Superkül is renovating the reading room at Toronto’s brutalist Robarts Library

Canadian studio Superkül has updated the reading room at the University of Toronto’s Robarts Library, a remarkable example of Brutalist architecture.

The project involved renovating the hollow concrete space on the building’s fourth floor, as part of the university’s larger initiative to revitalize the Robarts Library, which Superkül described as “one of North America’s most significant examples of Brutalist architecture.”

The brutalist concrete Robarts Library was built in 1973

The John P Robarts Research Library was completed in 1973 and was designed by local architectural firm Mathers & Haldenby.

It is both the largest individual library at the University of Toronto and the largest academic library building in Canada.

New seating elements in wood
Superkül updated the spaces to better serve contemporary learning needs

As an important facility for students and faculty, the reading and study spaces required upgrades to meet modern learning styles and equipment while remaining respectful of the heritage-listed architecture.

The project would also connect the original Brutalist structure with the adjacent Robarts Common extension, completed by Diamond Schmitt Architects in September 2022.

Individual study stations
A number of individual study stations were added to the double-height space

“We were tasked with an ambitious goal: to transform the space into a superior modern environment for quiet study, collaboration and digital scholarship in a way that complements the building’s elevated architectural language and supports accessibility, diversity and well-being,” said Superkül.

Scattered across the 1,886 square meter double-height space are individual study areas, new digital stations, consultation rooms and two light therapy zones.

Concrete structure meets new posts
Natural materials were chosen to bring warmth to the concrete building

Particular attention was paid to accessibility through the addition of inclusive study spaces that allow users to adjust desk heights, seating configurations and lighting to their needs.

“We also emphasized clear sight lines and intuitive wayfinding in a symmetrical layout to promote easy navigation,” said Superkül.

The studio worked with a team of acoustic specialists to create a sound dampening system using perforated wood and metal panels, designed to blend in with the interior architecture.

This arrangement allows joint study groups to converse without disturbing other students.

Areas of study
Special emphasis was placed on accessibility through the addition of inclusive study places

For the new elements, a range of natural materials were chosen to add warmth to the concrete building, including specially designed bronze screens and details that play on existing motifs.

“To honor the distinctive geometry and materiality that make Robarts Library such a stunning icon, we hewed closely to an overarching goal: to create a robust and respectful design that honors the existing architecture and complements the library’s other spaces,” the studio said .

Common work tables
An acoustic dampening system was created to prevent joint study sessions from distracting from quiet work

Also at the University of Toronto, studios Kohn Shnier and ERA Architects recently renovated the historic University College building to make it more accessible.

Superkül’s previous projects have included an all-white vacation home in rural Ontario.

The photograph is by Doublespace.

Project credits:

Architect: Super cool
Construction engineer: Intuitive
Mechanical and electrical engineering: HH Angus
Acoustics: Air acoustics
Cost: Marshall and Murray
Code and security: LRI

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