Is Snøhetta's New Ryerson Learning Centre "City Building" or "City Ignoring"?

ryerson university student center snohetta image
Image Credit Ryerson University

Toronto's Ryerson University was always sort of hidden. Yonge Street was Toronto's main street and it was a hundred feet away from it, with no presence on it. It certainly will now; Norwegian superfirm Snøhetta with Zeidler Partnership Architects (ZRPA) are building a new student learning centre right at the corner of Yonge and Gould, the main entry point to the university. Is this a good thing?

Image credit Chuckman Collection

It is an important site. During the fifties and the sixties, every kid in town came here to buy our records; if you liked jazz you hung out the Edison Hotel. It was lively, it was crowded, it was hot. The streets were crowded, and Ryerson was definitely was not a presence.

ryerson university student center snohetta image
Image credit Lloyd Alter

I am Adjunct Professor at Ryerson University School of Interior Design, so I know the site well. Today, it and the street are not so pleasant. There is the green monster that ate Dundas Square, a hole where the recently torched Edison used to stand, (TreeHugger here) and the fenced Sam the Record Man site.

ryerson university student center snohetta image
Image Credit Ryerson University

The proposed building puts retail in the basement, something that should not be done in cities, particularly on main streets. Basement retail is so- Ryerson.

click to enlarge. Image Credit Ryerson University

I can't quite tell what is at street level, but it doesn't look like it is addressing the street. The main level appears to be up a stairway, which is the kiss of death for street related design.

University President Levy calls it " a transformative, bold development and an important step forward in city building." Tarek El-Khatib, Senior Partner at Zeidler, says:

"The building will contribute to the retail and pedestrian life in the area and set the tone for ongoing revitalization in this historic commercial neighbourhood. A generous and inviting, entry plaza will gently draw both students and the general public up and into this new vertical community setting the standard for future development in the area."

Eaton Centre late 1970s, Dundas and Yonge, Image Credit Chuckman's Collection

I don't know, "generous entry plazas" and "vertical communities" always spelled death at street level, and we know how all those split entries of the seventies and eighties worked out. One would think that Zeidlers would have learned the lessons of their Eaton Centre a few blocks south; it is a wonderful building, but it killed Yonge Street for decades by turning its back on the street. But hey, it did have a generous and inviting entry plaza at the corner, leading into split level spaces with lots of stairs!

ryerson university student center snohetta image
Image Credit Ryerson University

Sheldon Levy has transformed Ryerson University. The recent additions to campus have been designed to the highest standards by some of the world's best architects. Ryerson needs a gateway from Yonge Street on this site, and I hope with another bookend on the Edison Hotel site.

But this building, while it does not turn its back on Yonge Street, is certainly giving it a cold shoulder. Calling it "an important step forward in city building" is a bit much.

Other views: Toronto Star critic Chris Hume calls it " the most exciting building to appear in this neighbourhood in decades." National Post's Peter Kuitenbrouwer calls it a "glass atrocity" and " a giant buzz-kill for the street."

Tags: Architects | Designers | Toronto


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