words Kieran Long
Alsop Architects’ Sharp Center at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) in Toronto, Canada, has just been completed, turning the previously low-profile college into one of the most recognisable structures in the city.
The new centre provides 115,000sqft of new space for the country’s most prestigious art college in a landmark building designed to unify the existing site and accommodate a 50% increase in student numbers. It also forms a centrepiece for an already hip area just north of the commercial centre of Toronto.
The C$42.5 million (£17.27m) budget includes the construction of the spectacular new Sharp Center and the refurbishment of the college’s existing premises, creating a new three-storey Great Hall and a four-storey entrance lobby in the original brick building.
The extension is conceived as a tabletop, a translucent rectangle on stilts, 26m above street level, with pods slung underneath it and light chimneys on top. However, the pods, which will contain lecture halls, the design research centre and other spaces, will have to wait until phase two for completion. The building was raised on stilts in order to preserve neighbours’ views of the nearby park, and to provide an environment that Alsop has described as: “Slightly removed from the world.”
The Sharp Center, built in collaboration with Toronto-based Robbie Young & Wright Architects, houses mainly open studio space and some offices, all with extraordinary views of the nearby central business district, and punctuated by the diagonal steel beams of the structure.
The building is held up primarily by the concrete central core, and is built like half of a suspension bridge, with the windowless core equivalent to the tower at one end of a bridge, and the legs acting as suspension cables. The red tube leading from the belly of the building houses a fire escape stairwell.
Alsop’s project is the first to complete of a series of buildings intended to put Toronto on the contemporary architecture map. There are also buildings underway by Daniel Libeskind and Jack Diamond, and the new Art Gallery of Ontario by Frank Gehry, will be built next door to OCAD. Jamie Wright, partner of Robbie Young & Wright, says: “Toronto is traditionally a good place for contemporary architecture, but perhaps a little more conservative than, say, Vancouver. But we are in a renaissance of contemporary architecture at the moment.” Alsop is currently competing with Robbie Young & Wright on further projects in Canada, and was recently shortlisted for the Vancouver Art Gallery competition.