2012 Hero: Ryerson Image Centre
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2012 Hero: Ryerson Image Centre

Nominated for: living up to the university's ambitions.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Nearly 20 years after becoming a full-fledged university, Ryerson is still trying to shake the “Ry High” image left over from its days as a polytechnic institute. Fostering an air of university-ness can be tough for an institution. And it doesn’t help that the University of Toronto is just down the street, with a campus so classically campus-looking it’s acted as a stand-in for Harvard. By comparison, Ryerson’s campus is better known for having cars drive through the middle of it.

But with the opening of the Ryerson Image Centre this past fall, the school took another step toward looking like the modern, urban university it is.

Much like the city that surrounds it, Ryerson’s campus has seen a building boom in the last few years, all part of a Master Plan revealed in 2008. Parts of Gould and Victoria streets are now pedestrian-only. The school opened a new athletic centre in Maple Leaf Gardens. There are plans for a new residence building on Jarvis Street and a student centre on the old Sam the Record Man site.

And at Gould and Bond streets—the site the Master Plan calls the heart of the campus—stands the Ryerson Image Centre.

The $71-million building is home to the School of Image Arts, public galleries, classroom and office space, research space, and climate-controlled archives. Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the new facility is actually a makeover of an old building, the O’Keefe brewery. And though students may like the sound of an on-campus brewery, the brick behemoth was an eyesore.

Plans to renovate the space began when an anonymous donor gifted Ryerson with the Black Star Collection, a cache of 292,000 photographs by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Charles Moore. The images—including portraits, photojournalism, and concert photography—chronicle the 20th century. Some of them graced the covers of Newsweek, Time, and other iconic publications. It’s a collection valued at around $100-million dollars, the largest gift of its kind ever given to a Canadian university. Dumping it in the old beer warehouse wasn’t an option.

Instead, the building was covered in clear and translucent glass, complete with an elaborate LED-light display that glows different colours at night, reflecting off Lake Devo. A Balzac’s Coffee is tucked away on the ground floor, which is partially set-back from the street, allowing for some walking space on that block.

Ryerson may not have many ivy-covered buildings, but now they do have an app-controlled, light-show-covered edifice that houses a world-renowned collection of cultural property.

Looks like a university to us.

See the other nominees in the Cityscape category:

Adaptation of Maple Leaf Gardens, for giving our history new life.  

Andy Byford, for bringing customer-focused change to the TTC.  

Ontario Place Revitalization Plans, for preserving and renewing where each are needed.  

David Mirvish, for ambition writ large.  

Astral Info Pillar Hackers, for taking Toronto’s sidewalks back.  

Cast Your Ballot