Image: Cicada Design/Diamond + Schmitt Architects
If you seem to be noticing Ryerson everywhere these days, you’re not imagining it. Though it’s been around since 1948 and been granting degrees since 1971, it’s only during the last few years that the university has embarked on a massive expansion plan and branding campaign, drastically raising its physical and academic profile. Devoid of any real charm for decades (save for the 1852 partial façade of the Toronto Normal School), Ryerson’s campus sat almost anonymously on prime downtown real estate, split by city streets and tucked inside directionless, utilitarian architecture.
The last couple of years have seen Ryerson slap up ubiquitous blue-and-gold signage, making its presence crystal clear and consistently demarcated (although we wish they had gone with a classy navy instead of a royal blue, which pretty much clashes with everything). Recent weeks saw a proposed plan for the university’s new Yonge Street portal, as well as the installation of weird, giant “RU” emblems along Church Street. Now, the first building to be constructed since Ryerson’s radical Master Plan was announced will be the Image Arts Building—currently, one of the school’s most hideous structures.
Image Arts is not Ryerson’s ugliest structure—that honour ironically goes to the School of Architecture—but its high-profile location flanking gorgeous Devonian Square warrants something special. Once operated as an O’Keefe brewery, the ugly yellow brick behemoth was purchased by the school in 1966 and converted it into its Photography department. Inside, the facility seems more like a mental health hospital than a creative space, especially considering the program’s status as Canada’s largest photography school, as well as Ryerson’s prestigious 2005 acquisition of the Black Star Historical Black & White Photography Collection.
Well-known architecture firm Diamond + Schmitt will re-clad the existing building in glass curtain-wall, with a café at grade and a new public gallery facing Devonian Square. In addition to featuring works from the school’s Mira Godard Centre, the gallery will showcase the Black Star collection. New York-based Black Star is the oldest photojournalism agency in the world, and Ryerson is the custodian of 300,000 original images by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Marion Post-Wolcott, and Andreas Feininger.
An additional 1,200 square metres of new academic space are to be constructed on the site, opening up the bunker-like behemoth to daylight for the first time. The western glass colonnade will readjust the “front” of the facility to face Gould and Victoria, bettering the current unremarkable entrance on Bond Street.
With the proximity to the Yonge strip and Dundas Square, Ryerson’s recent renovations in the Bond-Gould-Victoria area truly deserve a proper pedestrian promenade. This is reinforced by one of the most ambitious proposals of the abstract Master Plan—to rip down the insular Kerr Hall, which boasts an aged façade only a mother could love. Between Church and Yonge Streets, Gould is barely used by vehicular traffic anyway, and should have been turned into a pedestrian boulevard years ago. With Ryerson’s purchase of the former Sam The Record Man property, this makes even more sense, but we wont hold our breath for a walkway stretching to Yonge—in a shortsighted move, developers of the Toronto Life Square complex were allowed to put their heavily-trafficked loading docks on Gould between Victoria and Yonge.
Ryerson says that the Image Arts building reflects the themes of the university’s future design: greenery, “people-friendly” spaces, intensification, and design excellence.
Lake Devo image via Downtown Yonge BIA.