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Coloured sketch of Andrews Building
Illustration by David Sparshott

Concrete Magic

U of T Scarborough’s Andrews Building has become a Canadian landmark

The architect John Andrews was teaching at U of T in the 1960s when he was asked to oversee the design of a new campus on land the university had just purchased in Scarborough. Completed in 1966, the Science and Humanities Wing (U of T Scarborough’s first building) didn’t impress everyone, but its sprawling concrete form attracted worldwide attention, evoking comparisons to an Aztec pyramid or Babylonian ziggurat. Critics have hailed it as an exemplar of Brutalist construction – though Andrews, who died in March, had objected to the description. “It isn’t brutal. Scarborough College is a very human building,” he said. Now, it’s an architectural icon.

Tour stop

In his Campus Guide to the University of Toronto: An Architectural Walking Tour, Larry Richards, former dean of the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, called the Andrews Building (as it is known) “one of Canada’s most important modern buildings” and “an astonishing essay in form, space and light.” It is regularly included in Doors Open Toronto.

Play of light

Daniel Scott Tysdal (MA 2008), who teaches creative writing at UTSC, set one of his short stories in the edifice. “I find the Andrews Building endlessly fascinating to wander and explore,” he says, adding that the skylights do all sorts of “magical and menacing things” with light. “One step down the hallway moves you into a soothing ray, while another may enact a Dr. Caligari-esque estrangement.”

Scene-stealer

The Andrews Building appears on lists of Brutalist landmarks in Canada and has frequently served as a setting for film and TV productions. It played the role of a post-Apocalyptic prison in Resident Evil, a top-secret government lab in The Shape of Water, and a Martian embassy in The Expanse. It also appears in the music video for The Weeknd’s “Secrets.”

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