Track 2: DESIGN - PLANNING THE CONSERVATION OF HISTORIC PLACES / Volet 2 : Conception - Planifier la conservation de lieux historiques

The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library Recladding Project - Improving performance while preserving heritage inside and out

Saturday, October 14
10:45 AM - 12:15 PM

The John P. Robarts Library complex on the University of Toronto campus is a landmark building dating 1969-73. Designed by Toronto architects Mathers and Haldenby in association with Warner, Burns, Toan and Lunde (specialists in library planning), with structural engineers C.D. Carruthers and Wallace Ltd, the reinforced concrete building has been considered a significant example of Brutalist architecture in Canada.

The complex was planned to accommodate distinct programmatic uses in three, largely independent pavilions. At the core of the complex is the main university library and to the north is the Faculty of Information Studies. To the south stands the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, which houses a priceless collection of fragile ephemera – the largest repository of publicly accessible rare books and manuscripts in Canada. Contained within its own isolated portion of the complex, the rare books library centres around a dramatic four-storey reading room, with the book stacks lining the exterior walls at all four levels.

Unlike many other Brutalist structures in Canada, the complex has aged quite well in that the exterior concrete surfaces of the 40-year old building are generally in good condition. However condensation within the high-humidity interior had come to jeopardize the collections inside. The risk of mould growth and insect infestation was high, as was the acceleration of chemical deterioration of the inherently unstable paper materials.

This paper presentation summarizes the findings related to the building envelope analysis (as carried out by RJC Structural Engineers and Building Envelope Specialists) revealing where the assembly had failed. With the source of the envelope failure identified, GBCA, as heritage architect, and RJC developed a solution that solved the condensation problem and met the heritage conservation guidelines. In this particular instance an overcladding of the exterior concrete with new precast concrete panels was determined to be the best approach, primarily because it had a negligible visual impact on the exterior, while isolating the construction work from the fragile collections on the interior.

This case study showcases the collaborative approach in a complicated conservation project whereby Building Envelope Specialists, Engineers, Heritage Specialists and Conservators together determined an appropriate approach. It summarizes changes to environmental guidelines based on the latest research into the effects of incorrect temperature and relative humidity on historic material. And it describes and illustrates the completed intervention which was undertaken early in 2017.

Learning Objectives:

Sharon Vattay, Ph.D., C.A.H.P.

Goldsmith Borgal and Company Architects Limited

Sharon Vattay is an architectural historian with wide-ranging professional and academic credentials. Sharon holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and is an associate at GBCA (Goldsmith, Borgal & Company Ltd.
Architects), a firm specializing in historic restoration and adaptive reuse, with projects across Canada. Sharon’s expertise lies in the research, assessment and management of heritage resources. As part of her commitment to Canadian architectural and the preservation thereof, Sharon is an active member of a number of allied organizations, such as the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada and the Society of Architectural Historians.


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The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library Recladding Project - Improving performance while preserving heritage inside and out

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