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Ryerson's learning centre a glass-skinned ode to ancient Greece

If anyone thought Ryerson University's new Student Learning Centre would fall in step with the historic architecture lining Yonge street, they will be disappointed by the contemporary glass and concrete design unveiled Wednesday.

"It shouldn't merge with the identity of Yonge street," said Craig Dykers, one of the principal architects for the Student Learning Centre. "Yonge has a commercial identity. The primary function (for the Student Learning Centre) is academic pursuit."

Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said it was difficult to design a structure for that location that would express the "vibrancy of Yonge Street but pedestrianism of Gould," but he thinks the design by Snøhetta of Oslo, Norway and Toronto-based Zeidler Partnership Architects meets those demands.

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The SLC, Ryerson's much-coveted stamp on Yonge street, is described by its creators as "Ryerson's window to the world, and the world's window into Ryerson."

The 155,463 square-foot "glass skin" building is a move away from the dim, closed spaces of traditional university buildings to the wide open expanse of the ancient Greek Agora (meeting place), explained Mr. Dykers. The centre will feature an elevated plaza, which is sheltered from the elements and will serve as a gathering place for students and citizens.

Each floor of the eight-storey building is themed and will serve a different purpose. The sixth floor, dubbed "the beach," is an open-concept space with "soft ramps and terraces" rather than table and chairs. The top floor is known as "the overlook" and with floor to ceiling windows allows a sprawling view of the city.

While the SLC will contain no books and encourages collaborative, group-style learning, it will have approximately 2,000 study spaces and will be connected to Ryerson's existing library at the second and third floors.

With at least 50 per cent of the roof dedicated as green space, SLC also has a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) grading of silver.

The total cost of the project is $112-million. The Government of Ontario announced in 2008 that it would invest $45-million in the project. The remaining 60 per cent will come from fundraising and money that the university has been "saving for a number of years," said Mr. Levy.

The centre is expected to be completed by winter of 2014, with construction to begin late this year.

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The Student Learning Centre is part of Ryerson's Master Plan, which includes a $60-million redevelopment of the storied Maple Leaf Gardens. The project, which was scheduled to be completed by the end of March, has been delayed.

Mr. Levy and Ryerson are also eyeing the plot across the street from the Student Learning Centre, where Thai hotspot Salad King used to be, as a subway entrance from Gould street. But Mr. Levy added that the university does not have the additional $8-million needed to build underground Gould street and does not want to disrupt the retail space attached to the Student Learning Centre, which will also run under the street.

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