Surface over Substance: A Retrospective Critique on the Architecture of 100 McCaul
Megan Krahn

If you’ve ever been disappointed with the interior of OCAD U, you’re not alone. My first day at school, I remember being excited to see the inside of the ‘tabletop on stilts,’ the ‘shoebox in the sky.’ The pet names are about as creative and inspiring as it feels when you finally enter 100 McCaul Street. I know better now, and when friends come to visit the school, I always make sure to prepare them for inevitable disappointment—softening the blow of finally seeing the lacklustre interior.

Just a few weeks ago at OCAD U’s annual open doors event, Look Inside, a visitor came into one of the shops and immediately launched into a spiel. “I’m going to be blunt… the outside of the building is really remarkable, but, when I came inside, it’s so… boring.” Preach it, my dear astute visitor. It’s the typical anticlimactic reaction to OCAD U’s architecture. One student actually tried to save this visitor’s experience: “Oh, this building isn’t necessarily that interesting, but if you want to go take a look at the original OCAD building it’s quite beautiful.” Now, the original building really isn’t much to look at, it’s nice, but it’s not exceptional.

If that is the standard for our building’s ‘interesting’ spaces to go visit, then we have failed miserably at exciting the outside public to come inside the school and see what we’re producing. We’ve also shown our own embarrassingly low expectations for what constitutes great working space. How students and the public perceive OCAD’s working space will also affect how they perceive the quality of the school as an educational institution. In light of OCAD’s latest government grant and renderings for the new addition, it’s about time for a retrospective look on how the last addition went awry, and a look on what might be different this go around.

Much of the initial Sharp Centre critique by the architecture community has been a disservice to architecture and OCAD students. The building’s external properties are what warrant its praise, as an interesting addition to Toronto’s skyline, a splash of color on the street, and a way of saving surrounding green space from being consumed by development. After these positives are discussed, however, internal flaws and spatial programming are flippantly disregarded—as though they aren’t the primary purposes of the building itself. Let’s have it then, a run-down of many of the architectural issues with OCAD’s Sharp Centre at 100 McCaul.

Will Alsop, the ‘bad-boy’ architect chosen for the addition, has openly stated that he’s bored by building details. Avoiding traditional presentation styles, he often paints abstractly and uses these as inspiration. But the original concept for the Sharp Centre is not what has ended up on the lot. The colourful tin siding was originally intended as a pure glass façade. The building was also supposed to be substantially larger, and although the size was reduced, its support system was still made so that it could be expanded in the future if needed.

The diagonal red staircase was originally supposed to be a grand staircase made of glass, used as a student art gallery and complete with a projection system to display work out into the courtyard. These plans were changed for building code and safety reasons, and the staircase is now essentially off-limits. You can enter without setting off the alarm, but if you linger for too long the security will come to remove you. When the red outer casing was proposed, the Faculty of Art saw it as a phallic, symbolic ‘fuck you’ from Design. Evidently, their concerns were met with that exact attitude, and now there’s nothing else I’ll be able to think of when I look at that red staircase.

The red staircase is still worth sneaking into because of the optical illusion it creates. The support beams are perpendicular to the stairs, which results in feeling as though you’re walking at an even elevation rather than walking downwards. It ends up feeling very similar to what it’s like walking when you’re under the influence, but at OCAD you can feel this way entirely drug-free. This might actually be the most interesting architectural feature in the Sharp Centre, if that’s not too sad a thing to say about the state of our school’s architecture.

Originally proposed, the 5th and 6th floors were meant to be flexible programming spaces, but the school, afraid of unconventional spaces (perhaps the “university of imagination” is not so imaginative) opted for more traditional classrooms. Lack of foresight now means that the new renovations include a move back towards that proposal from 2004, so that just over a decade after being built, the Sharp Centre will be drastically gutted and redone. If ever there were an argument for fast fashion’s move to the architectural world, this would be a prime example.

