Ryerson University Student Learning Centre

Ryerson University Student Learning Centre

Universities
341 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON M5B 1S1, Canada - Build completed in 2015
Clifton Li for Ryerson University

Ryerson University Student Learning Centre

Snøhetta as Design Architect

With the fall semester in full swing, Ryerson University students are making good use of the newest building on campus: the Student Learning Centre (SLC), designed by Snøhetta and Zeidler Partnership Architects. Inspired by the historical gathering spaces of the Stoas and Agoras in ancient Greece where learning was inherently social, the lively SLC gives students eight uniquely-designed floors of generous space to meet, study, and exchange ideas. Conceived as a library without books, the design develops natural conditions for groups of people to interact while also offering areas for controlled and introspective study. Most importantly, it encourages students to make the space their own. The SLC is a library built for the digital age that encourages students to interact with their physical environment. Since its opening, the new campus landmark has become a popular hub filled with student activity from 7 AM to 1 AM each day.


Ryerson University is an urban commuter campus with 38,000 students, wellknown for its engineering and business programs. Previously, the campus did not have a recognizable presence within the city, with most of the academic buildings housed within the existing building fabric or set back from major streets. The new Student Learning Centre now provides a much-needed space for students to study and remain on campus between classes, creates a distinguishable identity for the University, and better connects the campus to the vibrant cityscape surrounding it.


The design begins with a south-facing raised platform that opens the street corner for a broad range of pedestrian activity, from larger gatherings to smaller individual seating areas. Part plaza, part porch, this elevated space creates a welcoming yet protected urban edge shared by students and the general public that both exhibits University life while giving students a place to view the city. Situated on the Yonge Street retail corridor, one of Canada’s best-known commercial avenues, the new building prominently displays shops along Yonge Street, maintaining the retail presence locals expect in the district. Yet by directing the flow of students over and up the entry stairs it ensures the flow of students in and out of the building remains uninterrupted by commercial activity.


A new campus gateway is shaped by a large canopy clad in iridescent, hand-folded metal panels stretching from the exterior façade into the lobby. Its striking color and unusual form makes passerby stop and look up. These small and unexpected physical movements added to our daily routine shift one’s relationship to and awareness of place, intensifying the connection between body and design. Ryerson University’s new Student Learning Centre


The lobby is defined by a spacious atrium unimpeded by security checkpoints, and houses informal seating areas, café, and the University’s welcome desk for visitors and prospective students. It also acts as a multi-purpose forum with integrated seating and performance technology for events ranging from pep rallies to fashion shows and music performances. A broad stair leads from the lobby to a new bridge connecting the SLC to the existing University Library. Hovering above the lobby’s atrium is Ryerson’s Launch Zone, a digital media lab and business incubator for emerging tech start-ups.


Each floor of the building offers a different kind of space with a unique atmosphere, inspired by themes found in nature. The sixth floor, known as ‘The Beach,’ is an open and informal study area that slopes down through a series of ramps and terraces, encouraging students to sit on the floor and move the casual furniture. ‘The Sky’ occupies the top floor of the building with an up-lifting ceiling that offers broad overlooks and access to natural light. ‘The Forest’ and ‘the Garden’ also provide differing learning programs with student services, traditional quiet study areas, and classrooms. Uniquely colored elevators and stair landings punctuate navigation throughout the building with surprises, without disorienting the visitor.


The facades of the building are composed of a digitally-printed fritted glass that envelops the rugged armature and pared-down aesthetic of the exposed concrete structure. While the glass is understood to be transparent and light, it also evokes a juxtaposing sense of solidity and mass. The varying façade pattern controls heat gain into the building and frames views of the city grid and nearby buildings from the interior, acting as a traditional framed window without actual frame constructions. Functioning like cloud cover, the frit modulates the light quality to range from ‘overcast’ to ‘partly cloudy’ to ‘sunny’ to further diversify the interior conditions and allow students to have a different experience every time they visit the building.


The Student Learning Centre is a building that demands to be engaged with. It breaks the routine rhythms and movements of daily student life, empowering its visitors to take full measure of their bearings and ownership of their space. From autumn to spring, midterms through final exams, students will continue to create their own experiences and memories out of this library of the future.

An origami-like approach to composite panels

ALPOLIC Materials | Mitsubishi Chemical Composites America as Manufacturers

It’s said that Ryerson University can be found at the intersection of Mind and Action. Ryerson’s new Student Learning Centre can certainly be found there, although the actual street address is the intersection of Yonge and Gould, in the busy heart of Toronto, one of the world’s most vibrant and diverse cities.


Mohamed Lachemi, Ryerson University’s provost and vice president academic, says the Student Learning Centre project was already engaging the minds and actions of Ryerson students long before the first shovel was turned. “Students are part of everything we do at Ryerson,” Lachemi says. “Student groups in the hundreds were involved in the initial discussion about the building, the nature of the building, and also the function the building provides.”


