by Hani Yassine
The Lance – Arts & Culture Writer
Perhaps it does not hurt to be self-aware at this stage of the game
To write another word about the School of Creative Arts’ Armouries building comes at the risk of sounding like a broken record. Two pieces have already been written throughout this academic year which scrutinized the process of the new downtown art facility being built. One could easily look at this as harsh, but it’s also important to note that the scrutiny hasn’t been made without invitation. Students from both the School of Visual Arts and School of Music were expected to be in the building, which just paved the way for a disappointing delay. The school then announced an open house of the building scheduled for early December. This was also delayed, and cancelled. It was the constant promises made that led to constant letdowns, leading to why the coverage has been relatively excessive.
But at long last, after much anticipation, the Armouries building is open to SoCA. Classes are actually in session! It has finally happened after several years in the making, and upon walking through the double doors you can gaze into its architecture, which is a true wonder.
But then you also come to notice that the building remains unfinished.
Among the first rooms you would see by walking into the front is one with construction tools and materials stacked on top of each other. Whatever is supposed to be designed in that space cannot be determined, and while the materials later became removed it becomes apparent more work needs to be done in the building beyond mere finishing touches. You have theatre and gallery rooms currently inaccessible to students, lab equipment that remains uninstalled and others which have yet to become unpacked. There is electrical work that still needs to be tweaked, as most of the doors in the building need to be kept ajar to work out the lock systems in place. Students intersect with the construction workers as banging and drilling sound partly encompass the nuances of the interior. None of this even includes the old Greyhound station across the street from the building, which is part of the restoration but does not seem to have begun development.
Above all else, this indicates a failure to launch on the university’s end. While developing on a heritage site requires wading through loads of red tape, this doesn’t change how the institution had several years to complete the project, only for it to remain unfinished. It seems the reason why it’s open now is not that it is ready, but rather the school knew they could not delay its opening any further than they have. It resembles a troubling trend in the video game industry, where publishers charge full price for a product they know is unfinished, releasing the remainder of the content over time. It ultimately places the students at a disadvantage, and it’s a shame because the building is otherwise a spectacular piece of architecture.
Much in the vein of the School of Social Work in the old Windsor Star building, it preserves the façade of the Armouries all while sporting a cutting-edge open concept design. Almost resembling a comprehensive film set within a giant lot, there is a degree of clairvoyance in the meeting rooms and some classrooms, as they’re insulated by clear windows where it’s all too easy to gaze into what’s occurring within. The numerous music labs and grad studios laid neatly next to each other indicate some cohesion between the music and visual art majors, just as how staff and faculty offices are in a clearly distinct area from where the classes, labs and lounge areas are located. The equipment is nothing short of state of the art, and the aesthetic is bolstered by beautiful wood panels which complement the brick and marble in place. Between the two floors and the basement level, it’s rather easy to get lost. The very design of the interior carries an all-encompassing artistic flair. This does not even include the Freedom Way building, which sports a film and sculpture studio that is only available to students via swipe card. On its own merits, the building is an architectural accomplishment, which is only then amplified compared to where art students were previously hanging their hats.
Deep into her second year of graduate studies in fine arts, Talysha Bujold-Abu sits in her spacious grad studio where several of her works are scattered about the room. As a commercial illustrator who hosts the occasional painting workshop, Bujold-Abu says she has only been in the building for 11 days. But that time was more than enough for her to see the great leap forward from what her studio in the Lebel building entailed, which included a caved-in ceiling, floods, wasps, and an ant and mice infestation. Compared to those circumstances, she finds these grad studios to be the “holy grail.”
“They took the rock and didn’t even skip it. They just lobbed it into the ocean,” Bujold-Abu said. “I have never seen or been in a studio at this caliber ever. It’s gorgeous.”
On top of finding the building aesthetically pleasing, Bujold-Abu also notices a heightened camaraderie between the students and faculty. When them being in the new building, warts and all, a sense of excitement is in the air which effectively strengthens morale. While the construction going on is less than ideal, she doesn’t find it too bothersome for it at least indicates progress. Another silver lining, she considers is the location, as her surroundings have gone from an isolated area with a nearby McDonalds to the heart of the city with numerous restaurants ready to be experienced.
“All I hear is everyone talking about the food they’re eating,” Bujold-Abu said. “I’ve spoken to a lot of small businesses and they’re so excited to have the influx of students down here. A lot of the businesses need it.”
While the completion process has likely proven to take longer than anyone could have anticipated, perhaps the fact that classes are being held in the building is enough of a success. The campus is as dense as it is cohesive, and with events on the horizon, particularly the opening of the BioArt lab come Jan. 20, it’s difficult to negate or undermine the legitimate excitement students and faculty have in using these new resources, and the artistic possibilities which may come with them. The landing was messy, and you hope the university will learn from this experience so that they don’t run into these issues with future projects. But it has finally arrived, it’s brimming with promise, and with the continued work put into the building, it’s only going to get better as time moves forward.
The Armouries: An inside look
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