Robarts Library Reading Room

Our revitalization of the Fourth Floor Reading Room in Robarts Library transforms a hallowed, double-storey space into a graceful and inclusive learning commons designed to meet contemporary student needs and learning styles.

Opened in 1973, Robarts Library is a Brutalist icon within Canada and the largest individual library at the University of Toronto.


Robarts Library is one of North America’s most significant examples of Brutalist architecture and the largest academic library building in Canada. Having won the bid to renovate the Reading Room as part of the University’s larger Robarts renewal initiative, we were tasked with an ambitious goal: convert the space into a modern environment for quiet study, collaboration, and digital scholarship in a manner that complements the building’s exalted architecture and supports accessibility, diversity, and wellness.

Our analysis of the Reading Room’s unique spatial and material qualities drove a responsive scheme focused on elegance and inclusivity. The result is a linchpin space connecting past and present through deliberate interventions that deliver a varied program: quiet areas for individual study and work; accessible standing desks; over thirty new digital stations; bookable consultation rooms; and dedicated light therapy zones. 

Accessible and functional design informed every aspect of the project. Inclusive study spots are integrated seamlessly throughout the space, allowing users to customize study table heights, chair positions, and lighting to meet their individual needs. All materials and finishes meet AODA and the University’s Accessibility Standards while stairs, entrances, and circulation paths exceed minimum barrier-free requirements. Clear sightlines, intuitive wayfinding, and a symmetrical layout promote easy navigation. We used perforated wood and metal acoustic panels that integrate with the concrete interiors as part of a sophisticated sound dampening strategy tailored to the vast open space that fosters a comfortable acoustic experience for both group and individual study.

Having previously conducted a comprehensive Feasibility Study + Concept Design for the Faculty of Information located in the adjacent Bissell Building, we leveraged our knowledge of the existing conditions and systems of the heritage-listed complex to devise innovative solutions for working with older infrastructure. Our familiarity with the underfloor raceway system, for example, enabled us to execute a sustainable mechanical and electrical strategy that was unprecedented: ours was the first renovation in the history of Robarts that successfully repurposed original infrastructure in a significant way.

We introduced natural and durable materials and furnishings to impart warmth in a large room otherwise dominated by concrete and designed custom bronze screens and details that pay homage to the elegance of the library’s original features. Guided by the geometry and materiality that makes Robarts Library one of North America’s most prodigious examples of Brutalist architecture, we aspired with every intervention to honour the original design and extend the legacy of this cherished and highly trafficked campus space. 

Images: Doublespace + Clarissa Bonet


Toronto, ON
University of Toronto
20,300 sf
Entuitive (Structural), HH Angus (Mechanical + Electrical), Aercoustics (Acoustic), Marshall Murray (Cost), LRI (Code + Safety)

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