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Spadina Frieze

Built in 1911, the Robertson Building is one of several former light-industrial warehouses lining Spadina Avenue between King Street and Dundas Street: a working-class manufacturing district at that time.


A century later, the building finds itself in completely transformed surroundings, at the confluence of some of Toronto’s most diverse and vibrant neighborhoods: Kensington Market, Queen West, Chinatown, and the University of Toronto. Its longevity poses an interesting challenge: how to make valued buildings from our past relevant and vital to an entirely different present?

Location: Toronto, ON

Design Team: Great Lake Studio

Fabrication: Punchclock Metalworks

Photography: James Morley/ Doublespace

On a functional level, the Robertson Building has already undergone a very successful reinvention as a hub of social activity and creative collaboration. But how might a building physically communicate such a transformation, and reassert itself as a vital participant in the life of the community?

This new intervention, a pleated stainless-steel frieze, hovers above the ground floor level, wrapping the building on three sides. Its soft pearl finish subtly reflects the colors of the sky, the ambience of city lights, and the kinetic flow of street activity throughout the days, evenings, and seasons.

The frieze is always transforming; never static. It is a linear sculpture with the quality of a spectrum or kaleidoscope – absorbing light and color from its surroundings and reflecting these back in a rhythmic, fractured pattern.

In essence, the frieze serves as a metaphorical bridge, ushering the building out of its industrial past and into a dynamic, changing present. In so doing, it establishes a more reciprocal relationship with the neighborhood – drawing from its energy and vibrancy, while contributing something new and exciting to the life of the street in return.

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