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It seems as though dozens of cranes continue to pop up almost daily in Toronto. Instead of adding to the lot, local developer Knightstone Capital Management snatched up the dowdy Best Western Primrose Hotel at the corner of Jarvis and Carlton streets, and assigned Diamond Schmitt Architects with the task of transforming it into a student residence.

It makes sense: the 1970s brutalist building is steps from from Ryerson University, an institution that has seen a steady rise in its student population, but has been unable to provide housing facilities similar in number to nearby University of Toronto. With OCAD University and George Brown College (two more post-secondary institutions facing the same housing challenge as Ryerson) also downtown, the newly-minted Parkside Student Residence serves the student communities who might otherwise be relegated to renting dingy basement apartments or tiny attics far from campus.

To start, Diamond Schmitt Architects gutted the 23-storey hotel and overhauled the entire interior to provide 624 beds, with 40 per cent of the interior finishes custom designed for the project. Like most student residences, there are a variety of residence styles: suites with two double beds and shared bathroom; suites with two single beds and shared common area and bathroom; full private suites; and on the 23rd floor, two and four bedroom suites each featuring double beds. The residence’s amenity spaces include kitchens, reading lounges, gaming rooms and fitness rooms. On the main floor, where the entrance was relocated to provide barrier-free access to the building, DSAI has added a reception area complete with security, a games lounge, a printing room and bicycle storage.

The new shared spaces represent the most dynamic parts of the transformation, and the pièce de résistance is the second floor hub. Regular passersby on Carlton Street will recall the stretch of precast concrete panels that once wrapped the building right above the entrance. In a bold and welcoming move, the firm removed this and opened up the space to the street with a three-sided glass box that allows natural light to pour in and show off the red, grey and natural wood interior. Here, students get comfortable on upholstered banquettes and low-lying Windowseat lounge chairs, designed by San Francisco’s Mike & Maaike for Haworth; a selection of the red loungers feature canopies to provide sound isolation. Underfoot is Interface’s Human Nature modular carpet tile. The concrete-coloured flooring, a nod to the building’s brutalist history, is also featured in the residence hallways and other high-traffic areas.

This renovation included extracting a section of the second floor to create a double-height lounge space on the ground floor. This opening made room for the larger-than-life Artemide floor lamps that tower over snaking sectionals by Steelcase. Steps away, Vitra’s Alcove sofas, designed by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, line the perimeter of the street-facing windows.

The firm kept the kitchen and cafeteria in the basement, but implemented an open floorplan that provides better circulation. Recessed lighting brightens the concrete-walled space and acoustic panels absorb the noise. A large-scale map of Toronto by California’s Ork Posters adorns an entire wall of the cafeteria ­ – a nice reminder that once students are ready to move on, the city is their oyster.

The project is the first “Interior Design by Diamond Schmitt Architects” to be completed – debuting a new and distinct interiors department within the firm, which will fit out future DSAI projects, as well as interiors by other architects.

Nina Boccia is the Director of Programs at Design Exchange, Canada’s Design Museum.

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