Marshall McLuhan Coach House Institute Design Charrette

We recently took part in a day-long charrette that focused upon design proposals for a new Coach House Institute (CHI) and a new Faculty of Information Building for the University of Toronto. Other design teams included Bruce Mau DesignDiamond-Schmitt Architects, and IBI Group. Special thanks to Dr. Seamus Ross, Dean Faculty of Information (iSchool) and Dr. Dominique Scheffel-Dunand, Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, Faculty of Information Coach House Institute for the invitation. The charrette brief follows:

The Coach House Institute (CHI)

Society urgently needs to debate fundamental societal issues raised by the development of digital media (DM): How do we want to live in the future they proffer? What will be the character of institutions, the role of culture, the fate of public & private, the nature of humanity? What if anything will inspire, in a reconfigured society? How will discourse, authority & expertise be forged? What will happen to compassion, responsibility & intimacy in an era in which we can digitise experience, build computers as powerful as the brain, design body parts, communicate instantly, & design at the level of atoms? The CHI’s aim is not to conduct disciplinary or interdisciplinary research on DM, or on the practices they enable. Instead, the CHI will (i) probe, challenge & refashion the fundamental concepts & assumptions that underlie DM, & (ii) reflexively apply the resulting understanding to subsequent intellectual work. Methodological breadth & reflexive epistemology are mandated by the fact that DM affect all knowledge & inquiry; it is not an isolable, restricted subject matter. So it can freely embrace change, the CHI will function as a “skunkworks” for innovative researchers to design, critique, prototype & explore our digitally-mediated future.

The Faculty of Information

The Faculty of Information is currently spread across four different spaces (The Claude T. Bissell Building, iSouth, Robarts Library, and the Coach House). While the physical distances are comparatively short, the distributed nature of the Faculty impacts negatively on collaborative research intensity, student-faculty interactions and communication, and community cohesion. Given that the Faculty is both inter- and multi-disciplinary, sharing of common physical space is essential to creating vibrant teaching and learning cultures, creating and sharing research, and to the process of communication and community building.

Bringing the Faculty together in one new facility would increase the sense of community and communication encouraging debate, dialogue and innovation. This is an urgent priority.

We have two options: renovation of the Claude T. Bissell Building or construction of a purpose built space to give Toronto’s iSchool a research and teaching infrastructure of international calibre. A new building for the Faculty of Information could become the academic home for the next generation of scientists, scholars and researchers tackling the challenges of collecting, archiving, organizing, analyzing and disseminating information in the digital age.