01 . 21 . 2016

University of Toronto plans to build new cultural, academic centre

AUTHOR Martin Knelman

Will house U of T’s department of history, department of near and middle eastern civilizations, institute of Islamic studies, research centre, 250-seat music performance hall.

 The University of Toronto is planning to build a dazzling new Centre for Civilizations and Cultures, which will soon rise on sacred ground at 90 Queen’s Park Crescent.

Does that address sound familiar? It’s the site of what was once a cherished city attraction — the McLaughlin Planetarium (once part of the Royal Ontario Museum). The planetarium was shuttered in 1995; in 1999 the ROM sold it to U of T.

A central player in the new project — hailed as a gateway connecting the university and the city — is a starchitect New York firm behind Manhattan’s wildly successful High Line project.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro (the U.S. firm) will collaborate on the design with Toronto’s Architects Alliance, which is best known for the Athletes’s Village at last summer’s Pan Am/Parapan Am Games.

The new centre will house U of T’s department of history, its department of near and middle eastern civilizations, the institute of Islamic studies and the research arm for the Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies. As well the centre will also boast a new 250-seat performance hall for the university’s music faculty.

What you won’t find in the new centre is the Jewish Museum of Canada, plans for which were announced with fanfare in September 2014. It was to be backed by a group of philanthropic families led by Isadore and Rosalie Sharp, with a boost from the United Jewish Appeal.

Why? Because the UJA needed to focus on more pressing funding priorities.

Countless Torontonians will enjoy improved amenities even before setting foot in the new centre, located steps south of the ROM and adjacent to U of T’s faculties of law and music.

Exterior perks include a new plaza for the Museum subway station entrance and improved links between Queen’s Park and Philosopher’s Walk.

U of T is not ready to mention a price-tag, but I predict it will be close to $100 million.