Upward mobility

At a fine university, the practical and the aspirational come together – with bettering oneself as prized as bettering one’s prospects. The University of  Toronto at Mississauga’s Instructional Centre, designed by Perkins+Will Canada, brilliantly evokes this duality. On a practical level, the $70-million, three-storey building increases the campus classroom space by 50 per cent, offering teaching spaces of various types and sizes, including 350- and 500-seat lecture theatres, and encompasses a computer lab and various lounges. On an aspirational level, it provides a venue worthy of student striving.

Much of the Instructional Centre’s magic derives from the use of a singular material: pre-patinated copper, which covers a good portion of the facade, then continues directly into the main interior. Revealing bare copper in some areas and hitting dark parts in others, it integrates well with the building’s pastoral setting on the north end of campus.

On a late-February morning, I stepped inside the Instructional Centre and let the copper panels guide me past a cafeteria and commons to the “main event”: a soaring public space connecting three stacks of classrooms, with a feature stair rising to a fully glazed curtain wall. I began to ascend. With classes in session, all was hushed (but I could imagine a rush and hum of activity); with the weather inclement, long, thin custom light fixtures provided the light (but I could imagine rays streaming in on a sunny day). I ran my hand along a copper panel, which proved to be smooth to the touch when I had expected rough. Reaching the fourth and final flight of stairs, I paused on the landing and reflected on the human need for places such as this: high, wide and handsome.

At the top of the stairs, I maneuvered between tables of students reading, texting and chatting to find a spot by the window. And there, in the woodland stretching before me, I spotted one – then two, three, four, five – deer, nosing the ground and moving gracefully through the bald-headed trees: a reward for my climb.  cI