Mechanical Engineering Building

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Mechanical Engineering Building
Mechanical Engineering Building
Location 5 King's College Road
Year Constructed 1909 (Thermodynamics Building);
1948 (West Building)
Building Code MC
Architects Darling & Pearson, 1909;
Allward & Gouinlock Architects, 1948
Major Offices/Labs
Department of Mechanical Engineering

The Mechanical Engineering Building, formerly the Thermodynamics Building, was constructed in two parts, with the first part built in 1909 and then an addition in 1948. The original Thermodynamics Building was the first building constructed after the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering was incorporated into the University of Toronto from its origins as the School of Practical Science. It currently houses most of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, and includes numerous laboratory spaces.

Offices and Laboratories[edit | edit source]

  • Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
  • Machine Shop (MC78)
  • MIE Computing Services
  • Laboratories

History[edit | edit source]

Architects' concept drawing of the Thermodynamics Building as proposed and originally approved in 1908.

The Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, which was constituted in 1906 as a Faculty within the University of Toronto (superseding the formerly independent School of Practical Sciences), was in critical need of laboratory space as enrollment increased threefold from 1900 to 1908.[1] A large amount of equipment had been added to the original 1892 laboratory in the School of Practical Science building, such that there was no more space for teaching of thermodynamics or hydraulics.

The Faculty therefore proposed a large new building with extensive laboratory space and a separate wing for classrooms and offices, to be built on a site directly south of the School of Practical Science main building. The design, including both the laboratory wing and classroom wing, was approved by the University's Board of Governors in June 1908. However, after construction began, the university ran out of money to pay for the entire building and decided to proceed only with the laboratory wing as that was the more pressing need at the time.[1] The classroom wing to the west was omitted from the final plans, and it was not completed (on a different design) until 1948. In the meantime, a temporary front was installed and access was available only from the entrance at the north side of the building (which was not originally intended as the main entrance).

Construction of wind tunnel in front of the Thermodynamics Building, c. October 1923.
Close-up for arched window design on north face of Thermodynamics Building.

When completed in 1909, the Thermodynamics Building housed all of the steam, gas, and hydraulic power equipment, managed by R.W. Angus, as well as equipment and offices for the Mechanical Engineering staff.[1] In 1917, during the World War I period, the university paid for a wind tunnel to be placed in the hydraulic lab as interest in aeronautics grew. In 1923, due to the addition of new hydraulics equipment, the old wind tunnel was crowded out. The university constructed a new and larger wind tunnel in a new space adjacent to the Thermodynamics Building, with funding from the Department of National Defence (National Research Council). This new wind tunnel was used for research and teaching, for the new aeronautical option for Mechanical Engineering students which started in 1928.

Mechanical Engineering Building, c. 1949 shortly before its opening.

The second half of the building, the classroom wing, was finally built during the post-WWII expansion period at the Faculty, constructed while many students were housed off-campus at Ajax Division. It officially opened in time for the fall 1949 academic year, at around the same time that the Wallberg Building was completed. The new western structure, designed by Allward and Gouinlock, is considered one of the earliest examples of "modern architecture" in Toronto.[1]

Structure and Architecture[edit | edit source]

The Mechanical Engineering Building is actually a complex consisting of two interconnected structures in plan with contrasting architectural styles. On the north wing facing the Medical Sciences Building is the original Thermodynamics Building designed by Frank Darling, now forming the laboratory wing. While the original design would have incorporated a western wing in much the same style, when it was ultimately constructed in the 1940s, a new design was used with a more modern style. The building complex was designated as a Heritage Property by the City of Toronto in 1973.

Thermodynamics Building[edit | edit source]

Entrance to original Thermodynamics Building on the northwest corner. Photo by Brian Carson.

The original Thermodynamics Building was an important work of architect Frank Darling, and has been described as an "ambitious" work featuring many details. The north face features a series of seven high brick arches filled in with windows looking into the laboratories within. The entrance on the northwest corner of this older half features an intricate doorway composition with detailed stonework. Embedded within the old Thermodynamics Building was a boiler plant, vented by a pair of tall brick chimneys joined at the top.[2] Today it is hidden by new buildings, however it can be seen by the rooftop from higher vantage points such as the upper floors of the adjoining CCBR Building.

West Building[edit | edit source]

The new Mechanical Engineering Building completed in 1948 was designed by Allward & Gouinlock Architects in the functionalist mid-century style. Some consider it one of Toronto's most significant mid-twentieth-century modern buildings, with influences from the German Bauhaus school and the Dutch de Stijl movement.[2] This portion of the building houses most of the lecture halls, classrooms, shops, offices, and the smaller laboratories.

Photo: B Sutherland, 2011

The exterior walls are made of limestone, with alternating rows of square and rectangular bricks providing subtle contrast. The front face, now the main entrance of the building on the west side facing King's College Road, features a five-storey tower (inside of which is a staircase) dividing the facade into two halves. The tower itself is topped by a stainless steel clock (although in recent years the clock has experienced functionality problems and has been the subject of several grad pranks). The southern half of the building, more plain on the exterior as it lacks exterior windows on the first two storeys, is the site of the larger lecture halls and forms the southern wing. The alleyway on the south leads to a small enclosure formed by the nearby Haultain Building, Rosebrugh Building, and Mining Building and is sometimes used by student design teams.

Popular Culture[edit | edit source]

The north side of the Mechanical Engineering Building (the old brick wall with the arched windows of the old Thermodynamics Building) and the north alleyway facing the Medical Sciences Building made an appearance in the movie Robocop (2014) as part of the exterior of the Detroit police headquarters.[3]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Richard White, The Skule Story (University of Toronto Press: 2000) at pp. 64, 120-122 169
  2. 2.0 2.1 L.W. Richards, The Campus Guide: University of Toronto (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009)