The overall layout of Alsop’s design is atrocious. Students regularly walk into the pencil-like stilts outside, and as a precaution, a flimsy announcement board had to be put up by the grand entrance circular staircase to prevent people from accidentally walking into it. Who thinks putting a staircase right in front of main service elevators is a good idea anyway?

Navigation is a joke, and students will warn you of the time it takes to find classes that are unfamiliar. Wayfinding can be integrated after construction, and isn’t necessarily part of every architectural design, but maybe in this case it should have been. The floor plan and class numbering system certainly haven’t helped it either way.

Before I came to OCAD I had heard horror stories of the disgruntled attitudes and grudges that form around elevator politics. The FuckYeahOCADU tumblr has many entertaining gifs on the sort of frustrations that occur at OCAD when people use the elevator to go from the 2nd to the 3rd floor. Most people aren’t even aware of the 5th elevator tucked in the west end of the building that only services the 1st to 4th floor, and possibly for good reason, considering it’s slow and feels like it could break down at any moment.

Then there are the secret spaces that, once you discover what was, will make you sad for what is. One example is in the main lecture hall, Room 190. It used to have a grand stage, but with the last set of renovations a wall was put up directly in front of it, shortening the room. The stage still exists though, hidden behind that wall, and is now used for the glorious purpose of storage.

From the most basic amenities, architectural interior design is lacking in forethought and sensitivity. Turning on a faucet on the 5th or 6th floor, you’ll notice an immediate gush of water that quickly tapers to an incredibly slow trickle. Bathrooms on the 1st to 4th floor have lights on the mirror/sink side of the space, but none on the side of bathroom stalls, which essentially leads one to locking themselves in a dark closet.

Suffice it to say, 100 McCaul Street is boring at best. But how did the renovation and addition of the Sharp Centre result in such a dichotomous building? The lack of sensitivity and attention to the interior of the building, and the reliance on the exterior concept as of utmost importance may be partly to blame. But the problems stem most likely from a lack of communication. Through the stages of the Sharp addition, faculty were given opportunity for feedback, but it was feedback offered to a moving train. The design was set and the main voices saying how that design should be implemented were people outside the community.

This differs from the current proposal. For the new OCAD addition, student groups and faculty have been actively involved in listing their needs for the building, a Christmas list of sorts. But there is still a lot of scepticism around how the design will be implemented. Lamenting at the lack of space, and bursting at the seams, students are becoming unsettled and disenfranchised with the economics and bureaucracy of the school. Stickers posted around the school dubbing it FUCKU in place of OCADU, vandalized posters of Sarah Diamond mocking the school’s hierarchy and commercialization, and graffiti in the yellow staircase express discontent.

When the budget gets tight for the new building, and it’s inevitable some things will need to be cut (architectural proposals are notoriously over budget), what will be the first thing to go? Studio space? Equipment? Services? Personally, I hope it will be the façade proposal for the building at McCaul and Dundas for more reason than one.

But speculation is not the most productive attitude towards the new building. As plans continue forward, a vigilant and curious spirit will be required to keep the institution accountable for the needs of student and faculty alike.

Links for Further Reading

Will Alsop’s Concept Drawings and Models


Sharp Centre Architectural Critiques



Proposed Renovation and Addition Plans/News:

http://www.ocadu.ca/creativecitycampus?_ga=1.239805955.1223740732.1442429433 (Official Website)



For Sparse Official News/Updates on School Spaces:


Useful Things to Know in and Around Campus
Kyla Friel & Ceara O’Malley

Did you know that as a student at OCAD, no matter what program you’re in, you can go into the first year shop on the first floor of 100 McCaul and use the band saw to cut pieces of wood? Did you know that, although OCAD doesn’t have a gym, the Grange Fitness Center offers student memberships for only $24/month? Did you know that OCAD has INTRAMURALS? Some of these things may seem obvious to you, but it seems like there is a huge discrepancy throughout the student body when it comes to knowledge of what OCAD offers its students. We’ve compiled a short list of some useful things to know about in and around campus, including neighbouring businesses.

