Tartu College’s Brutalism on Bloor Street

Rising straight up from the sidewalk like an extrusion of raw, striated concrete, Tartu College at 310 Bloor Street West was completed in 1969 as a University of Toronto student co-op residence and as a library, archive and study centre for the Estonian-Canadian community.

To avoid the oppressive heaviness of many Brutalist towers, architects Tampold and Wells broke up the elevations with a series of vertical shear walls and staggered setbacks; bands of strip windows further dematerialize the building’s mass and provide a strong horizontal counterpoint. The elevated Bloor Street entrance does seem excessively steep, dark and narrow, but this unfriendliness is largely offset by the warm golden oak of the entrance doors (a well-detailed Aaltoesque feature) and the engagingly superscaled TARTU lettering cast into the adjoining wall. Internally, the L-shaped residential floors are divided into six-person suites, each with a communal lounge and kitchen facilities; individual bed-study rooms are deliberately small in size to promote social interaction among the residents. Tartu College’s innovative design and quality execution were recognized by a 1971 Canadian Housing Design Council Award.

Tampold and Wells designed a number of multi-unit residential complexes in the Toronto area during the 1960s and 70s. Nearby examples include the famously anarchic Rochdale College (now the Senator David A. Croll Apartments for seniors) at 341 Bloor Street West, the University of Toronto’s Student Family Housing Towers at 30 and 35 Charles Street West, and the landmark The Colonnade, Toronto’s first modern mixed-use building (retail, commercial and residential), at 131 Bloor Street West (with architect Gerald Robinson).

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