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Massive reconstruction of U of T law school underway

Though regularly ranked first in the country, the University of Toronto's law school has long suffered from a lack of physical identity. It's tough to find, for one, and when you do, it just seems a scattering of buildings with nothing tying them together other than the impressive earnings of its graduates.

Hariri Pontarini hopes to do something about that.

Working with several extreme restrictions, including space and money (odd, that, given the aforementioned alumni earnings), Michael Boxer, the lead architect, has pulled together an agglomeration he hopes will fix the problem, and give the school a more coherent relationship to its surroundings, both academic and urban.

"We started with this idea of pillars," Boxer says, "reinterpreting the columns from Flavelle House. The portico and those pillars in red brick are one of the first things you see as you're driving south, and we set the new building behind it with a sheer glass, mirror-like surface to reflect the old building and the sky, and have the syntax of that orderly symmetrical column grid. The portico columns are like the front teeth, the foremost columns, and there's the offspring, smaller derivatives that then spin through the site at more of a filigree. Off of Philosophers Walk you see the same thing, there's an echoed portico with four columns. The materiality is trying to echo the traditional masonry construction.

"There's a crispness to the glass and detailing, but at the same time there's robust stone pillars and textured masonry base that's going to be very heavy and of the earth."

Seen from above, the buildings seem a little smushed together, but Boxer says that it won't affect students and others who use the buildings.

"The massing might appear challenging at different levels," he says, "but internally, and the way you'll experience the building at grade, they should work well together."

Hariri Pontarini has been working on its designs since 2000, a reflection of the complexity of the project, which includes dismantling much of a late 1980s, early 1990s addition, which itself enveloped an expansion from the 1950s, much of which is being uncovered after decades during the process.

"It's almost like a snake that eats a frog," Boxer says, referring to the newly discovered relationship between the two previous projects.

"What we're doing is remodelling the 1980s addition for the expansion, and so there's three layers of renovation that's going on there. As they undo parts of the 1980s addition, they're discovering the 1950s remnants that are inside the 1980s body. The 1980s structure kind of piggy-backed and grabbed as much of the 1950s structure as it could."

One of the main aspects of the brief from the school was to create a social centre for the school.

"The school as it stood was a bit in disparate pieces," Boxer says. "A part of the faculty is located in Falconer, across the courtyard, and the community wasn't being fostered, so we developed this idea of a forum, the central heart of the scheme right next to Flavelle House. The main entrance of Flavelle leads under the house to a large central space to a skylight, and from there, it springs off to a new crescent wing, to take advantage of the site, to hug Queen's Park Crescent, we're as close to the property line as we're allowed to be there."

Though there have been some slow-downs related to what Boxer refers to as the "surgical" demolition required, he expects the job to be finished within two years.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Michael Boxer
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