Toronto, Canada

Moriyama & Teshima


While Foster + Partners was building a new home for the University of Toronto’s pharmacy school [RECORD, May 2007, page 278], the university commissioned Moriyama & Teshima to transform the 25-year-old building that the pharmacy school had just vacated, converting the sacred halls of academe into a spiritual center for the university community. This multifaith center, completed in January, includes an ablution area, kitchen, meditation and multipurpose rooms, and offices.

Billy Wilder Theater
Photography © Tom Arban

The project’s centerpiece is an 1,800-square-foot, 200-person prayer room assembled from two former lecture halls. But even a higher calling has limitations—in this case, a ban on religious icons associated with any particular faith, a $1.4 million budget for the entire center, and a requirement by the university to use fluorescent lamps to save energy. Furthermore, the front of the room had to face east to Mecca, even though this wall was windowless.

Using light as a transcendental yet faith-neutral motif, the design team devised a technically astute and visually breathtaking solution. It combined two triangular classrooms and dedicated the eastern wall of the new square volume to a quiltlike configuration of sliced onyx laminated to sheets of tempered glass and backlit by T5s. The ochre-veined, white onyx also lines the ceiling, with pieces increasing in translucency as they approach the eastern wall, pulling occupants’ focus to the front of the room. The L-shaped feature measures 861 square feet.

The architects considered other materials, such as Japanese paper and cast glass, before deciding on Iranian onyx. “We wanted something that was a natural material,” says Jason Moriyama, a principal of the Toronto-based architecture firm. “The white onyx suggests land forms or clouds or heaven. It helps contribute to the ethereal quality of the space.”

The room is equally pragmatic, with the front wall containing four hidden storage alcoves where groups can keep scrolls, figurines, and other religious objects. For the ceiling, the team moved all mechanical systems to the periphery, so “you don’t see a sprinkler head or diffuser popping through,” Moriyama says. Despite their delicate appearance, the onyx-glass panels overhead weigh more than 2,000 pounds and are suspended using steel hangers bolted into concrete. Hidden within this system, fluorescent lamps face a white painted upper ceiling to diffuse the light. In the remainder of the room, wood paneling absorbs noise and Venetian plaster evokes the hand-troweled finishes of old cathedrals and mosques.

Moriyama attributes the room’s popularity to its nonexclusive and serene atmosphere. “I think it’s been successful because faith groups can interpret it in their own way. It has meaning for all of them.”



University of Toronto
Capital Projects
215 Huron Street
Toronto, ON M5S 1A2

Moriyama & Teshima Architects
32 Davenport Road
Toronto, ON
Canada M5R 1H3
ph: 416.925.4484
fx: 416.925.4637

Partner in charge:
Jason Moriyama

Project architect: 
Carol Phillips

Job captain:
Phil Silverstein

Structural engineer
Rottmann Associates
15 Wertherm Court
Suite 509
Richmond Hill, ON
Canada L4B 3H7
ph: 905.882.0366

MEP engineer
Rybka Smith and Ginsler
18 Champlain Boulevard
Toronto, ON
Canada M3H 2Z1
ph: 416.398.6020
fx: 416.398.6361

Bio wall consultants
Air Quality Solutions
55 Callander Drive
Guelph, ON
Canada N1E 4H6
ph: 519.820.5504
fx: 519.837.9289

Ceiling substructure 
Nelson Industries
1155 Squires Beach Road
Pickering, ON
Canada L1W 3T9
ph: 905.428.2240
fx: 905.428.2392

Onyx glass panel supplier
9151 St-Laurent
Montreal, QC
Canada H2N 1N2
ph: 514.382.5180
fx: 514.382.5990

General contractor
Harbridge + Cross
350 Creditstone Road
Suite 202
Concord, ON
Canada L4K 3Z2

Tom Arban
81 Jersey Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M6G 3A5
ph: 416.566.9409

Moriyama & Teshima Architects




Interior ambient lighting
Visioneering FCOM-VN, two-54W T5 HO lamp, two-347V electronic (non-dimmable) ballast

Magellan by Mark Architectural Lighting, Mod 66 by Light Control 20W, MR16, 35W, MR16