In 1964, the University of Guelph was created as a consolidation of existing colleges. The emerging baby-boom generation had prompted considerable government investment in post-secondary education in Ontario. Administrators immediately hired consultants to develop a long-range master plan of the university in anticipation of major expansion of enrolment.
The campus plan proposed a ring road with major student residences at the cardinal points. In 1965, the University commissioned Australian Evan Walker to complete a housing study. In turn, Australian architect John Andrews was commissioned to design the South Residences. Accommodating 1,700 students, it was to be the largest student residence in North America.
Andrews adopted Walker’s research and developed a scheme that was designed to foster social relationships between the individual student and the larger academic community, at a series of scales.
With respect to site planning, Andrews situated the communal facilities of each of the residences inside the ring road. An enclosed pedestrian bridge spanned the road to each hall of residence. This elevated pedestrian realm would become one of the defining aspects of the project.
A major theme was repetition, and three virtually identical halls of residence were built. Each residence was also based on repetition, following the social hierarchy recommended by Walker. Each hall of residence formed the shape of the letter ‘F’ in plan, and was repeated three times from east to west. Arranged on the diagonal, they formed green courts or quadrangles.
Like Andrews design for Scarborough College that preceded it, the South Residences were characterized by the extensive use of concrete, mainly for expediency of construction.
To ensure flexibility with respect to proportions of male versus female students, all houses were non-gender specific, which was an innovation at the time. Furthermore, Andrews’ team designed the furnishings and fixtures to allow for flexibility of arrangement by each student.
The complex is a significant early work of internationally renowned Australian architect, John Andrews. According to Philip Goad, ideas developed by Andrews in the South Residences would influence the development of his later work in the U.S. and Australia. Within the Canadian context, the complex is one of a series of innovative academic projects from the 1960s, including Scarborough College and Simon Fraser University, associated with both Brutalism and the megastructure movement.
The South Residences remain largely intact. In 1990, the John Eccles Centre was constructed to the east side as a conference and event location.
For thousands of Guelph undergraduates, the South Residences have been a home away from home. The complex remains a very popular choice among students.
Philip Goad, “Open Field, Open Street, Open Choice: John Andrews and the South Residences, University of Guelph (1965-68),” in Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, 30, presented at the 30th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand held on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, July 2-5, 2013, 650.