In 2009, a competition was held to choose a design team to make what the students envisioned a reality. Zeidler Partnership Architects, a leading Canadian firm, joined forces with the celebrated international firm Snøhetta to win the competition. With Zeidler’s Mike Smith and Snøhetta’s Michael Cotton leading the project, the team created the design for a remarkable eight-story, 155,463 square-foot building.


Craig Dykers, architect and founder of Snøhetta, describes the design intent: “This is an incredibly vibrant building. It has a multitude of different types of spaces. It has quiet spaces, loud spaces, tall spaces, short spaces, wide spaces, narrow spaces. You name it, you’ll find it here. So everyone will be attracted to it for different reasons, which means it will be a centre for diverse thinking and diverse groups of people.”


A Crystalline Metaphor of Exploration The attraction begins the moment you first encounter the building. With no exterior reference to the floors inside, the glass planes that form the building’s skin have been compared to a gemstone. The triple glazing incorporates complex frit patterns to control solar heat gain and glare while adding interest to the natural interior lighting. From outside, these patterns create a dynamic sheen that enhances the building’s gem-like appearance.


At the corner entrance, the gem is “fractured.” Here, theglass walls give way tomulti-angled soffits composed of three-dimensional, faceted panels in prismatic blue. These panels evoke a molecular crystalline lattice as it might appear under a powerful microscope – an apt metaphor for the exploration and discovery that takes place inside.


This structural theme continues through the main entryway as the prismatic blue crystalscreate a domed ceiling above atwo-story atrium that serves as a lobby, amphitheater and skybridge portal to the existing library.


Involving Building Experts in the Design Flynn Canada, of the Flynn Groupof companies, was selected to provide design-assist services as well as fabrication for the entire building envelope, a project that earned the firm the 2015 OGMA Award for Excellence in Architectural Glass and Metal Execution.


Don Delaney, an engineering and business development manager at Flynn, explains the value a design-assist relationship can add:“With these types of complex projects, the architect has the design intent, the concept and the finishes in mind, but it’s not reasonable for them to have all the answers for working out the fine details and exactly how things go together.”


Through the design-assist process, “The experts engage with the architect to develop those details and make something that’s buildable and on budget.”


Design Vision Stymied by Hard Realities “Buildable and on budget” initially proved to be quite a challenge when designing the faceted blue forms at the entryway and in the atrium. The architects wanted to use a terracotta tile cast in three-dimensional forms with a glazedfinish that would capture varying tones and glosses of blue. As a guide to the color range and type of effect they were hoping to achieve, the architects provided an image of a tropical fish with iridescent blue scales. But as it turned out, the desired look couldn’t be achieved using tile.


Michael Roche, manager of business development and technical sales at Flynn, explains, “We couldn’t find a supplier who would agree to produce the tiles in that size. And then, from an engineering point of view, it’s very, very heavy. How do you attach it and so forth? So they asked if we could come up with any alternatives keeping the same shapeand color.”


Flynn looked into glass-fiber reinforced plastic, or GFRP. But creating all the different molds that would be required, and waiting for each panel to individually cure, proved to be prohibitively expensive and time consuming.


Next, they evaluatedwelded sheet aluminum, but again, the time and expense put that solution beyond reach. As Roche notes, “You had to cut all the pieces, weld them all together, polish all the welds and then try to come up with a paint that had the iridescent effect that we were trying to achieve. The thing about this is that there were 27 facets of panels on the building, and each panel within those facets was a different size and shape.”


“So we were kind of stymied,” Delaney recalls, “and it was one of the guys in our shop – I certainly can’t take credit, and Michael won’t take credit – one of the guys in the shop who programs our axis machine said, ‘Well, let me have a crack at it with composite.’”


A Surprisingly Simple Solution Delaney explains, “Although we’ve been working with composite materials literally for decades, I think it’s fair to say that composite had never occurred to us at all because the shape was so complex.”But with a little ingenuity and an origami-like approach to bending the panels, ALPOLIC® material proved to be far easier to fabricate, more practical to install, and considerably more affordable than any other solution they had imagined.


“We were all astonished,” Delaney says. “That was a huge revelation – it was the breakthrough for the project.”


The only remaining challenge was specifying a finish that could replicate the blue iridescence the architects originally envisioned in glazed tile. “We got the architects to pick some base colors,” Roche recounts, “and worked with ALPOLIC® materials through their Prismatic program. They formulated the paint finish with their prismatic resins on top, mocked up several samples, and we presented them to the architects.


“They liked the way it has different shades in one panel depending on the orientation and how the light hits it in three dimensions. And the color is unique to Ryerson, formulated specifically for this project.” Key to achieving the vibrancy, glossand durability of the finish was the use of Lumiflon® FEVEfluoropolymer resin and Valflon® coatings supplied to us exclusively by Valspar.


“I was at the grand opening,”Roche continues, “and I know directly from the architects Snøhetta and Zeidler, and from the university, that they were very happy with it. More than happy.”The same could be said for Flynn with regard to ALPOLIC® materials. “They really responded to everything we needed,” Roche says, and Delaney is qick to agree.


“They were there 100 percent. They’re one of our preferred suppliers.”