February 6th, 2004
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alma mater

The Ontario College of Art and Design is in the process of being redesigned, a large new addition has become the focus of much worldwide attention. Much like my thoughts on Salinger I cannot determine if the architect is brilliant or possibly mediocre. The addition might be described as a large box perched on top of several coloured “straws”. Insect like it hovers what seems like miles above the old part of the building, (though in person it does not seem nearly as tall as the drawing).
An article in the New York Times is titled, “How to Make a Building Fly”.
I am excited that the College is finally taking a major risk in terms of design, and not doing the safe thing. (Isn’t that the role of an art school? To push the boundaries of our society at large? To be daring and fearless? To experiment?) The architect Will Alsop says that he “sees happiness and joy in life’s essential drudgery.” A beautiful thing no? I heartily agree with him on that note, and try to put that into practice in my daily life. Except my first reaction upon seeing the drawings of this new addition was a sensation of aching arms. You see one thing about art school is the incredible amount of ‘stuff’ one is required to lug around on a daily basis. A short list, portfolio, large masonite drawing board (read: heavy), sketchbook, a tool box of supplies including any and all kinds of art supplys you can think of, depending on your program you could have any number of materials (bike parts, metal sheeting, wood). Now I find that as an occasional guest lecturer I am also plagued with a lot to carry to the classroom, (laptop, samples, portfolio).
A quote from the architect himself:
“As an architect, our mission statement is just to make life better. It’s a very simple statement, but quite hard to do. In the end it has nothing to do with style or anything else.”
The main access to the new addition appears to be one LONG flight of stairs up to the centre of the insect. I wonder Mr. Alsop, if this might be a bit of a contradictory move on your part to making the life of the student and faculty ‘better’. Did you, (as Jane Jacobs recommends), sit for a time and watch the movements of the art students? Did you notice the patterns their feet made while walking back and forth? Did you consider what it means to be weighted down by the stuff of creativity? (Yes, there are elevators but I find these to be a poor substitute for thoughtful layout).
What I will say is that when I walked past the building a few days ago I found myself grinning, so maybe that is a good sign. I will try to remain open and ignore the screaming of my arms.

 
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