Ryerson University announced Wednesday that architectural firms Zeidler Partnership Group of Toronto and Snohetta of Oslo, Norway have been hired to design the school’s new Student Learning Centre at the corner of Yonge and Gould. The hiring represents a significant step forward in the university’s marquee plans to redevelop the Sam the Record Man site.
While a complete plan for the site is still at least a year away, the architects were on hand to talk about their previous experiences and their initial ideas around the project. Their collective resumes are very impressive. Snohetta’s CV includes the new Library of Alexandria and Oslo’s National Opera. The firm is currently working on the September 11th memorial museum in lower Manhattan, the King Abdulaziz Centre for Knowledge and Culture in Mecca and new university libraries in Ohio and North Carolina. Toronto’s Zeidler architects have been involved in international projects in Tel-Aviv, London’s Canary Wharf and Seoul. Right now, they’re working on the revitalization of the Union Station rail shed.
It is clear from this selection that Ryerson views the site as an opportunity to do something special both for the school and for the city as a whole. Lead architects Tarek El-Khatib and Craig Dykers made clear that they too understand the potential for the site and the intricate role it will play in linking the campus with the city, while further enhancing the vibrancy of Yonge Street. To this end, the architects acknowledged that the building will have retail along Yonge Street and will attempt to keep up with the round-the-clock liveliness of the area. “The context is extremely important…there’s a great movement to create this public environment around Dundas and the whole force of it is creeping up the street,” said El Khatib. “There has been also some great efforts at changing the character of Gould Street so that is going to become a very important players in how the ground floor works.”
The architects created a video of a visit to the site and their consultation with students on what the new centre should be:
Ryerson president Sheldon Levy was obviously excited about the project and emphasized his wish that the library be adaptive to the future. “It will be successful because it will filled with energy of thousands of Ryerson students,” he said. “Yonge and Gould will become a dynamic corner…it will be what city building is at its best.” While the university clearly wants the building to be its ambassador to the city’s main street, it also stressed that it considers the project essential to its own future. Officials said that the focus of the new building will be on creating places for social interaction amongst students.
Many details will be worked out in the coming months through collaborations between the architects, students, and Ryerson librarians. It remains unknown how the building will incorporate retail and what type of retail it will include. It is possible that the building will have a direct connection with Dundas subway station, and it’s also possible that Gould Street will be closed to traffic by the time the building is complete. Acknowledging that the first floor of the building will have to be public, the architects say they will look for a way to acknowledge the library function of the building to visitors without them disturbing the students and those studying. How the building will connect with the existing library structure presents a further challenge to architects; Ryerson will keep its current library building functioning. When asked if the building would incorporate some homage to the old Sam the Record Man that once defined the corner, Levy said that was definitely a possibility and acknowledged the continued existence of the old neon signs.
The very concept of this building is based around a new look at the traditional concept of a library — beyond not only the traditional depository of books but also past the more recent concept of a confluence of electronic media. Ryerson is using the terms “Library” and “Student Learning Centre” interchangeably in this context. Without compromising on the traditional needs of print material and information accessibility, the student centre reflects a highly contemporary idea of the social gathering places that libraries need to be.
photo by Sam Javanrouh