The Catalyst - Entry Header

Ryerson University’s The Catalyst

As part of Ryerson’s Faculty of Communication and Design (FCAD), The Catalyst was envisioned as a new large-scale space for the faculty’s scholarly research and creative activities in a variety of programs in media, design and fine arts. Each FCAD program attracts talented students both nationally and internationally who go on to provide much of the creative talent for Canada’s cultural and communication fields.

The curriculum combines ‘in-depth professional practice with theory and contextual studies, emphasizing experimental learning in and beyond the classroom.’  The Catalyst, as Ryerson’s newest incubator for research, is a thought-laboratory to provide talented faculty and students the kind of flexible space to pursue nationally and internationally recognized research and creative activities.

This renovation project on the second floor of the Rogers Communication Centre (RCC), recognized that the 1992 building lacked the open welcoming connectivity to support their collaborative goals.  The dated finishes and overall impression of the building were not in keeping with the innovative and forward-looking new facility.

Comprising two distinct spaces, 9,000 sq. ft. and 2,100 sq. ft., separated by an atrium, the challenge was to visually link the two spaces.

The design team utilized a multifaceted approach to tackle the many challenges of this project. The team worked with the client to first create a feasibility study to determine the project’s overall viability and goals. Valuable insight into the needs of the various user groups and the programmatic requirements were then used to inform the next phase of the process.

The original space was a maze of offices, storage, workrooms, edit booths, and classrooms. The desire was to create as much open and flexible research workspace as possible.  New offices and meeting spaces were located to allow for clear views into the central space and beyond with a new large window to allow natural light into the communal workspace. The generic office space allows resident projects/institutions to be reassigned as research teams change allowing for maximum flexibility. The Catalyst is already home to 14 residents such as the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre, the Centre for Free Expression, the Documentary Media Research Centre, the Audience Lab, the Centre for Fashion Diversity & Social Change, and the Future of Live Entertainment Lab, to name a few.

Using REVIT, the design team was able to readily present 3D views to help the stakeholders better understand the size and relationships of spaces and to aid in the decision-making process.

grey container


Toronto, ON

Gross Project Area

11,100 sq. ft


Ryerson University


Completed 2018

Project Value

$1.7 M

Project Team

Jonathan Kearns, Donna Dolan, Kevin Khou

Project Awards

VODA (IDC Value of Design Award) Award of Merit for Innovation in Institutional/Educations/Civic Design, 2019

Consultant Team

Smith + Andersen (Mechanical & Electrical), Entuitive (Structural), LMDG (Code)


Greg van Riel Photography

The Catalyst - Plan

The Catalyst Furniture Plan: Both sides joined by an Atrium in the Rogers Communication Centre

Leveraging the existing concrete structure, the design team was able to ‘peel’ back existing walls and finishes to start with a blank slate.  By limiting the replacement of acoustic tile ceilings to selected areas such as offices and meeting spaces around the edges of the main research collaborative spaces, the design leveraged maximum ceiling heights and exposed concrete columns and ceiling to emphasis the adaptive nature of the space.  Using the additional ceiling height, Unistrut frames were added to allow for hanging displays and flexible lighting for showcasing research projects and other events within the space.

Ryerson University, The Catalyst Work Rooms

The Catalyst Editing Studios

The Catalyst - Before

The Catalyst – Before

Greg Elmer, Director of The Catalyst

“It’s a change, and a lot of people are very excited about it. Graduate students are particularly excited about it, because they’re able to work alongside their peers and learn from each other and faculty. It’s also a very flexible space, and the use of it is very dynamic and efficient.”

A Catalyst for Collaboration.

The Catalyst - Meeting Tables

The Catalyst – After

Design Background

By locating offices and meeting spaces assigned to the various researchers on the periphery, the central space allows for flexibility for use as an open workspace, display space for ongoing projects or events as well as presentations and talks.  Early on the desire for flexibility was identified as an opportunity to introduce not just stacking chairs and flip-top tables but the concept of the ‘kitchen table’ as a spine to host multiple uses:  impromptu meetings for one or multiple groups, touchdown workspace, display of projects or as a table for serving food and drink during events.

Adding a large new window in the north façade of the building allows visitors to the campus, both inside the RCC and outside, to see into and through the space symbolizing the change in the use of both spaces.  Original Georgian wired glass walls within the atrium were replaced with full height butt-jointed low iron glass with close-spaced sprinklers to again differentiate these two spaces from the rest of the building, creating visibility, and adding natural light and exterior-facing views.

The use of differing ceiling materials helped to define areas within the space, whether the wood slat ceiling of presentation zone complete with projector, large divisible meeting space or securable Tech Lab with acoustic tile ceilings.

The large divisible meeting space was also equipped with large glass sliding doors to the large event space and café to allow the use of the meeting room as an additional display space or servery area.

By locating the café/kitchen adjacent to the large divisible meeting space with large double sliding doors, the wall of the café/kitchen forms the projection wall of the collaboration space and the café and large meeting room act as support for various events and research.

The design team used colour as a non-verbal communicator in the final design. Keeping FCAD and Ryerson’s branding in mind, the team used the well-established colour palette to develop a custom striped wallpaper used to define the outer edges of the space beyond the glass-fronted offices and meeting spaces. The striped motif was also used at the entry portal to the main space on the north side of the atrium, and to visually link the smaller teaching and edit booth space on the south side of the atrium. These colours also were used to inform the furniture selection and finishes.

By replacing some of the seating and flip-top tables in the central collaboration workspace with a long communal table with varying heights the desire for flexible workspace takes on a new meaning. The ‘kitchen table’ allows for a multitude of flexible uses from walk-up/standing informal meetings, to small informal group meetings, large informal meetings, or project display as well as food and beverage servery when hosting events.

Ryerson University, The Catalyst Co-Lab
Ryerson University, The Catalyst Meeting Space

Awards & Recognition

The Catalyst - Entry

Toronto Metropolitan University (Formerly Ryerson University), The Catalyst

VODA (IDC Value of Design Award) Award of Merit for Innovation in Institutional/Educations/Civic Design


Other Projects

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