After "hundreds and hundreds" of hours of meetings to seek input, Emily Carr University of Art + Design is unveiling a design for its new Great Northern Way campus.
The plan is to create a flexible, futuristic and collaborative experience for Emily Carr's students, and a space that will serve as a crossroads between East Vancouver and the rest of the city, as well as the university and the public – and become a catalyst in reshaping the area known as The Flats.
"It is transformational in that it's developing in what was landfill and rail yards a kind of whole new, 21st-century smart neighbourhood that is built around the arts and art-making," architect Donald Schmitt said. "The institution [becomes] the kind of driver or the spark for a creative economy and a new community."
Mr. Schmitt of Toronto-based Diamond Schmitt Architects met with The Globe and Mail and Emily Carr University president Ron Burnett before a presentation of the design late Wednesday at City Hall. It will be officially unveiled at a groundbreaking ceremony at the end of the month.
Facing Great Northern Way, the 285,000-square-foot, four-storey campus will stretch 525 feet east to west, about the same length as the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Mr. Schmitt points out; it also has a similar height and depth. Three atriums will run the north-south length of the building, providing views of the mountains and dividing it into four wings.
The main entrance, near the university gallery and its two auditoriums, will be off St. Georges Plaza, a public space on the west side of the building.
A "friends and family" entrance on the east side of the school will be accessible through the East Arts Plaza. The exterior of the motion capture studio, which faces that plaza, will be outfitted with LED screens – programmable for films, videos and projections. A third public space, a pedestrian spine, runs the length of the building on the south side.
"This is the first part of what will be a dramatic change for the community – public space for the community," said Dr. Burnett, who points out that the ability to include the East Arts Plaza (12,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet) came about as a result of a height variance granted by the city; the project was initially supposed to be only three floors.
In addition to many windows, the building's white Kalzip aluminum and standing seam metal panel exterior will have a calm, neutral palette. But the team is considering ways to integrate punctuations of colour – perhaps even colours that can be altered depending on events, the season or whatever. "The building will look unlike anything in Vancouver ever," Dr. Burnett said. He added, "the goal is if you're coming by on the SkyTrain at 10 at night that you will see this golden jewel lit up on The Flats. It's meant to be a very intense provocation."
Inside, special attention has been paid to common areas to promote interaction ranging from interdisciplinary artistic collaborations to simple informal conversation. Liberal use of glass is meant to encourage transparency and collaboration. There will be ample flexible space for installation of student artwork. Walls and floors become canvases, literally, for students – who will be able to paint right onto them. The 400-seat theatre can transform into other types of venues – a ballroom, a cinema.
"Not an inch is wasted on this campus," Dr. Burnett said.
The province has largely financed the $122-million project, and the university has raised $17-million of its $21-million goal. Fundraising is believed to be easier once potential donors can see a design. Nothing is etched in stone (or aluminum) yet; some tweaking and massaging is still to be done to the design – but it is close.
"There's a very intense process happening now with the broad Emily Carr community," Mr. Schmitt said between meetings on Wednesday. "I think that thoroughness of consultation really is key to getting it right. When it opens we want the right pieces in the right place."
The dirt will begin to move this summer, he said, and the university will depart Granville Island for the new campus in the summer of 2017, with students beginning classes there that fall. And change in the neighbourhood seems inevitable.
"It's not simply a building," Mr. Schmitt said. "It's Emily Carr as an institution taking a leadership role in city building."