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When a building becomes a coloured image

An almost windowless brick building at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto has been transformed into a living light box, thanks to a translucent glass facade that lights up in an endless variation of colours.


Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto. Photo by Tom Arban/Diamond and Schmitt Architects
Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto. Photo by Tom Arban/Diamond and Schmitt Architects

An almost windowless brick building at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto has been transformed into a living light box, thanks to a translucent glass facade that lights up in an endless variation of colours.

The Ryerson Image Centre opened last weekend as part of Toronto’s Nuit Blanche, an all-night celebration of the arts. The building is dedicated to photography, new media, installation art and film. It includes research, collections and public exhibition spaces.

The signature LED wall was designed by the building’s architects Diamond and Schmitt, with VA Lighting, and Crossey Engineering (Ion Luh, Arthur O’Connor, Nao Nguyen) as lighting and electrical engineers.

To create the illuminated wall, first the building’s existing brick surface was covered with insulation and a smooth stucco finish to create a monolothic surface. Suspended on an aluminum frame and held five inches from the stucco wall is a second skin of translucent structural glass. Within the void LED lighting fixtures are carefully calibrated to shine back onto the stucco surface, which acts as a projection screen. The lighting also spills sideways onto neighbouring glass panels “to create a softened pixelization of the entire facade.”

The lighting has 16.7 million possible colour combinations. A professor at the university has designed an app that allows anyone with a smart phone to select light colours and draw on the facade. When more than one person is “drawing” in light, the effect is blended.

Designing the wall involved numerous on-site mock-ups and required special care in making sure the wiring and supports are invisible from the street during day and night. The glass panels themselves consist of two low-iron glass layers with a translucent white PVC obscuring layer sandwiched between them.