Gow Hastings Architects transformed 12,000 square feet on the fourth floor of Robarts Library, University of Toronto’s 41-year old, central library into a nucleus for academic support services and social learning. The program, which opened in October 2012 brings together the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI) and Library References Services around a set of shared amenities; electronic teaching labs, meeting and presentation rooms, a central student study space, and a collaboratory – a common collaboration and breakout space. The flexible spaces reflect the future of academic libraries and support better working and learning experiences for both students and faculty.
The architects opened up the entire space and placed common areas along the perimeter to bring daylight deep into the core. A central student study corridor with touchdown areas, open desks and comfortable soft seating, encourages social interaction and informal learning while providing much needed student seating where none previously existed. The ceiling height was lowered to differentiate the space while sight lines into the bordering computer lab and Blackburn Room encourage students to make use of the new facilities. Abundant natural light invites students and the same large windows that fill the space with daylight anticipate a future connection to a five-storey addition planned for the west side of Robarts.
The challenge was to create a contemporary work environment with state of the art audio-visual systems that aesthetically and functionally fit within the heavy concrete and existing non-rectangular geometries of the Brutalist structure. Glimpses of the base building concrete in some areas contrast with the bold new colours used to provide each department with a distinct and welcoming identity. The irregular shape of the Blackburn room as well as the organization of the CTSI office cluster respond to the non-rectangular geometries in the rest of the library.
Materials were selected to maintain the tone of the existing building and other floors in the library. Dark stained wood veneer was selected to compliment recent renovations in the building. The lighter anigre wood veneer wrapping the curved Blackburn Room, was selected to compliment Robarts’ original palette and introduces a newer warmer version of the same language. Sustainable finishes such as quartz, carpet tile, linoleum, low-VOC paint were selected for their durability and easy maintenance. The design compliments the host building while also infusing it with fresh contemporary feeling and ushering it into the next century of learning.