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
Fax: (212) 514-5816
Client: Ryerson University
Owner: Ryerson University
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Architect of Record:
Civil: RV Anderson Ltd.
MEP: Crossey Engineering Ltd.
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.
LEED: CEL Gruen
Signage and Wayfinding: Entro
FF+E: RCG | MHPM
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
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.
Membrane Air Barrier / Vapour Retarder: Blueskin by Henry Company Sopraseal Stick 1100 T by Soprema
Wood doors: Lambton Doors
Accordion Folding Security Gates: Mobilfex Inc.
Overhead Doors: Richards-Wilcox Hardware
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
Radiant Heating & Cooling System, Snomelt System: Uponor
Air Handling Units: Engineered Air
Ductwork & Accessories: JC Rogers Sheet Metal
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
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
Elevator Finishes: Demtra Elevator Interiors
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.