more than functional and durable, although the continuous strip windows topping the concrete-block corridor walls add a welcome sense of openness to what would otherwise be narrow, claustrophobic passages. Later modifications are clearly products of their time: the semi-underground cafeteria by Beinhaker/Irwin Associates perfectly captures the 1980s High Tech aesthetic with its glass blocks and exposed services; recent additions and renovations by Ian MacDonald Architect clad the entrance hall in corrugated stainless steel and infilled the recessed lower level of the lecture wing with glass-walled lounges and meeting spaces. The broad front steps and planters, added by Brown + Storey Architects and van Nostrand DiCastri Architects during their 1997 revitalization of St. George Street, strongly connect the building to the sidewalk and have done much to make the east terrace a prime gathering spot during sunny weather.

Despite the characterization of many Modernist buildings as rigidly programmed and resistant to change, Sidney Smith Hall has proven to be a flexible, adaptable armature for supporting the student body from Kennedy-era New Frontiersmen to today’s global microcosm of diversity.

Profiles of Sidney Smith Hall are included in the 2007 book Concrete Toronto: A Guide to Concrete Architecture from the Fifties to the Seventies as well as 2009’s University of Toronto: The Campus Guide.

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