This Toronto university faculty looks like a tribute to Will Alsop, but it’s a very Foster building, too
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, architect Will Alsop should be feeling smug. The Stirling prize winner has made pod architecture his trademark – most of his buildings contain at least one example. Now Foster and Partners has got in on the act with this £35m building in Toronto.
The Leslie L Dan School of Pharmacy is part of the University of Toronto and the fairly plain, 12-storey rectangular box was completed in September. The lower third is clad in glass to allow views through to the building’s most distinguishing feature: two large pods suspended from the top of the five-storey atrium.
The lowest and largest pod contains a 60-seat lecture theatre and reading room. The upper pod contains a 24-seat computer training centre with a faculty lounge on its roof.
Foster’s pods could never be mistaken for Alsop’s, though. The latter’s research centre at Queen Mary, University of London contains four flamboyant blobs in striking colours, in all shapes and sizes – one looks like a collection of bubbles and another, a spiky creature from the black lagoon.
In contrast, Foster’s pods are paragons of elegance – perfectly symmetrical, coloured silver, with brightly coloured lighting to add a sheen of glamour.
And where Alsop’s pods tend to resemble giant insects with stumpy legs, Foster wanted his to float in mid-air.
This presented the structural engineer, Halcrow Yolles, with a challenge. Pods full of lively students are subject to variable loadings, and movement had to be minimised to stop people feeling like they had flown into a pocket of turbulence.
Halcrow Yolles decided to hang them from the top of the atrium. High-tensile steel rods were used to take the weight, but there was still the problem of horizontal movement.
This was resolved by using the bridges linking them to the floor of the main building to stabilise the pods. These are made of box section steel, which provides lateral restraint and acts as a conduit for the services.
Foster may have entered the pod game late, but this “no hands” approach has elevated it to new heights.