Courtesy of Ryerson University

Urban Umbrella comes to campus

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By Ramisha Farooq

The time of traditional plywood scaffolding and sidewalk sheds is over as the new Urban Umbrella, unveiled at Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre at Yonge and Gould streets, brings a new, elegant design element to construction sites in Toronto.

On Oct. 25, Urban Umbrella formally announced the university’s sidewalk sculpture as the first of its kind in Canada to replace what Ryerson president Sheldon Levy called “ugly” wooden boards.

“I think [the Urban Umbrella] should be a minimal requirement [in Toronto]. I think that we can even do better,” said Levy. “If you go to European cities, you would never, ever see what we put up. It would not be allowed.”

The new structure, which resembles an unfurling umbrella, is made of high-strength recycled steel and translucent plastic panels. Lit naturally during the day and by LEDs at night, the Urban Umbrella is designed to be a safe and unique alternative to wooden scaffolding.

“What is seen on the streets hasn’t changed in 40 years. We now have a team that has thought about this through and through,” said Ward 27 councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. She first saw of the design in an architectural magazine and was eager to persuade developers to use it.

“[Wooden scaffolding] was putting pedestrians in harm’s way,” said Wong-Tam. “I’m surprised we haven’t done it sooner. It’s a step in innovating as a city.”

The Urban Umbrella design was championed by Young-Hwan Choi, Andres Cortes and Sarrah Kahn from Agencie Group in New York.

It garnered attention after winning an international design competition organized by the New York City Department of Buildings.

Agencie Group’s design was then used for several building projects in New York and embraced by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had been looking for a solution to the dark mazes latched to construction sites.

With more than 80 new construction sites in the downtown area that use wooden shedding – and 137 open development applications in the works – Toronto has become a metropolis like New York City according to Wong-Tam.

Levy said that the addition of the Urban Umbrella is another step in the undertaking of Ryerson’s Master Plan.

“Our master plan is all about design excellence,” Levy said Thursday.

The blueprint for university advancement, approved by Ryerson’s Board of Governors in 2008, outlines the university’s need to add quality space for students along with academic and research facilities.

Upon the completion of Ryerson’s Student Learning Centre in 2014, the Urban Umbrella will be taken down.

But for now, it’s sparking big change in the city of Toronto: One Bloor condominiums is also adopting the urban umbrella structure.

“This is the story about a city saying yes,” said Wong-Tam.


  1. I have recently walked under this scaffolding, and to tell the truth I didn’t feel safe. The scaffolding that was there before wasn’t bad, and seemed much stronger and safer. Has this new scaffolding been engineered? And furthermore, why did Ryerson use an American company? I looked up the previous company that already had scaffolding installed and they were Canadian, was this paid for twice?

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