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Ryerson University president Sheldon Levy has big plans for the once iconic record store site. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Ryerson University president Sheldon Levy has big plans for the once iconic record store site. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)


Making a mark on the Yonge Street strip Add to ...


Ryerson University is looking to take its place on the Yonge Street strip, tapping a team of local and international architects to present a new face to the city.

Toronto-based Zeidler Partnership Architects and Snohetta of Oslo, Norway, will design the school's new student learning centre on the former Sam the Record Man site. The duo's combined portfolio includes libraries in small town Ontario and in world centres. Snohetta, named after a mountain in Norway said to be the site of the legendary Valhalla, is best known for its design of the massive Alexandria library in Egypt, which draws nearly 10,000 daily visitors.

The Yonge Street building will be of a smaller scale - an estimated 10 storeys tucked between storefronts, busy thoroughfares and the existing library, but the vision is grand.

"The student learning centre will be a transformative building for the university and the city," said Ryerson President Sheldon Levy.

Mr. Levy has worked hard to promote the downtown campus as an important city builder and the Yonge Street project is the latest piece in that effort. Yesterday's announcement follows a deal to transform another Toronto landmark - Maple Leaf Gardens. The university and Loblaw Co. are redeveloping the rink, which will house the school's new athletic centre as well as an outlet for the grocery chain, which owns the site.

The new student learning centre is central to Mr. Levy's efforts to revitalize the infamous Yonge Street strip and connect the centre of the campus to the downtown.

Craig Dykers, principal architect and co-founder of Snohetta, echoed that vision in his description of the site. "This will be Ryerson's window to the world and the world's window into Ryerson," he said in a presentation yesterday.

The new student centre is more urban than his firm's other library projects, or even the Memorial Museum Pavilion at the site of the World Trade Center - another of its commissions. But Mr. Dykers hopes to incorporate the energy and life of the street in the project. The new building, which will include retail on the ground floor, also will influence the street, he predicted, in the same way Oslo's new opera house has changed its waterfront surroundings.

"It is not just because of the building, it is the people using the building," he said.

Senior partner Tarek El-Khatib, whose daughter is a third-year student at Ryerson, said the learning centre will link the city with the campus through its street-level stores and a possible subway entrance and will be a gateway to the school from the west.

The team won the commission because of their understanding of the site and their past projects. They presented no sketches to the selection committee of design ideas for the new building.

The design of the building, set to open in three years, will be developed through consultations with students and the university, Mr. El-Khatib said.

The university will keep the iconic Sam the Record Man sign, but is undecided about where to put it.

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