The Quad Student Community at York University

Submitted by ARK

3+

Client: FCS Development Corp.

Location: Toronto, ON, Canada

Completion date: 2017

Artwork budget: $297,000

Project Team

Architect

Guela Solow-Ruda

ARK

Architect

Christophe Gauthier

ARK

Architect

David Abernethy

ARK

Artist

Nicolas Baier

Art Consultant

Brad Golden

Brad Golden + Co.

Client

Henry Morton

FCS Development Corp.

Overview

Spanning 2 city blocks and 6 storeys in height, the unprecedented scale of the Quad Student Residence speaks to the role of architecture defining the city as art – as a cultural public realm. The collaboration of city, university, developer, architect, artist and constructor celebrated innovation in terms of policy, urban design, narrative and building technology. The development framework was created by the municipal planning requirements that mandated the ‘Percent for Public Art’ program, endorsed by the university’s support of the ‘building as art’ concept and embraced by the design/development team who challenged the creative design, technical and procurement process.

Goals

The notion of integrating public art and architecture was central to the architectural design from the outset. The architectural team explored a diverse array of cladding material options and design techniques to give prominence to the public art on a large scale and from a distance, emphasizing its impact not only at the local street intersection but also to the larger campus. Founded on classical urban traditions, initial designs conceptualized the building itself as public artwork. Juxtaposing the ‘traditional city’ against the ‘modern urban experience’, the built-form contrasts the rigorous geometry of the traditional courtyard building with a contemporary composite aluminum clad façade. Engraved or ‘tattooed’ into the cladding is an abstract narrative. This public scale collision of the figurative and abstract against geometric and orthogonal invites theoretical investigation – the essence of higher education – and encourages the city to be experienced physically with the body and abstractly with the imagination. The familiar courtyard typology is, therefore, re-imagined as a blackboard, screen or tableau for exploring the pursuit of knowledge. The striking black material anodization allows the engraving to be visible from afar, marking the site with art/architecture as campus gateway and serving as an urban anchor.

Process

The scale and complexity of this vision required extensive collaboration. The architect sought to engrave a non-corrosive aluminum panel system, which involved construction industry collaboration to experiment with pre-finished pigments, graphic line-weight prioritizing visual contrast, appearance and durability. The developer created a procurement method for financing this public scale experiment. The City Public Art Commission and University actively participated in a Jury to select the artist who created a visual narrative that represents a network / branching system, which evokes both classical references to university traditions and progressive scientific research. The art illustrates interconnections that form our internal world and external universe, explores extending tendrils of ivy, our neural networks and the shape of super clusters that comprise galaxies beyond our reach. The construction shop drawings involved extensive artist/architect/constructor collaboration to create a base panelization ‘map’ numbered 1–871 for the art graphic to span the entire building exterior. In the context of construction sequencing and strict schedule milestones, the complexities involved sourcing a CNC fabricator to engrave the panels without scratching the black surface pigment. In addition, the installation – like a massive urban jigsaw puzzle – required close teamwork between the site construction crew, development manager and design team.

Additional Information

During the early visioning phase, the developer/architect team engaged York University and the City in extensive discussions resulting in a collaborative vision for public art in the context of the larger university campus’ urban design. Located at the campus perimeter, the project marks the streetscape intersection, knitting the campus into the city. The strategic placements of the buildings as public art identify architecture/art as having an important urban design role, defining a campus entrance gateway. The quality of built-form and unique artistic expression celebrate the University’s edge and welcome the city to York University.