Last week I went to the see the presentations of the four design teams vying for the opportunity to redevelop the Lower Donlands. A massive amount of information was given, which was to be expected given the size of the area they’ve been asked to redevelop and the various goals they were required to achieve.
Since the public exhibition at BCE Place closes tonight, I thought I’d offer some highlights from the notes I took at the presentation last week. If anyone was at the presentation and remembers anything I haven’t included, please leave a comment below. What I’ve written here is far from comprehensive, but it should at least give you an opportunity to understand some of the finer details in each presentation.
Presentation 1: “Wandering Ecologies” (Warning: PDF)
Weiss/Manfredi, New York, NY
du Toit Allsopp Hillier (DTAH), Toronto, CANADA
McCormick Rankin Corporation
Golder Associates Ltd.
This team includes du Toit Allsopp Hillier, part of the West 8 team that won the challenge to redesign the Central Waterfront, so I expected a lot of green elements in their submission. As they spoke of the lost geography of the land, which consisted of the largest marsh in eastern Canada, they expressed hope that they would be able to “transform a place of lost nature into one of many natures.”
The name of their presentation, Wandering Ecologies, refers to their hope that they can transform the area into a place where “recreational, living and cultural activities are free to wander and overlap.” Their first priority is to naturalize the Don, and create a meander in the lower part, which is evident in the image above. They also plan to recycle the dug up land to create different topographies, transforming the currently flat landscape to one of different elevations.
They expressed a “love” for the Gardiner Expressway, but wanted to get rid of the Lakeshore, hoping to instead create bicycle paths and pedestrian areas beneath the elevated highway. They also propose to extend Queen’s Quay east, creating meandering roads that lead to the Lower Donlands. There is also an elevated outlook that looks west over the islands, the city, and the lake.
A mix of high-density mid-rise buildings would make up the built part of the environment, modeled after “the world’s great liveable cities.”
Presentation 2: “Don Mouth Park” (Warning: PDF)
Atelier GIROT, Zurich, Switzerland
Office of Landscape Morphology, Paris, FRANCE
Jà¼rgen Mayer H., Berlin, GERMANY
Arup, California, USA
Applied Ecological Services
This team said they took four different elements into account when creating their submission: Water, Landscape, People, and City. They noted that historically, the Don River’s mouth has always looked like the curve of a hockey stick, and so to naturalize it and echo it symbolically, they propose a series of fingers that jut out from the land in a similar fashion.
They propose a radical change in the use of the land, removing all surface roads and land from the North Don Bank, and replacing it with water. Each of the fingers steps down into the water, creating opportunities for close interaction with the water, and acting as breakwaters should storms ever cause dramatic shifts in the water level.
They believe that by bringing the water into the land in such a dramatic fashion, Toronto will finally realize its dream of being a water city. They also hope that a building of “signature architecture” will become an acquarium, incorporating the Victory Silos and thereby maintaining the link with the area’s industrial heritage.
As for the built part of their design, they plan the highest density along Cherry Street, turning it into the main street of the neighbourhood. Transit-wise, a new Go Station at Cherry Street would become a major transportation hub for the area, and the bridge they propose for the river-crossing is also an iconic one, and actually prioritizes the pedestrian and cyclist crossing, relegating cars to the lower part.
Presentation 3: “River + City + Life” (Warning: PDF)
STOSS INC., Boston, MA
BROWN + STOREY ARCHITECTS, Toronto, ON
ZAS ARCHITECTS Inc., Toronto, ON
Applied Ecological Systems
Pine + Swallow Associates
Nitsch Engineering, Inc.
Moffatt + Nichol
Consult Econ, Inc.
This team also “put the Don first,” but did so with the mantra that “Renew does not equal Restore.” They chose to “amplify the riverface,” where the lake meets the river and where most aquatic breeding takes place. They also create a new island, Essroc Island, that becomes not only a huge open public space, but also an event space for large public events.
It is also over Essroc Island, and the reconfigured Don Mouth, that the spider-like iconic bridge stands as a gateway into the Lower Donlands. The bridge is not only visually iconic, but it also relegates each kind of traffic – pedestrian, cyclist, vehicular – to it’s own level so they do not interfere with each other.
The scale of their built environments is “lifted” from the nearby neighbourhoods of St. Lawrence Market, Corktown, and Yorkville, which should give the neighbourhoods an all-important human scale. They also create a destination, the Great Lakes Aquatic Centre, in a green-roof building that extends itself right over the lake (seen near the far left of the top image). It would incorporate the Victory Silos, turning it into a fish hatchery, heritage destination, water purifier, and maybe even a brewery (!?!).
They propose to keep the granite and wood boardwalk suggested by West 8 going right around this section of the waterfront, too, keeping the public promenade at the water’s edge continuous.
Presentation 4: “Port Lands Estuary” (Warning: PDF)
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. (MVVA), New York & Massachusetts, USA
Limno Tech Inc., Michigan, USA
Applied Ecological Services Inc., Wisconsin, USA
Great Eastern Ecology, New York, USA
Greenberg Consultants Inc., Ontario, CANADA
Behnisch Architects, Los Angeles, CA, USA & Stuttgart, DEU
Transsolar Energietechnik, New York, USA & Stuttgart, DEU
RFR Engineering, Paris, FR
Totten Sims Hubicki and Associates (TSH), Ontario, CANADA
ARUP, Ontario, CANADA
This final team is led by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., which is already doing great work on Don River Park, a little north of the Lower Donlands. They propose to “relocate the Don Mouth to where it wants to be,” cutting through the land and into the Lake. Since the river’s mouth is an open space, they feel the landscape should be open, too, and so created a large, open field on the north west bank of the river. At the end of the Keating Channel, on the north bank of the river, they hope a new arts centre will become a signature piece of architecture in the area.
The area between the rails and the river contains a great portion of the built area of their submission, which makes sense given that it is currently an orphaned space. This large commercial centre would contain the shopping malls, grocery stores, and other neighbourhood amenities that would keep the residents from having to travel too far.
Another unique aspect of their proposal consists of making three incisions in the rail corridor, providing much-needed pedestrian access over the rail lands. The rail lands are often considered a greater barrier to the waterfront than the Gardiner, and these are vital connections to the rest of the city.
Finally, the team hopes to further accentuate water transportation between the Lower Donlands and the rest of the city, taking some of the burden off the Ferry Docks and creating an actual network of water transportation.
Unlike the Central Waterfront Redesign Competition, which had one or two submissions that were clearly not the right design for the right area, I thought each presentation was more compelling than the last, and found myself struggling to pick a favourite. Each design emphasizes the importance of public spaces, sustainable development, and a human scale. I wouldn’t have minded seeing at least a park or public space named after the aboriginal name for the river, but I expect that kind of detail can be suggested over the 30 year implementation process most of the proposals anticipate. Given the engineering and practical challenges of the competition, naming was not likely a high priority, anyway.
As is always the case with these competitions, there are elements I’d love to see incorporated from each, but after spending some time looking at each of the submissions, I found the fourth presentation (MVVA) to be the most exciting, with the third (STOSS) as a close runner-up. I thought MVVA created the most dramatic overall design, while taking into consideration the area’s connections to the rest of the city (bridges over rail lands, water transportation), and keeping the scale appropriate for a waterfront neighbourhood.
The designs are on display at BCE place until the end of tonight, so if you want to have a closer look, now’s the time to go!
The winner will be announced early May.