Student ServiceHub earns ARIDO award

Gow Hastings Architects give a 1970s-era space a modern remake at Ryerson University
Thursday, July 28, 2016
By Michelle Ervin

With its bright whites, coloured films and gigantic graphics, Ryerson University’s Student ServiceHub has been likened to an Apple Store, save for one important feature: its long, product launch-day lineups. That’s because the new home of the Registrar’s Office also has the efficiency of an ER, with queueing technology that lets staff triage students based on what brings them there.

The $2.5-million project, completed last summer, has just earned an Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario (ARIDO) award of excellence. The 13,000-square-foot renovation was conceived to improve the experience in one of the post-secondary school’s main touchpoints with students through modern aesthetics and technology.

The ServiceHub integrated undergraduate admissions, continuing education enrollment, student financial aid, curriculum management and records management into one location on the second floor of the Podium building, a 1970s-era Brutalist building. The Registrar’s Office’s functions were previously divided amongst a series of service counters on the first floor of the Podium building, where lineups snaked down the hallway.

“We internally would be referring students to different counters, so it was always a dream and a goal to have all the spaces together, where students can come, ask a series of questions and be served in one space,” said Kevin Goodchild, assistant director, client relations, Ryerson University. “It’s been on the radar for many years, but obviously, being a downtown campus, space is always at a premium; when the Student Learning Centre opened, it freed up this space.”

The new ServiceHub is equipped with a ticketing system that sends students text messages when they’re nearing the front of the queue, so they don’t have to physically stand in line — although they might just want to hang out now in the updated and more inviting surroundings. Valerie Gow, partner, Gow Hastings Architects, said the goal was to lighten and open the former cafeteria, which was previously characterized by Béton brut concrete and rust-coloured tiles.

The architects drew on natural light where possible. Student seating ranging from bar to standard heights and clustered around long communal and six-person tables spans floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the campus. The ServiceHub’s back-of-house space benefits from diffuse light pulled in through dusted crystal glass that obscures the view to an unattractive laneway. Where artificial light was necessary, natural light was mimicked with a colour temperature of 3500 Kelvin.

For openness, the Gow Hastings team established a clear view from the library, through the Podium building where the ServiceHub is located, to Jorgensen Hall. Before the design intervention, the three adjoining buildings lacked this sightline, causing wayfinding issues.

“What we were trying to do architecturally was connect the distinct buildings by creating a central spine; dropping the corridor ceiling and accentuating it with a row of linear LEDs,” said Gow. “Right now we’re renovating the adjacent student lounge as continuation of that language.”

A double-height atrium varies the space with halo-like pendant LED lights suspended over benches that echo their circular shape. The atrium had been occupied by an interconnecting stair, the removal of which required that two hour-rated glass be installed to meet code, as the building lacks sprinklers.

Light finishes, including ample use of durable Corian solid surfacing, contribute both to the airiness and brightness of the space. Blue, yellow and magenta accents, in Ryerson’s tertiary branding tones, create layers of privacy in their application on glass partitions, with their translucent film form providing the flexibility for inexpensive updates in the future.

An information desk identified with a lowercase ‘i’ supplements the ticketing system with ambassadors who can field general questions and help direct students. A self-service counter, which includes an accessible desk, gives students the ability to complete activities such as requesting a transcript.

The self-service counter features mirrored glass — the architect’s first application of this product — which provides privacy by making the computer screens it conceals visible only when switched on and only by its user. Behind the self-service counter, a gently bending wall — one of several curves the Gow Hastings team inserted into the rectilinear space to offset its hard lines — guides students to the back of house, where First Office Education Series service stations and dual computer monitors are positioned to maintain confidentiality as students pass through.

Inset floor boxes allow the mobile service stations — which are paired with the Humanscale World Task Chair, selected by staff vote — to be rolled off the open-concept floor space into custom cabinetry, making it easy to scale up or down depending on demand. Some private offices are assigned to certain functions, such as the administration of the Ontario Student Assistance Program, known as OSAP; however, other offices are available to step into if a student is dealing with an emotional issue, Goodchild said.

In another first for Gow Hastings, Ryerson agreed to use a carpet tile from an Interface collection whose content contains recycled fishing nets recovered from fishing villages in the Philippines. Although the project is not targeting any certifications, environmental considerations were made throughout, including the decision to integrate energy-saving occupancy sensors.

The project also provided the opportunity to integrate the VAV boxes into the building automation system, which came at the request of the operations and maintenance group, recalled Simon Di Vincenzo, project manager for the ServiceHub.

“If there is a too hot/too cold complaint, our operations and maintenance staff can make the necessary temperature adjustments directly from their office desks [now],” he said.

This type of input was collected early on in the roughly two-year project, which incorporated lots of lead time to get the large group involved on the same page. Construction itself spanned the summer of 2015, with a targeted completion date of late August, two weeks ahead of the fall influx of students.

Despite surprises, such as the incredibly uneven subfloor, which appeared to be the product of exposure to the rain during original construction, the ServiceHub was up and running in time for the traditional start of the school year.

“Students came from the stairwell that was there, and they walked out and [wondered aloud]: ‘Are we still in Ryerson?'” recounted Goodchild. “We’ve heard from alumni that have come in saying they wish that this was here when they were here, so we received a lot of compliments those first weeks and even still ongoing.”

Added Gow: “Our best feedback came from a student who said that this space reminded her of the Apple Store, only better.”

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.

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