Scott Library Learning Commons, York University

North Toronto, Ontario

We used custom-designed furnishings and bold colours to economically and effectively transform the main floor of York University’s Brutalist Scott Library into a more welcoming, relaxed and collaborative learning environment.

York University hired us to convert the vast lobby of its monumental, concrete library into a more welcoming and self-initiated study space. After carefully studying how people were using the library and running focus groups with students, staff and faculty, we developed a design that leaves the existing shell of the building intact, and incorporates custom-designed, hybrid interior/furnishings that encourage various informal, socialized study experiences. This approach provided the space with a fresh, modern and relaxed identity, while also ensuring that the project was more efficient and cost-effective than full-scale construction, and that it can be easily modified in the future.

The Learning Commons offers a variety of comfortable places to hang out and its flexibility accommodates a shifting campus culture and a diverse program of services and events. Highly visible from the main circulation path, library users are first greeted by the bold ‘Information Kiosk’ crowned by circular swirling digital announcements where students can seek help navigating the library and book time with academic support specialists. The kiosk edges ‘The Hub’ an area populated by ‘Learning Pods’ – highly functional, easily reconfigured furnishings designed for counseling and workshops. The Learning Pods are intriguing pavilions in the library landscape with upholstered seating, built-in power sources, monitors and shelving. Their popularity relies on their appropriate mix of extroverted and introverted qualities, offering simultaneous semi-privacy and external visibility, while their interior acoustics are surprisingly muted.

In the neighbouring ‘Collaboratory’, a playful landscape of circular red steps called ‘The Hill’ invites students to spread out on the floor close to power outlets where they can plug in laptops, phones and music. These steps can also be used like an amphitheater for speakers or presentations. The room is also furnished with free floating tables – light enough to be moved about at will, and built-in booths that terminate with centralized monitors for group presentations, surfing or teleconferencing. On the flip side of the partition wall, individuals can perch at more secluded desks with power from the same sources. In ‘The Salon’ students can cozy up in large armchairs and study in a quiet environment. For those who need a completely segregated meeting place there are group study rooms.

The Learning Commons is now lively with both dynamic, open, social spaces and more intimate, private working areas. Students have appropriated their favourite workspaces and developed a sense of ownership of the environment that fosters collaboration, interaction and pride. The design reinvents and reinvigorates the library, embodies York University’s diversity and pedagogical shift to social learning, and establishes the Learning Commons as a major public space on campus.


“Toronto has many Brutalist public buildings like [Scott Library] – solid, formally interesting and urbanistically unfriendly. With this project, Levitt Goodman shows how they can get a new start in the 21st century.”

– Alex Bozikovic Spacing


2011 Design Exchange DX Award: ID Commercial – Honourable Mention


ArchDaily – (September 2012) York University Learning Commons
Spacing – (September 2012) York University Learning Commons, by Levitt Goodman Architects