November 15, 2005

Post Secondary Architecture

Some of the worst architecture I've seen to date is in Toronto's colleges and universities. The University of Toronto itself is exempt from this list with its ancient structures classically designed, but I have yet to wander through some of the more modern buildings. Something might be said about its library that was actually built to look like a turkey, but that's more a matter of taste apart from functionality.

The modern schools I have attended and visited include Humber' North campus, George Brown's Casa Loma campus, OCAD and York University's Keele campus. My main beef with OCAD would have to be the hideous new addition that has it looking like some kid's botched science project, but when I look at how the others are designed they don't make any more sense.

I've only been to York's Keele campus once, and apparently its business schools are beautifully designed, but from what I saw it was mostly a bunch of awkward hallways and inconvenient stairwells with corporate advertising plastered everywhere. The external decor of the buildings are ugly and are in no way coordinated either. The people who build these schools must think that because it's modern looking everyone will love it and want to throw money at them.

At George Brown's Casa Loma campus where I went for a year the layout is as equally absurd. There's an area that drops off into nowhere like it was just forgotten about, and the main entrance is beset by a fifty step staircase. The classrooms are either cramped together by chairs that are bolted to tables that are bolted to the floor, or by flimsy tables and chairs that fit together uncomfortably. These places were also designed for students to get lost and confused. I had to spend my first week wandering aimlessly just to figure out how to find my way out back to true civilization.

At Humber where I currently attend, what still amazes me is the lack of bathroom placement patterns. If you can even find a bathroom in the first place it's usually the wrong one with facilities for the opposite sex nowhere around. On adjacent floors it only gets more confusing. When you think you know where the bathroom should be you're left to continue scurrying around in pain. Then there's the bathrooms that sit right in the middle of where all the student traffic goes by, the girls right by the coffee shop and the guys down the ramp and through a diagonal hall about a hundred feet away before the entrance to the library. Really you just have to see it to understand.

Speaking of foot traffic, there's one hallway that everyone in the school edges through while the rest of the school is left with wide desolate areas. There's a lot of areas that look meant for high traffic but get very little, and alternate routes are known only to the initiated. As with most other schools, finding your way around should also be a required class.

The Guelph-Humber section at Humber's North campus has to be mentioned here as a more positive example of school architecture. It has a huge wall of plants well lit by natural lighting, a central spiral staircase that accesses all levels and plenty of comfortable study areas with couches and everything. The layout is symmetrical and easy to navigate and guys and girls bathrooms are even in close proximity to each other!

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