Media Releases

Ep. 3 Transforming 1 Spadina with Richard Sommer

April 27, 2015

Richard Sommer shares his vision for 1 Spadina — future home of the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape & Design — as a transformative space, stepping in to foster urban innovations where municipal governments cannot.


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The Cities Podcast Ep 3 Transforming 1 Spadina with Richard Sommer


This is The Cities Podcast, I’m Brianna Goldberg.


College Street at Spadina has been a bit of a mess lately.


For the past three weeks this intersection has been completely closed down by the TTC and City of Toronto.


They’ve been replacing old streetcar tracks and generally making things newer and sturdier.


But these changes are just a blip compared to a much longer-term construction project a few steps north.


1 Spadina Crescent is the building at the centre of Spadina Circle – a huge neo-Gothic manor-like structure with turrets and peaked windows. And it’s in the middle of an ambitious reinvention.


Soon this building will be an arresting mashup of old and new – the original bones of it amplified by sleek corners and soaring glass.


It’s set to become the new home for U of T’s Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design – which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. Later in this series we’ll explore a few of the spaces in Toronto where its graduates have made their mark.


But today I wanted to check in with the faculty’s dean, Richard Sommer, and ask for a sneak peek into the future of 1 Spadina.


I spoke with him at the faculty’s current office, further east on College Street. He started off by sharing one of his favourite reasons for moving to Spadina Circle…




One of the exciting things about that is the streetcar goes around it and we hope to make some traffic improvements so that people will be able to come to the school, right up to the front, getting off on the new Spadina cars…




Freshly designed streetcars swirling around a freshly designed architecture school… it’s an urbanist’s dream.


But the most dramatic reinventions at this future 1 Spadina will be happening inside its walls.


Sommer says he hopes they may hold a unique potential to change the way Toronto and other global cities look, act and feel.




Well, actually we’re looking at developing a kind of software that looks at how you model cities according to a number of complex phenomena. Layers, if you well, of the three-dimensional volumes of cities. The way in which you can integrate data on environmental conditions, everything from traffic to weather to real-estate values, the ecology, the built morphology, the patterns of movement, light, air, all of these conditions – a tool if you will to look at the complex way in which large parts of the city can be better modeled and organized by design.


One of the things we have in minds is to actually build at the new school what I call a ‘model cities laboratory’ and a ‘model cities theatre.’ So that would be almost like a kitchen and a dining room. The kitchen is the lab where we’re going to cook up alternate visions for both Toronto and other cities, alternate ways of thinking of the future of development in the city, made in the lab. And then the theatre is a kind of black-box space where through digital and physical models we actually engage various members of the community, government, private industry, in discussions and debates around those alternate visions like you would invite people to try out new kinds of cuisine in the dining room. So through this global cities data project we’re trying to develop the metrics and the data so we can understand in a complex way what’s happening in cities, then we’re developing these visualization techniques to model alternate forms of cities so that as architects and urban designers and landscape architects, landscape architects, we can work with other colleagues with deeper expertise in, let’s say, traffic modeling or cities and health or in other areas of planning to actually have this conversation. So we think this university or universities are unique now in being able to sponsor these kinds of conversations because elections and politicians and the cycles the government exists on do not allow for the kinds of investments in time and in research that are going to drive a forward-looking way of thinking about the city.




That was Richard Sommer, dean of the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design.


Near the end you may have heard him mention the global cities data project… that was the topic of our previous episode called The Power of Numbers with Patricia McCarney.


She and her team at U of T’s Global Cities Institute and its spin-off, called the World Council on City Data, are gathering internationally standardized data on cities for the first time ever. Check that out in our back episodes.


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Thanks to The Festive Specials for the music you heard in this episode.


The Cities Podcast is produced by me, Brianna Goldberg, with help from U of T News editor, Jennifer Lanthier.


Thanks for listening.