University of Toronto Koffler Scientific Reserve

Montgomery Sisam Architects


“This is a very well-rounded project that’s sensitive to its site, including the old barns that were there before. I like the environmental approach, which goes back to the basics: it uses natural ventilation, and is very sensible with natural light and energy consumption.” – Stephan Chevalier, juror

The complex takes the place of three aging barns, and is designed to respond to local climatic, biological and topographic conditions.

Located north of the city, the University of Toronto’s Koffler Scientific Reserve is a major venue for research and instruction in ecology and environmental biology. Supported by the complex ecosystem of the Oak Ridges Moraine, it offers students an opportunity to move beyond the classroom to the actual practice of science.

The 800-acre property was bequeathed to the university after having been a country estate for much of the 20th century, and includes meadows, woodlands, watercourses and lakes. The site also contains remarkable geological formations, including some of the most noteworthy examples of drumlins and eskers in southern Ontario.

A refectory opens on to a courtyard, with clerestories and operable windows allowing for daylight and natural ventilation, while reinforcing visual connections between indoors and outdoors.

The new building accommodates research students and faculty for extended periods of time. Modelled after a university quad, it comprises sleeping and bathing quarters, a refectory, living areas and teaching spaces. Nearby seasonal bunkies provide additional accommodation during the peak research season.    

The building takes the place of three aging barns. Its massing is inspired by agrarian building forms, adapted to include lanterns for natural light, overhangs for appropriate solar response, covered walkways, and a courtyard. The design reinforces indoor-outdoor connections: this is a building for people who love to be outside, working in the field.

The building’s massing is inspired by local agrarian structures, adjusted to allow for natural stack ventilation and optimized for passive solar heat management.

The project is targeting net-zero-carbon, net-zero-energy performance and LEED Gold. This robust sustainability mandate is met through passive design strategies that minimize energy use, while offering year-round comfort to users. Like breathable clothing developed for outdoor exploration, its timber structure is wrapped in a highly insulated skin that can be opened and closed in response to changing temperatures and weather conditions.

Sectional diagrams

Taking a scientific approach to sustainability, each façade’s design responds to its solar orientation, and a whole-building energy model was used to inform natural ventilation strategies and building envelope components. The final design includes R40 walls, an R60 roof and triple-glazed windows. The resulting building is designed to be comfortable in the summer and shoulder seasons using passive cooling techniques, and to only require active cooling on very hot days.

Ground floor plan

CLIENT The University of Toronto | ARCHITECT TEAM Robert Davies (FRAIC), Karine  Quigley, Esther Cheng, Camelia Melchiori | STRUCTURAL Blackwell | MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL Integral Group | CIVIL WSP Global | CODE Arencon | COST Turner & Townsend | LANDSCAPE PMA | SUSTAINABILITY Integral Group / Elementa | A/V Engineering Harmonics | SPECIFICATIONS DGS | AREA 903 m2 | BUDGET Withheld | CURRENT STAGE Contract documents| ANTICIPATED COMPLETION Summer 2022