Renderings for Nathan Phillips Square re-design

Spacing associate editor Dylan Reid has already posted a critique of the four finalists, so I’ll spare you my opinions (they don’t differ too much from Dylan’s, though I did enjoy the work of Plant — their presentation tonight at City Hall drove home some points that were not readily apparent in their mounted renderings, especially their fantastic knowledge of trees, the urban forest, and landscaping).

So here are a variety of renderings provided by the City. Each link will take you to a large version of a rendering. Looking forward to your comments [though, make sure to see the display at City Hall in the Rotunda, and don’t just base your opinions on these renderings alone].


Aerial night view
Restaurant, from ground level
Theatre stage
Peace Garden
Square overview

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Aerial view, day time
Aerial view, night time
Elevated walkway
Expanded skating rink, elevator pavilion
Restaurant on western edge
Western edge garden

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Ariel view
Looking south from behind City Hall
Walkway cross-section
Aerial view, night time

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View from the top of east tower
Eastern entrance from Bay and Albert
Queen Street, western entrance
View from top of the hill
View of rink and hill in winter, at night


  1. Hmm… the pictures definitely help with picturing the changes, and after looking them over I pretty much agree with Dylan. PLANT’s design is alright, but the Rogers Marvel design really blows me away. It keeps the main points of the existing design (enclosure, clean lines, lots of multi-use space), while bringing in a little life and dismantling the most troublesome parts (i.e. having both the ramp and the walkway in the way isolates the square from Bay St).
    The others just seem to be window dressing, in some ways even exasperating the faults of the current square in what looks to simply be unquestioning worship of Revell’s original design.

    Also, those are “aerial” views–“Ariel” was the little mermaid. 😉

  2. I have had the chance to look at the images online but as someone who worked at City Hall I’ll offer a few simple-minded points:

    1) I would have liked to see the lawn retained at the south side, or at least it not paved over. At the front of Old City Hall There is a bit of lawn and also behind the gates of the Osgoode, as well on east side of University. It’s important to keep this Queen Street focused theme which ties these institutional buildings together on the east-west axis.

    2) I think the little traffic island at Bay and Queen should be made use of. It’s such great location for some landmark. It’s probably outside the official boundaries of the design site, but still it’s still a vital little piece for the whole area. By making it a landmark, it would be much more interesting to the cross both east-west on bay and north-south on Queen would be less of a deal. Also it would be a visual cue to tourists leading past the Old City hall building. Perhaps a memorial to Jane Jacobs?

    3) I hope this big project does not neglect the most simple and effective solution to improving the city hall grounds – that is, giving the city hall buildings a wash to get rid of the algae growing on the two towers. It’s like someone going in for plastic surgery but neglecting to brush their teeth. The superb job with the flowers and the landscaping in the few two summers shows what simple maintenance and care can do – especially at such excellent site.

  3. PLANT = Stephane Dion. The most professedly “green” of the schemes, yet upon first glimpse, subtle and unassuming to the point of diffidence. The classic scheme that isn’t meant to “shout out”, but “grows on you” anyway. Could wind up the consensus victor, as a result–though whether that’s best for the long term is unclear. Maybe still too diffident for its own good?

    ROGERS MARVEL = Michael Ignatieff. A bold, dynamic scheme for those seeking a bold, dynamic vision. But perhaps too bold, too disconcerting, too full of cheek and hubris; its strength might also be its weakness. Also under suspicion as a “Yankee import” insufficiently attuned to local conditions.

    ZEIDLER = Gerard Kennedy. A brash, flashy scheme, whose pyrotechnics have apparent “pull” with younger generations of urban beholders. But upon closer inspection, strangely shallow, callow, underdeveloped and in need of added seasoning.

    BAIRD SAMPSON NEUERT = Bob Rae. An apparent anointed favourite of the leave-well-enough-alone establishment (though whether, in this case, leaving well enough alone is advisable is up to debate). Makes its deferential gestures, but strangely clumsy and sullen about it, as if its heart isn’t in the task–perhaps overcompensating for past critiques of the process?

    And of course, critics from other parties would be jumping on all the schemes for their wishy-washiness, for “not going far enough” (re the walkways, etc)…

  4. the immediately appealing thing about the rogers marvel scheme is that it (alone of the 4) creates its own conception of space in the square. and it uses natural features in a way that looks… well, natural. sure, it’s a human-made pastoral pastiche, but at least it’s not a big dull grid of trees. in the renderings, the forested hill reminds me a little of an island on a lake in algonquin. that sets up a new vibe for the peace garden too, a smaller satellite island. the campfire rendering points in the same direction, although are they seriously going to let people have campfires at city hall? if so, i can think of one demographic who will endorse the rogers marvel scheme wholeheartedly – the homeless.

  5. I just walked over to NPS and had a look at the displays. I think I spent almost an hour looking them over. Geez.

    First off I’m very happy that none of the designs feature advertising of any sort. There’s no Dundas Square trying to be Times Sqaure decades ago here.

    Next, I’m glad that all featured ways to make it more bicycle friendly.

    Two things that everyone seemed to neglect were a)the design of the children’s play park. It was given a designated space but not a plan. What about swingsets for adults to use like on Centre Island? Are kids the only ones who like to play? What is the fun area to gather? While this city has a lot of people who’d just like to sit at a restaurant with a nice view there are enough manhunters/capture the flag players/skateboarders etc to make play an important part of Toronto’s landscape yet here it is neglected. And b) that no one seemed to connect to the walkway through the middle of Osgoode Hall. Everyone specifically seemed to have their pathways not align with the eastern gate of the Hall. Weird.

