The Ontario College of Art and Design is Canada’s “university of the imagination” and it’s not hard to see why – the building itself defies the imagination – stacked atop colorful pixie-stick like pillars this lego-like structure seems to teeter above the roofline (it looks like a colorful version of those walking things in Star Wars).
OCADU is Canada’s largest and oldest known art and design university so it’s no surprise that when it comes to the architecture of the building, the approach is novel and unexpected amid a city skyline that is known for striking design.
The Sharp Centre for Design that makes up this quirky structure was designed by the British architect Will Aslop, of Aslop Architects, in conjunction with the Toronto-based Robbie/Young + Wright Architects Inc. Aslop’s work is as distinctive as it is controversial. This English architect has amazed and infuriated onlookers with his modernist designs, loud colors and unconventional forms.
Aslop told the CBC Canada his use of color and shape worked to aerate Toronto, and said the problem with most cities is a lack of refreshing color. His work on the Sharp Centre served as a launch pad for other Toronto architects, like Frank Gehry, who revamped the Art gallery of Ontario and Bruce Kuwabara, designer of the National Ballet School’s 2005 expansion.
Aslop’s prominent Sharp building has won numerous awards for design including the Royal Insitute of British Architects Worldwide Award, an award of excellence in “Building in Context” in the 2005 Toronto Architecture and Urban Design Awards and was also noted as the “most outstanding technical project overall in the 2005 Canadian Consulting Engineering Awards.
The Sharp Centre was built to accommodate an expansion of the growing campus. The college, the Province of Ontario and Rosalie and Isadore Sharp, who the building was named after, funded the unconventional structure. The striking building houses art studios, exhibit spaces, lecture theaters and faculty offices.
The Centre straddles the college’s existing buildings, creating a unique contrast between the conventional classroom structures and modernist space. Located on a modest side street sandwiched by two main commercial thoroughfares, Sharp Centre is surrounded by mid-rise housing, the Art gallery of Toronto, Gardner Museum of Ceramic Art, a community park and a food court. All of this adds to the tight-knit feel of a true artist community.
One of the best views of the building is from Grange Park, where the black and white structure seems to hover above the trees, creating a surprisingly beautiful contrast with the vibrant green grass of the park.
With his design, Aslop tackled the challenge of developing an urban setting and creating new space while preserving the old. The Sharp Centre builds a connection between existing buildings, but also provides additional civic space.
The Sharp Centre for Design was the College’s $42.5 million redevelopment project that was completed in September 2004. The Centre includes a striking “table top” parallelepiped structure that stands atop angled mutli-colored pillars. The face of the building appears to be pixellated as it is made up of a multitude of black and white squares. The Centre houses OCAD’s studio and teaching spaces and is connected to the older part of the campus by an elevator and stair core with a newly created entrance hall that marries the two styles of architecture. The new appears to float above the old, complimenting and building upon the design knowledge of generations.
The School and lifestyle
Established in 1876 by the Ontario Society of Artists and was the “first school in Canada dedicated exclusively to the education of professional artists in fine and commercial art.” Today it is the third largest art and design university in North America. The environment of the university creates a creative hothouse for ideas and inspiration amplified by the unique architectural style of the buildings. The structure itself challenges students to take risks and explore new ideas. Despite the university’s long history, it has proven that it can modernize, develop and stay on top of the latest artistic trends.
As impressive as the design itself, OCADU offers a wealth of creative educational programs with a variety of design and art programs unrivaled in Canada. Students here hone their craft in the heart of culturally rich Toronto. This thriving artistic community attracted professors whose work has been shown in the most renowned galleries in the region.
The college is a destination for Canadian artists, designers, creative thinkers and strategists. The campus architecture itself represents a philosophy of staying on the forefront of artistic creation while preserving the integrity of generations past.
OCADU offers Bachelor of Fine Art and Bachelor of Design degrees in industries from advertising to sculpture and printmaking. The liberal studies courses explore theories and ideas behind art while providing students with a historical context that applies to modern-day studio work in art and design.
The college bills itself as an institution that builds on traditional artistic strengths, but adds new approaches to cross-disciplinary collaboration and the integration of emerging technologies.
Both the design of the school itself combined with the educational philosophy and coursework proves that tradition and the cutting edge can mingle in a community that seems handcrafted for artists.
Taylor Drauden is a cosmetology college graduate but currently focuses her time freelance writing and blogging. Taylor tends to focus her writing on topics that interest her regardless of how bizarre they are but mainly focuses on covering college life topics and esthetician school advisement.
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