It’s an urban oasis, an indoor landscape, and an effective solution to brand a university campus otherwise lost in the chaos of downtown Toronto. Designed by Snøhetta in collaboration with local firm Zeidler Partnership Architects, Ryerson University’s new Student Learning Centre is an audacious bid to redefine the concept of an inner-city student commons. “The program is amazingly open,” says project architect Michael Cotton, of Snøhetta’s New York office. “It’s almost like a 10-story lobby. Sometimes we call it a library without books.” 

Designed for Ryerson students but technically open to the general public, the building’s principal function is to provide a sense of place and a refuge for the school’s largely commuter population. Sitting at an intersection teeming with shoppers, panhandlers, and flâneurs, it appears at one with the surrounding crazy-quilt district, even while serving its august academic purpose. “When you’re in the urban center,” notes Ryerson president Sheldon Levy, “you’re building for the city as well as for the university.” 

The Centre, says Levy, serves as the gateway to the campus and, as such, had to be iconic (most of the polytechnical university’s buildings are earth-toned, generic, and forgettable). “We wanted to build something so that no one would ever forget where Ryerson is located,” he continues. “We used to be defined as ‘behind Sam the Record Man,’ ” he notes, referring to Toronto’s beloved and now closed music retailer, which used to stand on the site. Although a row of retailers is programmed into the Yonge Street facade, these small outlets will never inherit the giant record store’s erstwhile role as place-marker. But, in some ways, the Student Learning Centre itself is assuming Sam the Record Man’s role as a community gathering spot.

Atop a plinth, the entrance buffers the center from the lively chaos of Yonge Street while creating a smooth transition from gritty street life to academic arena. Overhead, a bright, shardlike canopy, with its irridescent aluminum-panel ceiling, appears to shift from indigo to turquoise to purple. The building itself is an eye-popper, with the kind of massing gyrations that architects sometimes employ just to stand out from the sea of rectilinearity. Here, though, non­orthogonal form and canted lines make practical sense as a way to incorporate both the various sloped seating installations inside and the ground-level retail component on Yonge Street. “Students told us they didn’t want to run a gauntlet of retail,” says Zeidler’s Mike Smith. The solution was to tuck the stores into the building’s base, beneath the foyer’s maple bleachers. That way, the souk-like shops—all at street level—are visually separated from the main path to the entrance. “It’s a gentle way to separate the public and the students,” says Smith.

The Centre’s distinctive fritted glass facade helps integrate the building into the densest patch of downtown. Muted in color but exuberant in pattern, the frit projects the illusion of a random array of geometric forms (though the pattern does, in fact, repeat itself). On the sun-exposed south and west sides, the pattern reaches 90 percent coverage, and on the darker north and east sides, which are partly in the shadow of other campus buildings, it’s as little as 10 percent, allowing the light inside while mediating the unappealing parking-lot view to the north. 

Inside, color and form distinguish the Centre’s eight levels, from a powerful electric blue defining the third-floor technology zone to a white-and-wispy-blue open top floor, intended for receptions and special events as well as everyday study. In between are the green-hued fourth floor, with student-support services, tutorial spaces, offices, and classrooms; the bright-orange fifth floor, with open study around its perimeter and enclosed rooms in the center; and the beige, double-height sixth floor, known as “the beach”—a mock-waterfront made of shallow, maple stadium seating, cascading down to a triangular patch of turquoise carpeting standing in for the water. Here, students bask in the sunlight, some engrossed in solitary reading, while boisterous cliques and break-dancers animate the space a few yards away. Just above is a complete change of mood: the gray-brown seventh-floor quiet area, with smaller rooms geared to silent study and graduate research.

At every level, power outlets abound and can instantly transform any of the spaces into study zones at the will of those using a computer. On every floor, the sense of student ownership is evident, with many young people plugged in and hunkered over white tables, some flopped on beanbag or lounge chairs, others reclining on the upholstered benches. Levy has no qualms about the near-total lack of books in his university’s main study center. “We wanted to make a clear statement that the digital world has arrived,” he says. And, undeniably, there is no turning back.

Size: 153,000gross square feet

Project Cost: $86 million

Construction Cost: $56 million

Completion Date: March 2015

80 Pine Street, 10th floor
New York, NY 10005
+1 646-383-4762
Fax: (212) 514-5816


Client: Ryerson University

Owner: Ryerson University

80 Pine Street, 10th floor
New York, NY 10005
+1 646-383-4762
Fax: (212) 514-5816

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Craig Dykers, RA
Michael Cotton, RA
Michael Loverich
Jon Kontuly, RA
Anne-Rachel Schiffmann, RA
Carrie Tsang
Samuel Brissette
Misako Murata, RA
Elaine Molinar, RA
Fred Holt

Architect of Record:
Zeidler Partnership Architects
Vaidila Banelis
Mike Smith
Dennis Rijkoff
Mitsuru Delisle

Interior designer:

Structural: Halcrow Yolles

Civil: RV Anderson Ltd.

MEP: Crossey Engineering Ltd.

Design Landscape Architect: Snøhetta

Executive Landscape Architects: Ferris Associates

Lighting: Consullux Lighting Consultants / Crossey Engineering Ltd.

Acoustical: Aercoustics Engineering Ltd.