    -glass walkways are nice. The stepped stage allows for good multi tiered viewing of concerts/rallies. (although Toronto staff workers lamented the design didn’t have ramps to raise equipment up)

    -Most dull of the designs but the addition of an easy and visible Queen/Bay ramp up to the walkway was nice. So was the secondary pool.

    -It was the only one that took the isolated strip of green from the west and brought it organically into the rest of the square which is quite nice. It gave off a feeling of natural forest. The fire pit could work well, as it does in pizza making oven area of Dufferin Grove Park.

    -immeditaely rubbed me the wrong way with ridiculous, pompous writing in their proposal. Yet it eventually won me over as my favorite. It had the secondary pond/pool which is a ncie feature, especially when they suggest as a kid’s ice rink in the winter. They also have the glass walkways which would be more visually airy. The idea of the lights everywhere was kinds of exciting, especially considering they wanted LED lights, which use less electricity. The multicoloured displays they’ve had this winter around NPS have really given it a different and interesting character. It makes it a gathering place not only during the day, but at night as well. I also liked that they would move the bus and chip trucks from Queen to Bay. That would bring interest to the west side (a place to get ice cream) and serenity to the south side (not blocked by giant idling buses). While not amazing, the western rolling ramps are nice, kind of like the Cloud Gardens. My main complaint with this one is the grid like planting of trees espeically on the podium level. That’s just ugly.

    I also agree with GRMartin that it’s unfortunate that everyone seemed to scrap the idea of a grass on the south side of the square (or much grass at all). Having paved lanes aparently makes it less forboding for people to enter. Yuk.

    Walking around afterward I passed by Ryerson and saw the lovely rink space in front of the Chang School and wondered why none of the designs took into account organic rocks to go with their trees, concrete and glass?

  6. Given the supposed broke and neglected state of the entire city, why the blank are we spending the money on something that isn’t really broke? Maintenance is one thing, but believe it or not, I’d actually like that sort of coin to be spent on fixing the roads – like the very dangerous and trashed Bay St. right beside the square where the southbound is a definite hazard for cyclists. Bike-friendly streets are way more important and the square isn’t that bad.

  7. To answer Hamish Wilson’s questions: We’re spending the money because this is Toronto’s City Hall and it is a vitally important public space for locals and tourists alike. Finally Torontonians are starting to care about their city and about creating beautiful, inspiring spaces which will make living, working and visiting here a pleasure. Look at the great cities of the world – there was great thought and effort invested in beautiful architecture and urban design. I am looking forward to the day when Yonge Street south of Bloor is redesigned. It is truly an embarassment that Toronto’s main street is in such a state of decay.

  8. Nathan Phillips Square is THE single most important site in Toronto. It is a defining feature of Toronto and one of the ways we know who we are and what it means to be a Torontonian. I think that the Rogers Marvel design – with its stunning garden reflecting the Ontario wilderness, and the elegant, sophisticated, breathtaking design reflects our city’s spirit and style. Let’s make this a truly memorable place – one which Torontonians will be very proud of for generations and which visitors from all over the world will come to see and be impressed by.

  9. The ROGERS MARVEL proposal is hands down the best one. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, elegant and classy. I am really hoping that the jury chooses this one. I think most Torontonians are in favour of this design too. The BAIRD SAMPSON NEUERT and PLANT designs are very sterile and conventional, and the ZEIDLER one is just plain scary.

  10. I am sure most Torontonians are incredibly disappointed that the Rogers Marvel design was not picked. It was clearly the best. We have once again missed a chance at true greatness in our city. Did the jurors not read any newspapers, talk to architecture critics or talk to the people of Toronto? The clear favourite was Rogers Marvel. Obviously! The designs by the three Toronto firms were nowhere near the level of sophistication, elegance and beauty that the New York based firm displayed. I’m sure that Rogers Marvel didn’t win because they are an American firm. Once again Toronto you have chosen mediocrity and blandness over excellence and beauty. When will this city stop accepting second (or third or fourth) rate design and come to its senses and realize that we deserve THE BEST and should strive for excellence in all we do. We should go back to the City and demand that the competition be opened again. Spending $40 million on a design that a first year architecture student could do is not acceptable!!

  11. I completely agree with DLabatt and anyone else who said Rogers Marvel is the best design out of the 4. This design is simple yet sophisticated. Its clean and definetely no chaotic like Zeidler’s. Downtown Toronto is already a pretty busy place, and having something like the Zeilder’s design is going to create an even more chaotic place. Opening the entrance on Bay street is one of hte nicest thing about this design. Even though I dont agree $ 40 million should be spent on this and should be spend elsewhere as hamish wilson said, they should really look at the designs again and reconsider the Rogers Marvel Design. I couldnt believe it got the least votes, but then again its a survey on the computer so cant do much there. I defenitely agree that the competition should be open again.

  12. What are the plans for implementing this design?? Is it ever going to be implemented? This city is incapable of managing its fund properly.

    Every time I walk by Nathan Phillips Square, I am embarrased to be a Torontonian. How can we let such an ugly, depressing, mediocre space represent the heart of this city?

    It’s pathetic.

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