Graduate House

Graduate House in Toronto, Ontario, Canada by Morphosis, 2000

Darlings of the architectural undergrad, Santa Monica, California's Morphosis, currently headed by co-founder Thom Mayne, created a large following through a layering device: layering of spaces and materials. Since the departure of co-founder Michael Rotondi the firm has embraced digital media, using the computer to develop forms that veer from the orthogonal, such as the Diamond Ranch High School in Ponoma, California. Their design for Graduate House (with Teeple Architects) at the west entrance to the St. George Campus of the University of Toronto recalls their earlier work, particularly the Salick Health Care Office Building of 1991, each building creating a strong presence in their respective setting through a juxtaposition of unconventional, harsh materials and transparent materials.

At Graduate House, a dorm for graduate students that also contains a restaurant on the first floor, the primary material is a dull, gray metal panel with built-in projections that give the facade a much-needed horizontality while setting up and framing the window openings. Facing Spadina Avenue, the main entry is recessed, marked by a tall, mustard yellow wall and a curtain wall, and toward Harbord Street to the south, a steel frame, covered in perforated metal with irregular openings, wraps the horizontal metal panels. Even with these features the obvious focus of the exterior is the cantilevered frame and perforated, green metal signage; a contemporary gateway to the campus.

Applied to the perforated metal, the semi-transparent letters "UNIVERSITY OF TORONT" gives way to a free-standing letter "O" at end of the cantilever, an unsurprising gesture from Thom Mayne that implies more layering than is physically present. Also evident is the way the sign affects the adjacent exterior skin: glass banding below and metal panels rising slightly to cradle it. A testament to Mayne's ability to compose different materials and forms into a cohesive whole is evident here: the seemingly unrelated signage giving the building a center and unifying the disparate parts.

Unfortunately, as with most public institutions, the budget is apparently low. The majority of the funds are seemingly devoted to the facades as the dorm rooms are minimal in size and features. But addressing the design with this aspect in mind, Graduate House is a welcome addition to a neighborhood that is graced by an eclectic mix of buildings and people. In effect the building is a reflection of its surroundings, embracing the diversity but also aware of its important location as an entry to campus.