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08.04.21 – Kohn Shnier Architects wins the OLA Design Transformation Award for their University College Library revitalization

University College Library on U of T’s St. George Campus renovated by Kohn Shnier

The design for the revitalized University College Library on U of T’s St. George Campus has been recognized with the Ontario Library Association’s 2021 Library Architectural and Design Transformation Award. The 24,000 square foot renovation project was completed by Kohn Shnier + ERA Architects in association. One of the project’s leaders was John Shnier, a principal with Kohn Shnier Architects, as well as an Associate Professor in the Master of Architecture program at Daniels.

The revitalization project is deeply important for University College – returning the Library space to its original location within the existing building, modernizing the library’s function with the ability to support new programming, updating building infrastructure while renewing other areas for students and faculty, and providing new measures for barrier-free accessibility.

University College Library on U of T’s St. George Campus renovated by Kohn Shnier

Even before the award, the refreshed library spaces were notable within the context of the campus for their integration within University College, a beloved neo-gothic campus building. Linear black and white contemporary structures and detailing within the refreshed spaces stand in contrast against the building’s existing stained-glass windows and wood panelling, creating a memorable juxtaposition. The overall project also includes a new elevator tower, clad in scaled copper to reflect the aesthetic of the surrounding campus.

“Our approach to this project was driven from the outset by a significant respect for the historic building and a reverence for the spaces within. University College is a significant building within the legacy of U of T, but also an exceptional piece of Ontario’s history and the history of higher education in Canada,” said Kohn Shnier architects in a written statement.

“Every effort was made to touch the existing fabric lightly, yet aspects of the programme, the mandate to create barrier-free accessibility and improve technology and infrastructure, required a deft hand to ensure these requirements did not overwhelm or compromise the qualities of the building that we and the stakeholders held dear. Every new element was carefully considered in its relationship to the historic fabric, but also in how it could service the technical requirements of the project both now and mindful of future requirements.”

The Library Architectural and Design Transformation Award is given in recognition of exemplary renovation, restoration, or conversion projects. In a comment from the jury for the award, the University College revitalization project was described as “a beautiful and skilled renovation of a significant heritage building. The new elements of the library are considerately designed to draw on and respect their context in the fabric of the carefully restored existing building.”

The University College revitalization is one of three projects being recognized with the award, given at a digital ceremony earlier in July. The project is the second OLA-awarded library that Kohn Shnier Architects has designed for the University of Toronto. In 2004, their design of the beloved EJ Pratt Library at Victoria College was recognized with an Award of Excellence by the OLA (that project was designed in association with Shore Tilbe Irwin Partners).

Images courtesy of Kohn Shnier (University of Toronto – University College, Kohn Shnier + ERA Architects in Association).