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Recladding Ryerson

A Diamond + Schmitt rendering of Ryerson's new Image Arts Building renovation
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.

Lake Devo is beautiful—the Image Arts building, not so much.
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.
The new public gallery will open into Ryerson's charming Devonian Square.
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.


  • jw03

    It must be noted that Image Arts is more than just photography, it also consists of one of the finest film schools in the country, and one of the most innovative new media programs. All will benefit from this retrofit.

  • deepsaila

    …I agree with the last comment, as well as housing a new masters in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management program too.
    As a student of the image arts building for 6 years (4 for photography, 1 for PPCM) I can definitely say it is in need of a facelift and has been for quite some time. Some money has been put in in recent years for some minimal improvements, but a major overhaul will certainly be a breath of fresh air. After all, having all these amazing programs in this space and having guests and potential students surprised by our appearance should not be what we are remembered for.
    All that being said, there are certain qualities about the image arts building that make loveable, in its ugly way, that we have all gotten used to. Seeing what D+S are planning for other areas of the city (ahem…museum station) I hope they don’t ruin anything in the process and make it too much of a vision of what they want it to be, rather than what it actually is.

  • deepsaila

    apparently I can’t add. I was there for 5 years, not six. oops!

  • Phill MV

    I disagree. Eric Palin Hall is the ugliest.
    I swear, that building has the ability to induce seasonal affective disorder.

  • Svend

    Why do they need a Yonge St. presence, are they looking for walk-in traffic – perhaps sell a degree to a passing tourist?

  • Adam Sobolak

    “All that being said, there are certain qualities about the image arts building that make loveable, in its ugly way, that we have all gotten used to.”
    Though Image Arts is hardly “pretty”, I wouldn’t even use the easy slur of “ugly” re its present countenance. It’s actually a clever, stylish, well-detailed Brutalist-era adaptive reuse (NB: with the publication of “Concrete Toronto”, you don’t have to be daft or euphemistic to state as much anymore.) And, bunker-like as it is, you gotta admit: it sure expresses its function well, like a “Largest Freestanding Darkroom” or something.
    That said, I’m not opposed to this re-makeover. I’m only opposed to the POV that what’s being made over is merely an eyesore without merit.

  • Jenelle DaSilva-Rupchand

    Yay, another boxy glass building.

  • Ramius

    I love this building. It’s a great addition to the University. What’s more exciting is that I am sure that the interior will include top of the notch facilities that will serve to continue the image arts excellence there. finally, someone in Toronto is thinking big.

  • antiboy

    That little seating area that juts out reminds me of the Bahen Centre. Soon every university building will do so! I support the freedom to jut!

  • RealityCheck

    Why oh why didn’t Ryerson use navy blue? Seriously? If you’re remotely semi-conscious, you’ll have heard of the Varsity Blues and that other downtown university which uses navy blue as its identifying colour.
    But thanks for contributing, what Torontoist obviously needs is another obtuse contributor!

  • rocketeer

    Would it kill them to leave a few bricks in there somewhere?

  • Marc Lostracco

    RealityCheck: Uh, yeah, I’m well aware that UofT uses navy blue, but they’re blue and white. Ryerson is blue and gold, which were also the colours of my high school, but I wasn’t aware that once one school used a colour, it was out of commission for everyone else.
    The royal blue used on the signs and most of the branding is too bright and “plasticky,” and it clashes with almost everything it lies against, like Kerr Hall, O’Keefe House, etc. Ryerson does use a navy blue on the lamp post standards, which looks a million times better. Royal blue and yellow looks good on paper and in a brochure, but not so much in the urban landscape of greys, browns, and greens.
    I hope someone told York that they shouldn’t be using crimson and white since UofT uses white too. Quel faux pas! Call the colour police!

  • mattalexto

    Man, I love it when universities decide to add to a building by making the existing building impossible to work in for your entire post-secondary career while they build the new one.
    I’m having flashbacks of having no heat at OCAD while they put up the table top.
    For the sake of Image Arts folks I hope they actually get this thing done on schedule. The new planning building at Ryerson was supposed to be ready for September. One of the studio was still under construction until last week and they still don’t have all the computers plugged in in the lab.

  • mattalexto

    gotta have lots of daylight for the darkrooms!

  • Marc Lostracco

    mattalexto: I was in Radio & Television Arts at Ryerson during the construction of the Rogers Communications Centre, so we were in the ancient 1950s TV studios and classrooms in Kerr Hall for my first year, then kinda half-and-half for our second year as bits of the RCC became complete. Of course, it was supposed to have been finished long before. At the time, I also lived in the Pittman Hall residence next door, which wasn’t finished by then—so, no carpets, temporary lights, semi-working elevators, non-working telephones, endless dust, etc.
    At least I got to sleep on a brand-new mattress.

  • bee rad

    Damn, so much for the Heidelberg looking classier than the Image Arts building.
    Of course they go through and renovate Kerr Hall a bit and then decide that they’d rather rip it down. Good use of tuition, Ryerson.

  • rek

    Is the building supposed to glow like that, or did someone go crazy in Photoshop? Seems like a death trap for birds and a waste of energy, if it really glows.

  • EricSmith

    Perhaps it’s reflecting the nuclear glow of all of the billboards and screens at Dundas Square?