Features

Atop the valley

The architect of UTSC's most iconic building sought to complement the landscape outside and promote connections within

Berton Woodward
image of valley with scarborough college at the top

If you've read anything about the architecture of UTSC's first building, the Science and Humanities Wing, you’ve probably seen its style described as “brutalist,” a movement that saw the construction of such large, all-concrete structures from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Just don’t use the term when you talk to John Andrews, the man who in 1964 designed what was then Scarborough College.

“I object quite strongly to the word ‘brutalist’,” says the 80-year-old architect from his home in Orange, Australia. “It isn’t brutal. Scarborough College is a very human building.”

Andrews was just 29 and a practising architect, as well as a part-time U of T architecture professor, when President Claude Bissell asked him to oversee design of a new campus on 202 acres of land the university had just purchased in Scarborough’s Highland Creek Valley.

Bissell expected him to build in the valley. The first thing Andrews did was consult climatologist Fred Watts, a geographer and founding member of the college.

“His information turned out to be incredibly important, because as he pointed out, the buildings in the bottom of the valley had a very late sunrise and an early sunset,” he says.

So the university agreed to locate the campus at the top of the valley, overlooking Highland Creek. Now, what to build? Again, weather played a key role.

“When you look at the university year in Toronto, it’s bloody cold for most of it,” says Andrews. “There was no doubt in my mind that this shouldn’t be a series of isolated building blocks where you had to trudge through the snow to get from Science to Humanities. It ought to be one continuous building. Once you took your coat off, it could stay off.”

That led Andrews to create what he calls the pedestrian circulation streets along the ground floors of each wing, allowing students to move easily to classrooms, stairs, elevators and to the Meeting Place in the middle. And to build it all in the allotted time—little more than a year—he designed the massive structure using poured concrete. “It was the only material that was capable of forming the continuous floors and the continuous walls.”

Practicality was important, but the design also had an artistic purpose for Andrews. “I was expressing the continuity of teaching—that everything was connected.”

The building opened in early 1966 to international accolades for its architecture. Andrews went on to design Toronto’s CN Tower and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, both in concrete, before returning to his native Australia in 1969.

Still consulting, he concedes that brutalism is a word “I’ve been tagged with.” What would he prefer? “If there was such a word, ‘appropriatism.’ What I’m always trying to do is find the logical answer to things, and at the time when I was, if you like, being brutal, it was the logical answer.”