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The Founding College of the University of Toronto
Interior of UC Library with large black bookshelves and white spiral staircase

University College library revitalization recognized with OLA Award

UC in the News

By Elaine Smith

Calling it “a beautiful and skilled renovation of a significant heritage building,” the Ontario Library Association (OLA) named the revitalized University College Library as one of the three winners of its 2021 Ontario Library Association Architectural and Design Transformation Award.

“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,” said the jury. “The modern re-creation of the mezzanine provides an opportunity to create a variety of new spaces that highlight elements of the historic fabric.”

The jury, consisting of five architects and professors of architecture and design, was unanimous in its choice of the UC Library for the award, which is given out every three years to honour “excellence in additions, renovations, restorations, conversion to library use, and interior redesign and refurnishing in the architectural design of libraries in Ontario.”

“Libraries are places for people to participate in programs, to study, learn and read. Now, more than ever, people need welcoming, inspiring and well-designed spaces,” said Shelagh Paterson, the OLA’s executive director, in announcing the award winners. “This category challenges communities to not only think about the current needs of their library, but the library of the future.”

 UC and the project’s architects, Kohn, Shnier + ERA Architects in association, along with the other winners, were recognized at a virtual ceremony held July 14 as part of the at the OLA Annual Institute on the Library as Place event. The ceremony included a video interview with project architect John Shnier and Professor Donald Ainslie, the former UC principal who initiated the revitalization campaign, conducted by librarian and jury member Darcy Glidden.

Ainslie noted that the revitalization was undertaken bearing four principles in mind:

  • the undergraduate experience;
  • embodying UC’s special place at the centre of campus;
  • accessibility; and
  • heritage.

Shnier discussed the inherent challenges in transforming the space accordingly, including being true to the heritage of the building, using the installation of an elevator as a case in point.

“Right through the process, people were scared that it would have a negative impact on the building,” he said. “It required a leap of faith and people had to engage with their imaginations.”

If the jury is an accurate barometer, the UC community and the general public will be delighted by the result.

“This is a completely fantastic transformation chosen unanimously by the jury, which was gushing with praise,” said Glidden. “It’s phenomenal what you’ve done with this space.”

UC principal Markus Stock and UC librarian Margaret Fulford, both present at the ceremony, were likewise enthusiastic about the transformation.

“The whole UC community came together to make the new UC Library a reality. It provides a completely transformed and accessible learning and studying environment for our students,” said Stock.

Fulford was equally delighted.

“I love the way the architects were inspired by the library that was in East Hall in the 19th century,” she said. “They've re-imagined the original book-lined alcoves and mezzanine, while giving us the accessibility and modern technology we need in the 21st century -- and it all looks gorgeous!”