The transformation of the west wing of the Art Gallery of Ontario into The Weston Family Learning Centre punctuates the museum’s ambitious multi-phased renovation. The new Learning Centre offers a major collaborative hub for community creativity and learning, while increasing the AGO’S ability to provide stellar art education for children, families, and adults of all ages. It houses a community gallery, a hands-on centre for young children and their parents, three seminar rooms, an education commons, a youth centre for young adults, and an artist-in-residence studio.
Situated on the west side of the museum at the sub-basement and concourse level, the WFLC, is a transparent teaching interface, allowing the visitors, students and the community to experience the power of art. Active, hands-on, and social, the new Learning Centre is the city’s on-site and online studio for the celebration and teaching of art.
The facility, which opened in December 2011, is comprised of 35,000 square feet of distinguished spaces for accommodating approximately 80,000 students annually. The Client’s objectives were to create a space with increased: functionality; accommodating large groups, flexibility; maximizing program opportunities, accessibility; welcoming all users, integration; offering direct connection to the galleries above, transparency; a window into the creative process.
The new entrance at the corner of Dundas Street West and Beverley, welcomes students and users to the Learning Centre separate from the crowd of museum visitors. Further, the entrance is complemented by a lit staircase, featuring Evan Penny’s sculptures, leading directly to the Education Commons, where they are greeted by a light-filled central gathering space. The large glazed windows run the full length of the Beverley Street façade, bringing the city into the Learning Centre and taking the Learning Centre onto the streets. Robust and flexible, the Education Commons serves as multi-purpose space complete with a sculpted, kinetic coat rack, crafted seating and a vast view of the city activities. Further in, the carefully sculpted limestone walls lead to the seminar rooms, Youth Centre, administrative spaces and, ultimately, the heart of the Learning Centre: the Gallery School.
Accessible by a grand staircase cantilevered from the west wall, the Gallery School is a 6,000 square foot studio space that can be sectioned-off to accommodate various activities. Within this space floats a cantilevered, concrete Seminar Room with glass panels that look down onto the studio, further exemplifying the transparency between spaces.
The renovation and expansion of the Art Galley of Ontario made use of locally quarried stone, high-performance glazing, as well as advanced lighting controls, which contributed to its sustainability. The renovations have uncovered and celebrated, significant structural elements from the John C. Parkin building expansion; namely the exposed concrete and coffered ceilings. The additional materials—Algonquin Limestone, Oak, Coloured Concrete, Glass and Bronze—have been selected using local sources and are chosen for their warm and enduring qualities. At the concourse level, the entire west façade is glazed and opens to a newly planted, tiered copper beech hedge, creating an important “Green Zone”.
The Weston Family Learning Centre sets a standard for the teaching of art within museums around the world. It fully integrates technology in the meeting spaces—for educational and private functions—that includes broadcast and video-conferencing capabilities. By creating direct connection to the AGO’s galleries and archives, as well as enabling visibility and transparency, the Gallery School extends a privileged invitation to the community and students to witness and learn the making of art.