Mysterious Church Street structure explained

Text by Anam Latif
Camera and editing by Nicole Servinis and Amir P. Tabrizian-pour

The Student Life Centre mock-up on Church Street is going to stay put for at least another year instead of being torn down in November as originally planned.

The mock-up, which looks like an art installation, is a smaller version of the curtain wall that will envelope the exterior of Ryerson’s new SLC building at the corner of Yonge and Gould Streets.

It cost the school $225,000 to build the mock-up for the curtain wall that will be made of a triple-glazed, high-performance glass that conserves energy. Curtain walls are crucial in Canada because they control temperature and protect the interior of the building from outside elements.

Colours, textures and the way joints work together are all examples of why a physical representation is often required when building a curtain wall.

Project manager Peter Vankessel said in an email that the mock-up was built as a “decision making tool that would demonstrate as many geometric and visual cladding relationships as possible.”

While mock-ups are common practice for many architectural firms, Yew-Thong Leong, an associate professor of architecture at Ryerson and a managing director at SSG Architecture Inc., says that this particular mock-up was not necessary to build.

“It has less to do with testing in my opinion and more to do with visually seeing what [Ryerson] is buying,” he said.

But this is one of the reasons mock-ups are built in the first place.

Colours, textures and the way joints work together are all examples of why a physical representation is often required when building a curtain wall.

This particular curtain wall is an unusual design for North America, Leong said, but added there was a lot of excitement when the European-inspired design was unveiled.

The award-winning design was created by European architect Snøhetta in collaboration with Toronto’s Ziedler Partners.

The curtain wall will cost $8 million of the total $112 million allotted for the SLC building.

Leong said he appreciates the need for the SLC’s architects to build a curtain wall mock-up for such a unique design. He just says he probably wouldn’t have done it himself.

Advanced software, like the program Revit, that uses parametric modelling, allows the ability to determine faults in a curtain wall design.

And Leong says modern architecture can get away with not building elaborate mock-ups like this one.

“Maybe it’s a level of confidence the university wants, maybe its $250,000 well spent,” he added.

Placing a mock-up off site is highly unusual but this location, just north of Gould Street near the Rogers Communications Centre, was chosen because there wasn’t enough space on the construction site itself.

Vankessel says that the mock-up was a useful reference tool for the construction and design teams.

Leong said that in his own work he prefers to dismantle the mock-up and reuse the materials on the curtain wall itself. But he does agree that the cost of the completed curtain wall – at $8 million – is quite standard.

Although the SLC project team has not decided what will be done with the mock-up after the SLC is complete, it seems like reusing the materials could be an option.

While Leong says he thinks that some of the cost of the mock-up could have been spared, other architects think it is money well spent.

After all, the cost of the mock-up is a drop in the bucket compared to the $112 million the whole building will cost.

Ryerson’s architectural program offers many courses in building envelope systems.

Vankessel says that another reason for the placement of the mock-up was so the architecture department could use it as an educational tool.

Leong said he hasn’t used the curtain wall mock-up as a learning tool for any of his students, but it is possible that architecture students may have studied the mock-up in their own personal time or in other classes.

As for the miniature building staying in place for longer than originally slated, Vankessel said that it will “continue to serve as a quality control reference for the installation process.”

The SLC building is expected to be complete in the winter of 2014 with an opening date expected for January 2015.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on September 25, 2013.

This post had been updated to reflect Yew-Thong Leong’s proper job titles.

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