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OCAD University’s Sharp Centre for Design turns 10

The building has been called “courageous, bold and just a little insane.”

By NATALIE SAMSON | SEP 10 2014
The Sharp Centre has been called “courageous,
bold and just a little insane.” Photo by Sam Javanrouh.

When OCAD University unveiled the Sharp Centre for Design in 2004, as part of the school’s $42.5-million campus makeover, the public quickly took sides. “No one was indifferent,” recalls Will Alsop, the architect behind the Sharp Centre. “People either really loved it or hated it and to me that’s always a good sign.”

One look at the bold building and it’s clear that the avant-garde British designer was angling to get tongues wagging with his creation: a two-storey black and white pixelated “tabletop” structure perched 26 metres in the air atop 12 solid-colour angled steel legs and an exposed black elevator core, finished with a red emergency exit stairwell “tube.”

The building has received its share of accolades, including the Royal Institute of British Architects International Prize in 2004 – they called it “courageous, bold and just a little insane” – and an award of excellence at the Toronto Architecture and Urban Design Awards in 2005.

Indeed the building seems to have ushered in a decade of good fortune for OCAD U. The institution transitioned from art and design school to university in 2010, improved its enrolment numbers and attracted international acclaim. Along the way, the Sharp Centre – which houses the faculty of design, classrooms and collaborative workspaces – has reached iconic status in downtown Toronto.

“It helped to aerate the architectural conversation in Toronto … and paved the way for other things to come,” Mr. Aslop says. The playful Sharp Centre was followed by Frank Gehry’s masterful 2008 redesign of the neighbouring Art Gallery of Ontario and by Daniel Libeskind’s prismatic 2007 remodel of the Royal Ontario Museum, just two kilometers north of campus.

OCAD U president Sarah Diamond says the centre, named after benefactors Rosalie and Isadore Sharp, continues to make a powerful visual statement, proclaiming the institution as one that is “bold and thoughtful, aesthetically engaged and forward-thinking.”

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