University of Toronto, Student Commons

The University of Toronto’s new Student Commons is a story of revitalization, preservation, and communication. Located on a prominent corner of the University’s downtown St. George campus, the project accomplishes an unprecedented task: uniting student services, the majority of which had previously been dispersed across campus, in the context of a design that forges new connections and communities in an old and complex space. 

Our strategic renovation and expansion of this early-20th-century building responds to 21st-century student and institutional needs by delivering a heterogeneous program that is entirely under student governance and management. The design is the culmination of an extensive, thoroughgoing multi-year stakeholder engagement process that entailed consulting with upwards of 10 student groups and major University stakeholders to hone a scheme that balanced student priorities with flexible leasing models to ensure a revenue-positive scheme for the building. The result is a varied program across six floors that includes everything from club and administrative offices, meeting rooms, lecture halls, and dance studios, to a bike repair shop, dedicated multi-faith areas, large flexible spaces for study and congregation, and food and beverage.

Originally built for the Royal College of Dental Surgeons in 1909, the building was most recently occupied by the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. Early on in the process, our team made a deliberate philosophical and methodological decision: to honour design interventions made by previous architects while peeling back and opening up the century-old building to bring in additional natural light, introduce new sightlines and circulation axes, and amplify accessibility and connectivity. Original stairwells, for example, by Baird Sampson Neuert Architects and Kohn Shnier were retained and refreshed, while superkül’s expansion on the east side encloses a new soaring steel stairwell that spans all six floors. The preservation and juxtaposition of these architectural layers allows them to communicate with each other across time while also reinforcing literal connections across space.

Completed in early 2021, the new Student Commons recently welcomed excited students back to campus after a long Covid hiatus by providing a dedicated and inviting space for safe activity, communion, and refuge.

Location: Toronto, ON
Size: 80,000 sf

Photos: Doublespace