Canadian Consulting Engineer

Buildings: Ryerson Image Centre

December 1, 2012
By By Laura Eley Crossey Engineering





With a translucent facade that glows

different colours at night, Ryerson

University’s new centre for photography

creates an oasis of tranquillity

in downtown Toronto.

By Laura Eley

Crossey Engineering

Ryerson Image Centre in downtown Toronto caused a minor sensation when it opened on September 29th. The opening was appropriately planned to coincide with Nuit Blanche, Toronto’s all-night arts celebration.

Part of Ryerson University’s School of Image and Media Arts, the Image Centre houses the prestigious Black Star photography collection. Donated anonymously to Ryerson in 2005, the collection consists of approximately 300,000 20th-century pictures taken by prominent photographers from around the world. Obtaining ownership of such influential work has placed Ryerson in the international forefront of collecting, presenting, and preserving photographic history.

The Image Centre is located on Gould Street, northeast of Yonge-Dundas Square, in a building that was once a windowless brick brewery warehouse. With the recent renovations, the facility now contains a climate-controlled, museum-standard public exhibition space, as well as areas for research, study and the teaching of photography and associated disciplines.

The most striking feature of the new centre, making it a central feature of the Ryerson campus, is its facade. Above a clear glazed lower level is a double-skin translucent wall. The wall is lit by an LED system of lighting that transforms and changes colour.

Designed by Ion Luh, of Consullux Lighting Consultants in conjunction with Diamond Schmitt Architects, the lighting system and panels create the effect of a living, breathing structure that interacts with the space around it. The effect is of calm, rippling movement and interchanging colours and patterns, which are reflected in a landscaped pool below. The lighting sequence can also be synchronized with events happening at the centre, playing an important role in drawing people into the building.

Engineering the back-lit facade

To achieve a uniform projection surface for the lighting, the existing wall was levelled with stucco. It was then overlaid with an aluminum frame supporting structural glass 15 in. from the wall. Grey coloured glazing gaskets and sealants were selected along with a white dot frit gradient pattern to visually blur the frame and light.

Asymmetrical optics, which act as reflectors to redirect the light, and RGB-coloured LED fixtures with 1630 lumens per 3 ft. were then carefully positioned to cast a diffused beam across the stucco surface. This technique allowed for further light diffusion through the glass.

Prior to construction, various full-scale on-site mock-ups were created to refine the glazing system. The panels consist of two layers of low-iron glass, with a translucent white PVC obscuring layer sheeted in between. With the outer glass layer containing a white dot-pattern ceramic frit, a frosted effect is created and sustained as the visual field moves from one panel to the next, creating a soft, fluid ambience.

All efforts were made to keep the lighting consistent and to prevent materials and equipment from interrupting the flow of light. To prevent shadows from being cast on the wall, the electrical team at Crossey Engineering headed by Nao Nguyen and Arthur O’Connor designed special power and data cabling systems that could be carefully installed to sit within the frame and joints. Transparent gaskets and remote LED drivers were also used to ensure the wiring and fixtures remain invisible.

To witness the full impact of the Image Centre, the building must be viewed at night. While solar shading controls are built into the glass for optimal daytime performance, as evening approaches and students begin to scatter home, the panels radiate a comforting, colourful glow across the sky, akin to the setting sun, or the Northern Lights. On occasion, passersby are even able to use their cell phones and a special application to control the 16.7 million colour permutations the LED lights are able to produce. Like the artifacts inside, the building itself becomes an artistic attraction.

Mechanical systems – preserving the photographs

As well as engineering the building’s electrical system, Crossey engineered the mechanical system, which required special consideration due to the facility’s complex nature. Hossein Khoee, P. Eng. and Greg Woodhouse, P.Eng. served as Crossey’s lead mechanical consultants.

Consisting of multiple galleries, the main exhibition space is approximately 3,000 sq.ft. and is located on the ground floor. This main gallery and a gallery research centre on the second floor that is used to prepare and restore artifacts were designed to include a completely independent HVAC system. To ensure that artifacts could be easily transferred between them, the research centre was directly connected to the vault and gallery spaces below via a material lift located between pressurized vestibules.

The building’s mechanical system is able to operate on generator power during emergencies. It includes dedicated modular, water-cooled, scroll chillers that reject heat to dry rooftop coolers. The system allows the gallery to be cooled with chilled water year round while the campus chilled water is shut off.

The collections vault has a dedicated cooling and humidification system with 100% redundancy, as well as a clean agent foam fire suppression system to ensure the collection’s safety. The vault is controlled using a standalone control system that will alarm the building automation system of any problems.

Campus steam is used for the centre’s heating, with all condensate returned to the steam plant to ensure the plant’s efficiency. The radiant floor heat system uses dedicated hot water-to-hot water heat exchangers, with separate pumps that allow the floor system to operate at lower water temperatures. Meters monitor the use of all the services including water, steam and chilled water, to ensure efficiency. They are all connected to Ryerson’s main building automation system.cce

Project name: Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto

Client-owner: Ryerson University

Architects: Diamond Schmitt Architects

Mechanical & electrical engineer: Crossey Engineering

(Hossein Khoee, P.Eng., Greg Woodhouse, P.Eng,

Nao Nguyen, CET., Arthur O’Connor, CET)

Lighting design: Consullux Lighting Consultants: (Ion Luh)

Structural engineer: Halcrow Yolles


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