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Brightening up the AGO

Photos by Gerald Querubin, courtesy Entro G+A

Photos by Gerald Querubin, courtesy Entro G+A

By Udo Schliemann
The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) recently developed a new facility with Toronto-based Hariri Pontarini Architects (HPA) to expand its ability to serve the public through art education. Representing the renovation of approximately 3,252 m2 (35,000 sf) of the AGO’s space in downtown Toronto, the Weston Family Learning Centre (WFLC) is designed to serve as a social hub for creativity, community and education, providing direct and hands-on encounters for visitors young and old with art, artists and the creative process in a studio setting.

Specifically, the project was intended to allow the AGO to extend the range and reach of its educational programs to larger and more diverse audiences through the following means:

  • A new profile, with a dedicated public entrance at the building’s western corner on Dundas Street ensuring a highly visible presence for the WFLC, most of which is in a basement.
  • Direct gallery access from the WFLC for students and teachers who would not otherwise be able to participate.
  • Double the previous capacity for students, by creating a new, larger entrance and exit ramp.
  • Custom-designed, dedicated spaces to welcome students and teachers, including lockers, lunch facilities and orientation room.
  • Corresponding online educational programs and resources to reach audiences throughout Ontario, especially teachers and students.
  • The new Neighbourhood Access program, offering free admission to schools within walking distance of the AGO.
  • A public showcase for community-created art, including the In Your Face exhibition of portraits submitted by people around the world.
  • An artist-in-residence program with master classes and instruction for advanced students and fellow artists.
  • Direct public access to practising artists at work in a studio space.
  • Expanded research and program evaluation practices to measure results.

Toronto-based design firm Entro G+A was tasked with developing an environmental graphic design (EGD) scheme for the vibrant and elegant yet also highly functional space. In keeping with the aforementioned project goals, the signs and other elements would need to be durable, flexible, accessible and well-integrated, welcoming visitors into the space and inviting them behind the scenes.

A dedicated public entrance provides visibility for the Weston Family Learning Centre, most of which is in a basement of the AGO.

A dedicated public entrance provides visibility for the Weston Family Learning Centre, most of which is in a basement of the AGO.

From fundraising to wayfinding
At the outset of the project, a team of designers at Toronto-based Gottschalk+Ash International (G+A) won a competition to design the AGO’s fundraising brochure and the identity for the new learning centre. Once they started working on the book, the client suggested it would simply be natural for them to handle the wayfinding design as well.

Work on the learning centre’s identity was complete by June 2010, followed by the brochure in September and wayfinding development in November. It was a somewhat challenging transition. The logo on the brochure had been devised to express openness and experimentation, with a sketchy sensibility for finding one’s way, so it was not easy to turn that loose shape into an actual, dimensional sign.

Also, whereas the brochure was geared to catching the attention of high-profile donors, the wayfinding system would need to speak to a broad audience in a very functional manner.

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