This is one of several articles covering the October 1, 2012 announcement of Mirvish+Gehry Toronto, a condo and culture complex proposed for King Street West in Toronto. The buildings would replace white-painted mid-rise brick warehouse/office conversions and the 1993-built Princess of Wales Theatre. In place of the theatre, the project proposes a new campus for OCAD University, an OCADU gallery, a 'Mirvish Collection' gallery for David and Audrey Mirvish's significant collection of modern art, and new shops to support the residents both above as well as the growing downtown community as a whole. All of this is meant to create a vibrant, engaging streetscape above which three landmark towers in the 80-storey range will rise.

Craig White and Nigel Terpstra of UrbanToronto talk with Dr. Sara Diamond, President and Vice-Chancellor of OCAD University about what Mirvish+Gehry means for the school.

CW: This is an extremely exciting announcement for all involved, and especially for OCAD.

This is fantastic for OCAD University. You know, we've worked with great architects before, we've worked with Will Alsop who built the Sharp Centre. It was so controversial when we announced it to Toronto, and now of course it's one of the most successful buildings and a huge tourist attraction. Now we have been presented with another incredible opportunity to work with a brilliant, world class architect who is so knowledgable about galleries.

We have a strategy to spread out from the McCaul Street spine, as I like to describe it, into the Creative and Entertainment District. Having an OCAD University presence which stimulates all kinds of great economic development is fantastic for our students. OCAD University believes in bridging that space between the students and the public. We have a really significant collection at OCAD University which does not see the light of day, and this will make it available to the larger public. It includes a phenomenal faculty collection spanning 136 years which we will be able to exhibit now in a faculty gallery, as well as work by our alumni. The Public Centre for Visual Art, Curatorial Studies and Art History, which is what this campus is, means that our print program, our studios - because there will be student and continuing studies learning centres here - and our publication division and our archives, all of those will have an interface with the public. So we’re very very excited about this: this makes a King West a street that celebrates visual art and cinema.

OCAD University's Sara Diamond talks with UrbanToronto at Mirvish+Gehry launchOCAD University's Sara Diamond talks with UrbanToronto, image by Jack Landau

When David Mirvish contacted me and said he wanted to work with OCAD University it was like a dream come true. We have the least space of any university in Ontario, and we are one of the most popular universities in terms of enrolment. We’re growing exponentially, we’ve got 4300 students now, a great graduate programme, we’re going to continue to grow, and this is a means of providing excellent, high quality space for our students.

CW: At UrbanToronto we love the nitty-gritty, we love the numbers and the details. Do you know how many square feet you’ll have?

We have 25,000 square feet in this first tower.

CW: The east tower?

Yes, at the corner of Duncan and King. We also have our Digital Media Research and Innovation Institute at the corner of Duncan and Richmond so it’s really almost kitty corner which is fantastic. We own two buildings, at 230 and 240 Richmond, stay tuned for exciting announcements eventually as we are doing some interesting things there,  and this really allows us to continue that proximity. We have a very close relationship with the AGO - they co-teach one of our graduate programmes - and we work with TIFF - we’re planning for a major archive project with them funded by Heritage Canada - and we love that kind of interplay with these really major institutions and ourselves. We have a history of being an exhibiting institution, we are investing in and building out our gallery system, we have another gallery opening on Richmond West in two years…

CW: At Studio.

Yes! And that will be a Contemporary Art and Design and Digital Media gallery. We have a graduate gallery that’s at 205 Richmond West, and we still have a gallery space at 100 McCaul. Our next big plans are for an aboriginal gallery.

CW: The Mirvish+Gehry project brings you to a new plateau.

It’s really exciting for the institution. There’s the international recognition for working with Gehry, we have had a very close relationship with David Mirvish over the years, this is a product of that relationship. He has been a donor to the institution and a big supporter, and this is a great continuation of that.

NT: Do you have any direct involvement with Gehry’s office?

There is an intermediary in that process, but we’re not really there yet. There is a general blocking out of the space and what will go in it but now the conversations begin about how that space will be designed.

NT: Tell us more about OCAD's partnering with developers and putting university uses into larger buildings; is that something you are going to continue to pursue in the future?

That is actually one of my strategies as President. We started that quite a number of years ago and we’ve seen it been increasingly successful. We have a development that’s opening that will have condominium space for visiting artists and faculty; then there's the success of the Studio development. For me it’s one of the ways, frankly, of assisting the development community to be really responsible citizens, in providing excellent public space, in supporting not-for-profits and universities, and frankly in upping the value of good architecture. Having an art and design institution as part of a partnership tends to put a little pressure on the need for good architecture and sustainable builds. In terms of density, as long as the buildings are sustainable buildings, it’s way of ensuring that there’s a work/living/transportation proximity. You have to build densely in order to do that, and sometimes you have to lose beautiful historical buildings as part of that transformation. I don't think that should be done lightly, I think you only do that when what’s going to replace that history is of superior excellence.

NT: How receptive has the development community been to this whole process?

I think they’re more and more receptive to this process. We’ve had some really great conversations with them and it has born fruit. This is one example.

OCAD University's Sara Diamond talks with UrbanToronto at Mirvish+Gehry launchOCAD University's Sara Diamond talks with UrbanToronto, image by Jack Landau

CW: And at Studio with Aspen Ridge.

Yeah, it’s been a pretty fantastic relationship with Aspen Ridge, we’re really proud of that.

CW: Is OCAD’s space in Mirvish+Gehry considered part of the community benefits?

Yes, it’s Section 37, absolutely.

CW: So this is a gift to OCAD from Mirvish and ProjectCore.

That’s right. That bylaw, which you know of course is Ontario legislation that the City administers, is one of the most important levers that the City has, and we really need to sustain that. So for us as one of the big institutions around this area, it’s been very important for us to work with the development community, and you see the fruition of that. It won’t be the last venture we do, that’s for sure.

Interloping Reporter: Can I get your opinion on this campus project? What do you think about it?

Well, Gehry builds gorgeous buildings and I am really confident that it will be spectacular. I am very excited that Frank Stella is included in the thinking about the interior spaces. It’s always really hard to look at maquettes and know - I was reading the social media over the weekend and thinking this is a difficult conversation because people can’t really imagine what this is going to look like - but I travel a lot so I’m in cities in China, and in Singapore, where there’s now a strong presence of very high-end, more adventurous architecture, and there’s been more of an appetite for that than in Toronto, and there are beautiful buildings that can built with that kind of height. I love the idea that the podium floor space is going to be highly articulated as well, and engaged with the street, and that we will live in there.

UrbanToronto thanks President Diamond for speaking with us.