In the past when talking about the globes’ unique urban playgrounds, known for cutting-edge design and breathtaking architecture, the name “Toronto” wasn’t exactly a city that came to mind.

Through the past couple of years, however, Toronto’s gone through a bit of a facelift. OCAD, the AGO and the ROM have all undergone significant changes, helping to give an identifiable face to the city. Whether or not people associate these new looks with beauty is up for discussion, but one thing is clear: The city is making an effort to boost its architectural profile.

Now, as we enter 2010, Ryerson University has taken the next step by naming award-winning and internationally known architect Will Alsop as a Visiting Practitioner.

Alsop, regarded as one of the most prominent United Kingdom architects, is best known for his avante-garde and modernist style. He was the mind behind the award-winning Sharp Centre for Design at OCAD, and is working on a number of other innovative projects here in Toronto and across the globe.

“When I first came here in 2000 to interview for the OCAD project, I didn’t like it. In fact, I was glad to leave after two or three days,” he said. “It didn’t strike me as a great place, initially.”

He liked the people, he said, but the architecture and appearance of the city left much to be desired.

“I thought it didn’t have a sense of itself. Architecturally, it didn’t seem to have any real ambition,” he said. “In a way, that was true because the city has changed dramatically since then.”

It is this change and progress that has drawn Alsop to the city, and now, to Ryerson. He told Metro that some would argue, rightly or wrongly, that Ryerson’s Department of Architectural Science is an underdog. However, he thinks the tools are there to grow the department into an internationally renowned program.

“I like to be part of something that’s growing and turning into something new, rather than being at one of the other established universities.”

Kendra Schank Smith, Chair of the department, says students and faculty alike are quite excited to have a mind like Alsop’s on board.

“It’s very prestigious and exciting,” she said. “It’s very important because he brings a lot of ideas and enthusiasm.”

Alsop views Toronto as a place with plenty of unique opportunities for architects, and those who are training and residing here have the power to transform the urban landscape.

As opposed to a beautiful city like Paris, he said, that doesn’t leave much room for improvement, Toronto is a city offering all kinds of room for new, ambitious work.

Toronto’s key challenges, he says, are to focus on creating better uses of public space, reducing traffic, making streets more walkable and, for the most part, encouraging people towards a more community-based, street life.

This can be done by designing functional communities with schools, libraries, and other amenities all easily reachable on foot.