A former brewery warehouse in downtown Toronto housing the School of Image Arts for 50 years has been radically transformed by a dynamic LED light feature. A priceless donation to Ryerson University of nearly 300,000 images of the Blackstar Collection of 20th-century photojournalism was the catalyst to create the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) and transform the near-windowless building into an open and inviting facility that connects with the campus and community. The design used this opportunity to treat the building as a digitally ‘paintable’ figurative blank canvas.
The design took inspiration from the source of all photographic arts – namely, light – as a theme to embed in the building itself. A technically advanced system of outer layers creates a luminous canvas that elevates the identity of RIC, of Ryerson, and indeed, downtown Toronto, to this new cultural destination.
A double-skin glass façade encircles all four sides of the upper floor of the existing building and conceals an LED lighting system. By day the opaque appearance of the glass surface provides a seamless white backdrop to bustling campus life and contrasts the centre’s transparent glazing at ground level. At night, a dynamic display of multi-coloured lights glows in separate panels or in unison, transform the building into a work of art as a programmable and interactive light installation.
Artists are commissioned to create works of moving light. A mobile phone application allows real-time public participation to create light patterns of one’s own creation. Commissioned artworks are thus essential to the design of the building and to ensuring an ongoing vitality in the building’s relationship to the surrounding city.
An enthusiastic and collaborative design process was key to the project’s success. In addition to the technical design team, this included: a new campus master plan and visioning exercise, a very active building committee, a gallery working group, a facilities/operations working group, and a School working group. The process included multiple mock-ups and on-site group reviews during construction to ensure an optimal result.
The potential to create artistic light-based displays is being realized by RIC and the university. The first facade installation was a result of collaboration by Ryerson’s in-house New Media Faculty, students and David Rokeby, RIC’s artist-in-residence.
Further innovative applications of the lighting feature include public awareness campaigns, such as one about homelessness called In the Air, Tonight by Patricio Davila and Dave Colangelo.
This illuminated skin is in fact an advanced building envelope double-facade treatment floating off of the existing warehouse building’s brick façade, which creates a bright monolithic surface to act as a projection screen for the lighting system.
The lighting system serves as a beacon to attract interest in RIC itself, with its free public galleries and archives for the study and exhibition of photographic arts.
A deminstration of the Interactive App and the LED Lighting
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