  • The 1st year sculpture room, Room 170, is open to anyone when there are no classes scheduled. You can go in and use any of the tools—like the band saw, jigsaw, sander, etc.—no matter which program you’re in. There are also technicians throughout the week (times posted on the schedule!) that will help you with the tools if you don’t know how to use them. You can also purchase materials during technician hours.

  • AV Loans is located at Room 343 on the 3rd floor of 100 McCaul. Here you can rent cameras, tripods, lenses, cables, and other electronics, no matter what program or year you’re in. (The renting period is 24 hours and you will be fined if you are late!)

  • Tool Loans is located at Room 131 on the first floor of 100 McCaul, and is open to students in all programs in all years. You can rent hand tools, power tools, woodworking tools, lighting/electrical equipment, printmaking and installation materials.

  • Also located on the 1st floor is the Rapid Prototyping Centre (Room 130), with laser cutting, 3D printing/scanning, and CNC milling services. (This is not a free service.)

  • You can use any classroom in the building, as long as it isn’t booked. You can check which rooms are booked and when on the website: http://roomschedule.ocad.ca.

  • There is a spray booth located on the first floor right next to tool loans, where students can go in to spray paint art and use materials that are too toxic to be used in studios, like certain glues. The spray booth is open during all school hours, and Tool Loans has cheap masks you can purchase for use in the booth.

  • Located at 230 Richmond is the OCAD Archives, where you can go in and look at all the old OCAD work from generations past. However, a trip to the archives requires an appointment, so plan ahead!

  • The Learning Zone, located on the first floor of the Annex building (accessible using your student card), has many different resources for students, one being the plate station. Here, you can borrow cutlery, mugs, and plates if you forgot to bring your own.

  • The Student Union, located on the 6th floor of 205 Richmond, has a variety of resources for students at OCAD. Among them are:

    • A lawyer that is available for students who need access to one

    • Free contraceptives (including latex free condoms) and reduced-price Plan B

    • A Student Pantry that includes things like canned goods and emergency hygiene products for students who are in need

  • Hot Lunch is an event that occurs every Thursday at 2:30 pm in the Lambert Lounge (located on the first floor of the Sharp Building), consisting of an all-you- can-eat vegan lunch with gluten-free options. Hot Lunch has a recommended donation of $2-5, and everything is cooked in-house by the Student Union. The menu changes every week, and is always delicious!

  • If you’re sporty and are itching to play some friendly (but competitive) games, OCAD has organized intramural sports that operate every semester. The 2016/2017 Winter Semester offers Volleyball, Indoor Soccer, and Floor Hockey, and the signup deadline is January 12th, 2017.

  • Being an OCAD student has its perks, including various discounts at stores:

  • Mostly everyone knows that OCAD students get free admission to the AGO (and discounted special exhibit tickets), but did you also know you can get into the Textile Museum for free? (55 Centre Avenue, five minutes away along Dundas.)

  • Every Tuesday, the ROM offers free admission to students with a valid student ID. OCAD doesn’t have its own university gym, but the Grange Fitness Center offers student memberships for $24/month. The Grange Fitness Center has a variety of amenities and workout equipment, such as a heated indoor pool, cardio equipment, free weights, battle ropes, and areas for sports such as basketball and badminton.

  • Have extra art supplies taking up space in your home or locker? Need a tiny bit of material and willing to see if anyone is trying to get rid of some? Check out the Reuse Depot in the Learning Zone, which is a materials swap-space and accepts “used but usable art and design materials.”

  • Throughout various shops in 100 McCaul are Scrap Bins where students can discard any extra materials they didn’t use for their projects, and which are yours for the taking. What’s better than free material? (multiple locations: Foundry—Rm 151, First Year Shop—Rm 170, Wood Shop—Rm 115, Plastics Shop—Rm 117, Metal Shop—Rm 122, Hybrid Media Lab—Rm 358, DRPT Open Studio; Build Shop—Rm 475, Photography—Rm 409, ED and ID shop—Rm 515)