Audio/Visual: Novita Techne

Cost Estimator: Marshall & Murray Inc.

Code: LRI Engineering Inc.

Hardware: Upper Canada Hardware Inc.


Signage and Wayfinding: Entro


General contractor:

Lorne Bridgeman Photography
63 Melbourne Ave
Toronto, Ontario
Younes Bounhar, doublespace photography
48 Monterey Drive
Ottawa, ON, Canada K2H 7A7



Structural system
Concrete Formwork: Alliance Formwork Ltd

Shoring: Aluma Systems Inc.

Reinforcing: C&T Reinforcing Steel Ltd.

Concrete Supply: Canadian Building Materials Inc.

Structural Steel: Benson Steel Fabricators

Miscellaneous Metal: Venture Metal Works

Precast Concrete Stairs: Hy-Grade Precast Concrete

Concrete Masonry Units: Brampton Bricks

Masonry Accessories & Mortar: Limen Group

Exterior cladding
Curtain Wall: Triple-Glazed, Low-Iron, Argon-Filled Glazing Units; Custom Silk-Screened Ceramic Frit Pattern; Custom Extruded Aluminum Frames; fabricated by Prelco Inc., assembled and installed by Flynn Canada Ltd.

Aluminum Extrusion Finish: PPG Industries

Composite Metal Panel Ceiling: Alpolic FR Aluminum Composite Panel, fabricated & installed by Flynn Canada Ltd.

Custom Iridescent Finish: Valspar / Mitsubishi

Metal Panel Cladding: Formed Aluminum with Custom Perforation Pattern, fabricated by Dri-Design Inc, installed by Flynn Canada Ltd.

Green Roof: Modular Pre-grown Green Roof Trays - LiveRoof Ontario; High-slope Geocell Soil Retention Green Roof System - Cetco Building Materials

Precast Cladding: Precast Concrete Wall panels fabricated by Tri-krete Ltd.

Precast Landscape Elements:  Planks, Steps, and Benches fabricated by Castle Precast Ltd

Louver Cladding: Tenplus Inc. Window Cleaning and Tie-backs - Pro-bel Inc.

High-Albedo Roofing Membrane: Soprema Inc. installed by Flynn Canada Ltd.

EIFS: Dryvit Systems Blind-Side Waterproofing: Tremco Inc.
Under-Slab Vapor Retarder: W.R. Meadows

Membrane Air Barrier / Vapour Retarder: Blueskin by Henry Company Sopraseal Stick 1100 T by Soprema

Entrances: Fully-Glazed Entrance Doors by InKan Ltd., Aluminum-Framed Entrance Doors by Alumicor

Wood doors: Lambton Doors

Accordion Folding Security Gates: Mobilfex Inc.

Overhead Doors: Richards-Wilcox Hardware

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: SonaKrete by International Cellulose

Demountable partitions: Rampart Partitions Inc.

Solid Panel Partition Infill Panels: Uniboard

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Art Magic Carpentry

Wood Floors, Benches, and Stairs: Art Magic Carpentry

Corian Solid surfacing: Art Magic Carpentry

Drywall: Oakdale Drywall & Acoustics Ltd.

Perforated Drywall Ceiling: Vogl Deckensysteme GmbH

Resilient flooring: Forbo Flooring Systems Inc.

Carpet: Interface Flor & SuperFlor

Fire-Rated Safety Glass: Firelite Plus by Technical Glass Products

Interior Glazing: Prelco Inc.

Ceramic Tile: Castlewall

Lay-In Acoustic Ceiling Tiles: Armstrong

Paint: Lifemaster Eggshell

Folding Partitions: Modernfold Inc.

Window Shades: Lutron Electronics

Mechanical Systems
Mechanical Systems Coordination & Installation: VR Mechanical Solutions

Radiant Heating & Cooling System, Snomelt System: Uponor

Air Handling Units: Engineered Air

Ductwork & Accessories: JC Rogers Sheet Metal

Office furniture: Teknion Interpret benching system

Chairs: Coalesse Enea Lottus side chair, Herman Miller Eames plastic molded side chair, Steelcase Think task chair, Steelcase Node classroom chair

Tables: Coalesse Enea Lottus, Herman Miller Eames table

Upholstery: Momentum Silica

Other furniture: Arper Catifa lounge chair, Teknion DNA couches, Quinze Milan custom cushions, Dvelas Genois bean bags, Fermob Luxembourg chair, Arconas Bouloum chair

Electrical & Lighting
Electrical, Telecom & Lighting Installation & Coordination: Urban Electrical Contractors Ltd.

Interior Lighting Fixtures: Acclaim Lighting, Juno Lighting, Visioneering, LSI Industries, Selux Cooper Lighting, Systemalux, Iguzzini, Beghelli, Acuity Brands

Lighting Dimming System or other lighting controls: Lutron Electronics

Fire Alarm Systems: Simplex Grinnell, Tyco

Elevators: Schindler Elevator Corporation

Elevator Finishes: Demtra Elevator Interiors

Piping, Plumbing Coordination & Installation: VR Mechanical

Bottle Fill Station: Oasis International

Sprinkler Systems: Paul & Douglas Sprinklers Ltd.

Sinks, Toilets, Urinals: Universal Plumbing, Inc.

Grey Water System Pump: Aco Container Systems Inc.