University of Toronto to Revitalize McLuhan’s Coach House

17Oct11

U of T planning major revitalization of McLuhan’s old hangout

Posted by John Michael McGrath on Monday, October 17, 2011 

The Coach House at the University of Toronto isn’t just a nondescript, slightly run-down building that you could be forgiven for not noticing as you walked by it. It’s also the spiritual home of Marshall McLuhan, one of Canada’s biggest contributions to the field of media studies. And now, the University of Toronto is going to look at ways of rejuvenating the building that housed McLuhan’s hotbed of intellectual thought after too many years of neglect. The revitalization isn’t just going to be physical, either.

“What we’re looking at now is what would make this an exciting place in the tradition of discussion, scholarship, public intellectual engagement in the spirit of McLuhan,” says Professor Seamus Ross, the dean of the School of Information at the University of Toronto. “Hopefully within the next few months we’ll be putting out a new program in culture and technology under our Master of Information.”

The intellectual revitalization is the necessary first step in raising the money for the physical one that will follow, says Ross. “You can’t have a building, even an iconic building, in an academic institution that doesn’t have an academic purpose.” But the University is pursuing both tracks at once, announcing a design charette with five major design firms participating at a meeting on October 24 at St. Michael’s College.

The participating firms and architects include Bruce Mau, Core, IBI, Diamond Schmitt and Williamson Chong.

One of the issues Ross is hoping the charette will explore is how to add more modern space to the area around the Coach House, including a possible mid-rise tower with modern labs and workspaces, potentially built on the parking lot behind the Coach House. “What could you do to the Coach House to make it a new nerve centre? How might we continue to make it possible to make that parking lot into a park?”

The Faculty of Information has $400,000 out of an estimated cost of $1.8 million to revive the Coach House alone. Some of the more expansive visions Ross is discussing would be much more expensive than that, potentially in the tens of millions of dollars, but with talks at such an early point Ross thinks it’s valuable to think big.

“None of those other pieces are guaranteed,” says Ross. “But if you don’t imagine, nothing happens.”

All of this work on the Coach House and the new academic programs is part of the university’s marking of McLuhan’s centenary, including most recently the unveiling of a plaque from the Government of Canada recognizing McLuhan as a Canadian of national significance. It’s a wonder that took so long—he’s had his own Heritage Minute for decades now.

Photo by Stephanie Lake photography courtesy of the University of Toronto. http://tinyurl.com/3wx6xzk

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