Toronto’s architecture, like its people, is an eclectic mix full of wondrous variety and holds plenty of surprises for people interested in looking a little closer.


Architectural historian Marta O’Brien teaches three courses about Toronto’s architecture at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and says the fact that architecture plays such a huge role in our lives makes studying it worthwhile.


“We experience architecture every day. We all live in buildings, we all work in buildings, we’re all entertained in buildings — they’re such a big part of our lives so understanding them is valuable,” O’Brien said.


The courses are non-credit, with no tests or assignments and last about eight weeks, with two-hour sessions once per week. O’Brien has counted architects, interior designers and real estate agents amongst her student body for the courses and she does all her own photography for the slides she uses in class.


Toronto’s Residential Architecture: A History examines all kinds of buildings people have lived in throughout Toronto’s 200-year history and how different forms of architecture have reflected the city’s social and cultural progress. The course includes a walking tour of Rosedale, one of the neighbourhoods most demonstrative of Toronto’s changing architecture.

Toronto Commercial Architecture: Shops to Skyscrapers looks at how commercial places like stores, theatres, hotels and banks have used architecture to attract attention and project an image. The story of Toronto itself can be traced as buildings have metamorphoses from factories to storehouses to shops.

“Toronto was a manufacturing town for most of its life until the 1980s. We look at its evolution to help us understand the cycle,” O’Brien said.

Toronto’s Neighbourhood Architecture looks at the eclectic mix of different neighbourhoods that make up the city of Toronto and how and why each area developed how it did. Places like Yorkville, the Beach and the Junction each hold their own rich histories and even richer architectural offerings.

The overall goal is to give students a better understanding of not only where Toronto has been, but where it’s going and why things have progressed the way they have. For O’Brien, beyond the joy of teaching it’s all about celebrating the city she loves.

“I love talking to people about this city because I love this city,” O’Brien said.

For more information about enrolment, visit