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Students give a new shape to King Street

Ryerson and City of Toronto collaborate on experiential learning opportunity with the King Street Transit Pilot
By: Will Sloan
July 03, 2018

Photos: Through ShapeLab, interdisciplinary student teams designed interactive installations for the King Street Transit Pilot. Photos by Alia Youssef.

An innovative learning experience is letting Ryerson students create interactive art installations for the King Street Transit Pilot.

ShapeLab, external link, a four-month experiential learning initiative, invited interdisciplinary student teams to design installations to add vibrancy to Toronto’s entertainment corridor. Four winning teams received $1,000 in prize money and up to $4,000 in prototype funding to make their designs a reality. The Ryerson students were also connected with real-world mentors—Ryerson faculty, city staff and private-sector professionals—for a hands-on learning opportunity.

“We told them that the activations needed to be fun and playful, and we might have even used the word ‘whimsical.’ We said they needed to encourage interaction between users and be accessible,” said Daniel Fusca, senior policy advisor in the City of Toronto’s ResilientTO, external link office. “The philosophy of ShapeLab is that through collaborations between students and faculty, Ryerson, staff at the city, and professionals, we can find innovative solutions to pressing urban challenges together. This initial iteration of ShapeLab is one example of how that can happen.”

“Specifically with the King Street Pilot Project, we all know how critical King Street is as a cultural spine of the City of Toronto,” said Andrew Misiak, co-ordinator of stakeholder engagement and special projects, Office of the Chief Planner of Toronto. “We wanted to give students the opportunity to take ownership in reimagining or re-visioning it.”

One team, “Imprint,” created a life-sized equivalent to the 3D pin-art boards that were popular in the ’90s. Using large and colourful wooden dowels, the project (located at David Pecaut Square) allows passersby to leave an indentation of their whole body. Another team, “Resonance,” created an interactive structure in which passersby could play drums, connected via steel wires that both transmit sound waves and create colourful light. “We created something that’s a musical performance in the day that also lights up King Street at night,” said team member Marwa Al-Saqqar.

“Installation requires human resource organization,” said Shengnan Gao, another “Resonance” team member, “and also, a lot of financial considerations. In studio, we set up our own schedule for the deadlines; for public installations, we really have to keep the time in mind. That’s a very different experience for me.”

“We went through many iterations of our design,” said Al-Saqqar. “Because it’s the city, you have so many guidelines and codes you have to follow to make sure it’s safe for the public. It was hard to see what the city wants while also expressing yourself, but nevertheless, you have to remember what your bigger concept is. … Once it’s in real life, there’s always that probability that something will change. We always have to follow what the city can accomplish within that time, and if any changes happen, you have to have a quick rebound. Your problem-solving skills become quicker.”

The project is a collaborative venture between Ryerson and the City of Toronto. It is co-ordinated by Ryerson’s Office of Social Innovation and Toronto’s City Planning Division, with support from the Office of Community Engagement, the Toronto Resilience Office, and students from the Design Fabrication Zone, the Ryerson City Building Institute, the Faculty of Community Services, and the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science.

“One of the main philosophies of this is to provide a real-world problem for students to fix,” said Misiak. “From my perspective, Ryerson has always taken pride in its reputation as a practical learning institution. They go out and fix things and have tangible results, and this really speaks to that. The students’ ideas and their professionalism throughout the whole program has really reflected well on Ryerson. It’s more than just a student project—it’s a real-world project.

“Imprint” and “Resonance” were unveiled at David Pecaut Square on June 25, with other teams installing designs on July 7. For more information on ShapeLab, please visit www.shapelabto.com, external link.