Gymnasia is a series of 10 pieces. They are chosen crops of solid maple gymnasium flooring, salvaged from Ryerson University in downtown Toronto. They were originally laid on the courts of an ambitious project that is now the Recreation and Athletics Centre, built completely underground within the Ryerson Quadrangle. In 1985, a student referendum was held and, in a record turnout, the vote was an overwhelming yes to the 40,000 sq. ft. complex. The plan was set for it to be completed in one year.
Project architect Bill Lett, of Lett/Smith Architects, described the undertaking as unique. “Athletic buildings lend themselves to being underground anyways,” he said. “Gymnasiums are usually windowless buildings. Also, as big hulking buildings they can be very overpowering on the cityscape. It makes sense to go underground.”
During the initial stages of construction in September 1986, heavy rains deluged Toronto, smashing downfall records set in 1948. This caused significant delays, which in turn forced the 40-man crew to work extensive overtime. Project managers were determined to open the complex in the summer of 1987, and, miraculously, it was completed on time. It was the first major addition to Ryerson’s athletic facilities in over 20 years.
Facilities within the RAC include a three-lane rubberized running track, seven squash courts, fitness and weight rooms, a dance studio, and two gymnasiums. The original flooring of the gymnasiums were installed with “sprung” technology to reduce the impact of running and jumping; underlying slats of wood running at right angles to the floorboards included a high-density foam padding to provide the required cushioning resilience. After over three decades of use, the RAC’s aging gymnasium floors were scheduled to be removed for replacement in July, 2017.
In these works, I present the playful geometry of the original sport regulation lines as the main thread of composition. Their colourful intersections and angles are carefully cropped to reveal a balance that once served a purpose on the courts, and now serve as standalone objects of playful mathematics. The patina of use and abuse on the hardwood and paint speaks of interactions between timeless design and human endurance. All ten are float framed in industrial steel.
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Photographs courtesy of Ryerson University Archives and Special Collections.