When Dr. Sara Diamond announced the details of the Princess of Wales Centre for Visual Arts at OCAD University last week, more than mere numbers and practicalities were laid out for the audience about the future facility for the school in the Mirvish+Gehry development project currently in planning stages. It was obvious there was real excitement for the staff and students at OCAD U about their partners on this venture as she had this to say when introducing Craig Webb, Frank Gehry’s right hand at Gehry Partners: “Our opportunity to work with master architects who know exactly what it is to learn in an art school environment, exhibit in a gallery, and build the most exquisite galleries in the world, is one of the most amazing opportunities that this institution has ever faced.”

Craig Webb addresses the audience, image by Jack Landau

Webb was on hand to talk about evolving plans for the school's 25,000 square foot facility in the Mirvish+Gehry project, and for the project as a whole. “This project is all about art, which is the heart and soul of the project. The Mirvish Collection and the OCAD gallery spaces will be two really important anchors to the cultural core that extends down John Street from the AGO to further to the south. This will take its place with Roy Thomson Hall, with the Royal Alex Theatre, with the TIFF Bell Lightbox. I think of OCAD as the string of pearls that will connect it all together. We look forward to adding another piece that reinforces the cultural nature of the neighbourhood which is getting stronger and stronger."

Webb went on to say that the images shown so far are quite preliminary designs, essentially sketches. "We build lots and lots of models. These early designs will continue to evolve as we continue to refine, so the floorplans you have seen are going to evolve into really great spaces. The OCAD galleries and studios themselves are spaces that are devoted to the display of and teaching of art. It’s quite exciting at this early stage of the project to be able to work with OCAD in the development of them."

Early model of Mirvish+Gehry Toronto, image courtesy of Gehry Partners

Webb expanded his remarks to refer to the project as a whole, and reminded the audience of the earliest model presented last fall, and seen above. "In addition to the OCAD spaces, there is the Mirvish Collection, and I think not many people really understand the scope and ambition of the galleries that David Mirvish is trying to build. In their aggregate along with OCAD they are going to be some of the largest modern and contemporary art galleries in Canada. Any of you who has seen David’s collection will have seen some of the very large canvases he has, and we are looking forward to designing rooms to best display that kind of art.

"The neighbourhood is really important to what we are doing. We believe in building cities and neighbourhoods, so in the base of the building we are trying to enliven the street space by bringing retail space and restaurants that create a pubic realm which will be active most of the day and into the evening."

Ground floor plan for Mirvish+Gehry Toronto, image courtesy of Gehry Partners

Webb went on to talk about how the plan has been evolving as of late. "Frank’s ambition is to create three towers with three individual identities, and then all of those identities come together in the podiums of the building where the OCAD and Mirvish gallery spaces are located. We really want to enhance the public realm by creating a free-flowing podium. The vision is to activate the street space all the way around the project including on the side streets and Pearl Street, a back lane. Entries to two residential towers are on Duncan and John Streets and will bring life to them."

Cloud podium concept, image courtesy of Gehry Partners

Webb was a little hesitent about slowing a new model as Gehry Partners has encountered derision from some members of the public who have trouble seeing a finished building coming out of the inspirational early designs. Still, a more recent model was shown to help explain the direction that the latest thinking about the project is going in. "This is a new model. Frank does a sketch and then I do a model. It’s a tennis game back and forth. This model shows the direction that Frank wants to head in, the idea that the podium becomes a single architectural expression, and that the towers with their individual identities then emerge from what Frank is describing as a cloud… and now we have to figure out how to build that!"

Webb wrapped up his talk with a reassurance of the firm's committment to the standards for the project laid out by their client. "When we first started the project, David Mirvish challenged us to create three great sculptural pieces for the Toronto skyline, and we are committed to doing our best to try to deliver that."

Craig Webb of Gerhy Partners, image by Jack Landau

The second public consultation on the project happens this everning at Metro Hall. Craig Webb and David Mirvish plan to be on hand to talk with interested parties about the plans.

More images of the project can be found in the UrbanToronto dataBase entry for the project, linked below. Want to get in on the conversation? Come out to the public consultation, leave a comment below, or choose the assocaited Forum thread link below to join in there.

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