Opened in 1962 at 43 Millwood Road, the Davisville Public School and Metro Toronto School for the Deaf is one of the many innovative school buildings designed by the Toronto Board of Education during the 1950s and early 1960s. Frederick Etherington, the board’s chief architect, and primary design architect Peter Pennington led in-house teams of architects and engineers in addition to overseeing schools commissioned from major Toronto architecture firms.
Davisville was designed to enrich the daily experiences of its young charges, introducing surprise and delight into a relatively straightforward building program. The school is divided into four modules of three storeys each, as opposed to the typically long, linear designs of the day, which helps to visually break up the building mass into more child-size pieces. The lower two-storey module at the west end encloses protected indoor-outdoor play areas; the easternmost module is a later addition. Roofs are exotic hyperbolic paraboloids, their animated forms held aloft at each corner by concrete columns that neatly taper inward toward the ground. Staircases separate each module, aiding vertical circulation, and provide treetop views of the outdoors through walls of transparent glass. Windows on the upper floors march across the facades in a jazzy syncopated rhythm of alternating verticals and horizontals.
Welcoming students is the entrance module with its deep, sheltering canopy and a dramatically upward-flaring paraboloid roof, an inversion of those atop the other modules. The limestone walls flanking the entrance pass through a glazed wall into the lobby, the smooth and transparent glass intriguingly contrasting the roughly textured stone. Inside, the lobby is outfitted with colourful terrazzo floors and sleek fittings of stainless steel and black walnut.
Throughout the building, thoughtful design, high-quality materials and fine workmanship demonstrate the importance assigned to public education during the postwar period and its key role in developing citizens of a democratic civil society.
Despite these virtues, the Davisville school is currently under threat of demolition in favour of a new school building and an adjoining community hub with a swimming pool, underground parking and other amenities. With a minimum of ingenuity, however, these elements can be readily arranged on the site without demolishing the existing school building. The school can be renovated and repurposed as the community centre, perhaps with space leased to arts groups, small independent schools or other community organizations; the building’s modular design lends itself to additions and internal subdivisions. And even if heritage value is discounted, the Davisville school building is a useful physical asset for the board and the community. Why not keep it and creatively leverage its potential?