The successful launch of the Sputnik satellite by the USSR in 1957 jolted the Western nations from their confidence in technological superiority. Combined with reports that the Soviets were training many more scientists than the USA, the resulting Sputnik crisis launched an unprecedented era of investment in science and technology. Concurrently, established universities were struggling to accommodate the demographic surge caused by the post-war baby boom. As a result, the 1960s saw the creation of many new higher education institutions. Founded in 1959 initially as an undergraduate “feeder campus” to the University of Toronto before becoming independent in 1965, York University was among a handful of new universities founded across Canada as part of this effort.
New universities need space. Having outgrown its original location at Glendon Hall (where the university still operates a bilingual campus today), York University soon invested a vast tract of land north of the city for its new Keele campus. A consortium formed by three local architecture firms, Gordon S. Adamson and Associates, John B. Parkin Associates, and Shore & Moffat was tasked with drafting the York University master plan. Under the name University Planners, Architects and Consulting Engineers (UPACE), the consortium collaborated with Harvard professor and landscape architect Hideo Sasaki to design clusters of Brutalist buildings organized by discipline and linked by pedestrian quadrangles and plazas. The first phase of construction lasted from 1965 to the end of 1966 and the first students were welcomed on campus in 1967.
To the earlier Steacie Science and Engineering Library that was part of that initial build, UPACE added a second library for the humanities, social sciences and fine arts in 1971. Named after William Pearson Scott, who retired as chairman of the university Board of Directors that year, the library is organized as two wings of stacks forming a square L shape. At their intersection is a bank of diagonally positioned elevators connect the five levels. A large atrium fills the quarter left open by the two wings, closed by superposed terraces forming an inverted pyramid shape and lined with offices and work rooms.
The Scott Library opened with a capacity of over 2 million volumes, but in 1971 the university had been open for less than 5 years and humanities and social sciences collections were nonexistent. When he was appointed director of the new library, former Harvard librarian Thomas F. O’Connell knew that conjuring a collection apt to sustain the teaching and scholarship ambitions of the university out of thin air was a formidable challenge. In particular, he knew he could not only rely on recently published materials but needed a trove of out-of-print books to provide the depths required by the disciplines he was serving. This was kick-started by purchasing the entire stock of bookseller Ernest D. Starr in Boston, hiring a flotilla of tractor trailers to carry the 100,000 volumes thus acquired (at 30 cents apiece) back to Toronto. Even though O’Connell reportedly left nothing but “cookbooks and paperbacks” behind, Starr was nevertheless able to restock his store within days of the sale thanks to his extensive reserve. A similar operation was conducted at Ducharme, a leading French-canadian bookstore in Montreal that was liquidating . By 1972, the collection was already numbering 700,000 volumes, filling a third of the library .
In 2012, the lower floor of the library was updated by Levitt Goodman/LGA Architectural Partners with colourful booths, counters and workstations all equipped with electrical outlets. The lightweight furniture can be easily dismantled and moved to evolve with the needs of the users.
The images in this series were taken during my visit in April 2016.
- York University Keele Campus; Scott Library. Architectural Conservancy Ontario – Toronto. Retrieved November 14, 2022
- Armstrong, M. R. (2017). Ross Social Sciences and Humanities Building—Scott Library. A Concrete Vision: Brutalist Architecture at York University.
- Beesley, P. (2007). Ross Social Sciences and Humanities Building, York University. In M. McClelland & G. Stewart (Eds.), Concrete Toronto: A guidebook to concrete architecture from the fifties to the seventies (pp. 264-271). Coach House Books.
- Bozikovic, A. (2017). Scott Library, UPACE, 1971. In P. McHugh & A. Bozikovic, Toronto architecture: A city guide (p. 280). McClelland & Stewart.
- Calder, B. (2010, August). Building of the Month: York University, Ontario. Twentieth Century Society.
- Fisher, R. (2017). York University: From brutalism to beauty. Living Toronto.
- Scott Library. (2010). In M. Behar, S. Bell, W. Granger, B. Hanna, & M. Marcu, North York’s modernist architecture revisited (p. 40). ERA Architects.
- Scott Library Learning Commons, York University by LGA Architectural Partners. (2014, March 4). Architizer.
- Young architects in firms: Scott Library, York University, Toronto, Ontario by Stephen Irwin. (1972, December). Architectural Record, 152(7), 132–133.
- Basbanes, N. A. (2003). Patience & fortitude: Wherein a colorful cast of determined book collectors, dealers, and librarians go about the quixotic task of preserving a legacy. Perennial (pp. 445-448)
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!