The U of T is currently in the midst of a major project to transform all three of its campuses, and so far, TOist is impressed with the results: the New College Residence at the corner of Spadina and Willcocks is nothing short of inspiring, and their selection of architects – from Saucer+Perotte to Andropogon – has been contemporary and tasteful.
TOist has taken particular interest in the Great Spaces committee’s proposal to create ‘a significant and special space in front of Convocation Hall‘ on the green field in King’s College Circle’ and is proposing the following project for consideration: the Treehouse.
The treehouse proposed in this project takes inspiration from sources as diverse as German avant-garde architecture, Buddhist sacred symbolism, Disney’s Swiss Family Treehouse, and the synagogue on Dohány Street in my birthplace of Budapest. TOist proposes a building structure for the coffee shop and subsequent plan for Demonstration Site 2 that is both functional in its execution and symbolic in its visual connotations. The site will take the form of a communal treehouse with a circular plan, accessible from four corners of the “square” bracketed by the Medical Sciences Building and Convocation Hall on the south end and University College at the north end. The building will be raised three or four feet above ground by wooden poles, giving it the same sense of surreal flotation as Le Courbosier’s, and the walkways will be appropriately elevated (but still wheelchair-friendly) by brushed-steel ‘tree stumps’ attached to a mahogany wood ramp. The central “tree” itself will be constructed in steel and granite and stretch triumphantly through the centre of a spherical room, and serve as an inspiring landmark for the St. George campus. The tree evokes artfulness and a commitment to modernity, but also values of permanence and a tempered approach to growth.
The metaphorical significations of the treehouse motif for a social gathering area on a university campus are endless. For TOist, it is this sort of intimate connection that differentiates great from mediocre architecture, which transforms the built environment from dead matter into transformative space, and seeks to translate aesthetic ideals into tangible reality, foster growth of communities and its constituent members, and to uplift.
The architectural style of the Tree House will make reference to the minimal modernism of Mies Van Der Rohe’s glassy buildings, featuring sturdy and frost-resistant glass facades as well as floor-to-ceiling glass doors dividing the entire structure. In order to effectively articulate the treehouse theme while mitigating against a sense of sterility, warm mahogany wood details will be integrated with the cooler textures of granite and glass. The circular building will feature a bronze slanting roof which levels out to a flat glass top, allowing the magnificent Granite Tree to stretch out above the entire structure. This style is appropriate for the building because it simultaneously differentiates itself from and harmonizes itself with the architecture of buildings immediately surrounding it: Convocation Hall’s triumphant Classical columns, University College’s charming Gothic towers, Medical Sciences’ cool monochromatic modernism. The entire building, from walkways to interior decoration, is inspired by a postmodern interpretation of a treehouse, a universal and timeless motif which accords no preference to any U of T architectural tradition.