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By Shivan Micoo

They’ve won more than 100 awards for design, including six Governor General Awards for architecture. They’ve designed buildings in Prague, Jerusalem and Vancouver.

Now, they’re poised to make their mark at Ryerson. President Sheldon Levy announced last week that Toronto’s Diamond and Schmitt Architects have been chosen to develop and design a new three-level, 10, 500 sq. ft. Photography Gallery and Research Centre that will be worth $8.2 million.

Set to be built inside the Image Arts building on Bond Street, it will feature Ryerson’s historic Black Star photography collection, classrooms for two graduate programs, and several spaces for exhibits, galleries, storage and research.

Ryerson students and researchers will have access to the gallery archives too.

“It’s going to be fantastic,” said Gail Lord, president of Lord Cultural Resources – a museum design and consultation firm. She added that the new gallery will be “a permanent symbol of the importance” of Ryerson.

But not everyone is enthusiastic about this decision.

“It’s just bullshit, and you can quote me on that,” said Ana Kapodistrias, a second-year photography student. The current plan is to renovate and expand the north-west corner of the Image Arts building. This means that parts of the building – like the north end of the photography studio (currently used for storage) – will become part of the new gallery.

This, along with the hassle and noise of construction is a source of angst for Kapodistrias and others.

“In third and fourth year we do the biggest productions. That’s when we need the most space,” said Kapodistrias. “There isn’t enough space to begin with and now they’re taking up more.” The construction would be a “nuisance,” said Kapodistrias, adding that it would be disturbing to her and her colleagues. “Everyone’s mad about it; no one I know is happy.” Josh Garber, a second-year photography student, raised the same issues, “I like the idea of a gallery, but it’s taking up a lot of space,” he said. “They should make the gallery in another building.”

Garber also expressed concern with construction. “Construction results in a lot of dust and noise. It won’t be good for working and it could get in the way of learning.”

Levy said he made sure the gallery’s architects aligned their intentions with the goals of the Master Plan. He had some conditions that needed to be met before pen hit paper to create the drawings.

“The gallery not only had to meet the strategic content needs of the program, but also to add value to the whole university architecturally and environmentally,” he said, adding that the Image Arts building was a great candidate as it “needs all the enhancement it can get.”

He said about 10 other sites were considered, but in the end, the gallery went in the most logical place.

“I do think that’s where the faculty really wanted it.” Don Snyder, chair of the image arts program is pleased with the final choice of location, but said a lot of thought went into deciding where the gallery would end up.

“It kept turning out that no matter how you sliced it — economics, location, synchronicity with the Master Plan, ease of access, and the profile of the university — everything pointed towards putting it in this building,” he said.

Snyder acknowledged that scaling back on study space and construction delays and noise are unavoidable and expected. “There’s going to be a period of some difficulty, but you have to look at what you trade in the short term for what you get in the long term,” he said.

Snyder also said that a “staged construction plan with minimal interruption to the student body” is already in the works, and that this may involve finding alternative spaces and classrooms for students in the image arts program. “I can’t pretend that it’s going to be perfect…but you have to look at what you gain in the future,” he said.

Donald Schmitt, principal in charge of the project, said that there is a lot of unused space in the Image Arts building and that there are many old rooms that could be used during construction. “The end result will be a mix of study space and new space,” said Schmitt. “We have to find the right balance.”

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