The industrial yellow-brick building one block north of Toronto’s Dundas Square in the heart of the city has been home to the Ryerson University School of Image Arts since the late 1960s. But it was no match for the school’s growing reputation in photography, film, and digital media. The former brewery warehouse and bottling plant, built in 1953, was windowless, cramped, and technologically out of date. It also lacked good exhibition spaces. But the recent gift of one of the most significant compendiums of 20th-century photojournalism—the Black Star Collection—motivated the university to transform the serviceable building into a dynamic media center that radiates with the energy of the activity and contents within it.
Given by an anonymous donor, the nearly 290,000 black-and-white photographs, amassed by the New York'based Black Star agency between 1910 and 1992, came with $7 million in seed money. Initially, university officials wanted to modify the existing structure to accommodate conservation-standard storage, curatorial spaces, and a rooftop gallery for the collection, which would be managed as a separate entity from the school program. But according to architect Donald Schmitt, as the administrators reviewed the options it became clear that the time was right for a more extensive overhaul.