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PLANT wins Nathan Phillips Square competition

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Plant Architect & Shore Tilbe Irwin were announced the winner of the Nathan Phillips Square competition. For more information on the competing schemes see the Spacing Wire post or the City of Toronto’s website.

Also, check out the Toronto Star article.

The rest of the team members were:

  • Peter Lindsay Schaudt Landscape Architecture, Inc. (landscape design collaborator, Chicago)
  • Adrian Blackwell (urban design collaborator and art consultant, Toronto)
  • Blackwell Bowick Partnership Limited (structural engineering, Toronto)
  • Blanche Lemko van Ginkel (historical guidance, Toronto)
  • Crossey Engineering Ltd. (integrated mechanical and lighting systems design, Toronto)
  • Enermodal Engineering Limited (environmental and sustainability design and integration, Kitchener, Ontario)
  • Theatre Projects Consultants (theatre consultant, S. Norwalk, Connecticut)
  • Vermeulens Inc. (quantity surveying, Richmond Hill, Ontario)

crossposted to



  1. Admittedly I haven’t had a chance to delve very deeply in to the various proposals, but my gut instinct is to say it’s a real shame that the jury passed over the opportunity to move away from safe, clean civic lines and toward a more organic design, both literally and figuratively (the Rogers Marvel vision), as well as a greening of the square, rather than what looks like a green wrapper on a cluttered gray expanse.

    The winner smacks of Dundas Square. I’m prepared to eat my words, but that’s my instinctual reaction. I’m interested to hear what people really like about the winner.

  2. Now, are we to assume they picked this because it would be the cheapest to implement? Because I don’t see a big change.

  3. Well, best of the really boring bunch. At least it’s environmentally sound and has a fair bit of greenery. And, despite the butchery of the Peace Garden, it is an improvement on the current square.

    Too bad they gave in to hero worship and that old architectural obsession with minimalism.
    It’s got none of the playfulness and juxtaposition of the Rogers Marvel design, and the walkway unhelpfully stays up and in the way on the east side of the square. If that’s not going to come down, they could at least attach it to the podium. And the duplication of the hidden seasonal fountain from a block east in Dundas Square seems fairly pointless.

    Overall, it’s just a little disappointing. Hopefully it’ll look better when it’s up.

  4. Well, it could certainly have been worse – I warmed to the PLANT design as I got to know it better, it was definitely the best of the conventional designs. I like the many different ways of sitting in and around the square. It is going to feel a bit bare, though.

    But I have to feel this was an opportunity missed. It’s rare for a dramatic design to really capture the enthusiasm of a wide variety of Torontonians, but the Rogers Marvel one did. Toronto architecture seems to be following a pattern of being bold when it should be tasteful, and tasteful when it should be bold.

  5. When you say “see the Spacing Wire post here or the City of Toronto’s website here,” you really mean “see the Spacing Wire post or the City of Toronto’s Web site.” Link smarter, please.

  6. I agree with you Dylan. While I love all the sustainability issues that Plant addresses, that wasn’t theproblem with the square — it was the failure of some of its design elements. Marvel-Rogers addressed those issues AND had a sustainability component. Plant’s proposal is nice, but does nothing to address the western edge and the walkways in any real significant ways.

  7. The people with short attention spans will never be bored with all those distractions in the square now.

  8. I’m definitely a bit disappointed . . . would have liked to see Rogers Marvel get it, but this was (in my opinion) the second best proposal. We’ll get that hill someday, somewhere.

  9. Here we go again. We’ve missed another chance at true greatness in our city. The Rogers Marvel design was awesome. The park was just brilliant and it would have been a real destination in Toronto, an oasis in the city like a mini version of New York’s Central Park. Instead these yahoos on the jury have chosen an utterly conventional, uninspiring, cheap looking, and boring design. When will this city stop accepting mediocrity and blandness and start demanding excellence? We don’t deserve to spend $40 million dollars of our hard earned money on this third-rate design. I wish there was something that could be done about it. Like a media campaign or letter writing campaign or protests. Something that will make the politicians realize that we want and deserve the best for our city.

  10. If I recall correctly from a previous issue of spacing, most trees among concrete rarely have enough soil and water to thrive. Will the trees in this plan have enough to make it?

  11. Though if you consider things a little; maybe the nature of the decision *is* on behalf of “first-rate design”…i.e. that of Revell’s City Hall?

    Remember that there was always a mountain-out-of-a-molehillness about the NPS competition, i.e. yes, maybe the square needs a little fix, but must we go through a whole overwrought 1958-style competition process about it? And esp. when (as we’re being reminded now) the City has scarcely the money to carry out such a redo?

    So, as I anticipated, the process basically “corrected itself”. Though it perhaps disappoints those for whom the word “competition” equates with an expectation of “more”…

  12. The plant proposal seemed the most “meh” to me at first, but watching the design team presentation and speaking with the designers, I quickly became a fan. IMO, it’s the most universally thought-out entry and will stand the test of time without drastically affecting Revell’s intentions. They aren’t allowed to change much anyway, so people shouldn’t be expecting massive changes.

    The most obvious change will be how people really utilize the square, and the Plant and Rogers Marvel were the most compatible with multiple uses. It wasn’t clear to me exactly how the landscaping in the Rogers Marvel proposal would be easily maintained, as nice as it looks. As for the Plant proposal, I don’t know how long the cedar planking is gonna last or if all the “green” technology can come in on-budget.

    I’m really surprised that so many commenters are so disappointed in the choice of Plant, especially considering it was — by far — the most ecologically sensitive plan, which is something City Hall should be insisting on anyway.

  13. Once again, Toronto has managed to disappoint.

    It’s not that it is bad. It just looks BORING.
    I bet if the bidding was open to the public, citizens would have voted for another design.

  14. I liked the PLANT design from the start even though I wasn’t paying any attention to cost; I thought Rogers Marvel was a strong second.

    I don’t think any design emerged as the strong public favourite — Rogers Marvel probably won the comments here, but Zeidler (!) led the Toronto Star poll and Rogers Marvel was last.

    I also don’t think the city’s missed a chance at true greatness. City Hall is great already, and PLANT seemed focused on helping the square complement that. Rogers Marvel’s grassy hill was nice, but we already picked a design that wants to install Muskoka chairs to Canadianize an area (West 8 for the central waterfront). To me, it made more sense on the waterfront than it did near Queen and York.

  15. This was my favourite design so I’m glad this one won. Zeidler buildings always turn out hideous, Baird Sampson and Neuert cut accessibility from Queen street with a water sculpture and the Rogers Marvel design could have been dangerously kitschy if corners would have been cut (which would have inevitably happened).

    The RM design’s roof belonged somewhere else: the Toronto Zoo; a High Park tea room. Anywhere, really, except our city’s ultimate paean to modernism.

  16. The Marvell design was tiresome. When I want a park, I’ll go to a park. But do we have to have *every* public space be green? Sometimes I want to be somewhere that’s just open, without trees in between me and everyone else. As it is, this design takes the “green” and uses it to cut visibility between the street and the square — to enclose the square away from passersby. This particular public space is not one that should be about people in nature. This is City Hall — it’s about us in the *city*, about interacting with each other. The more it looks like a park, the more it becomes just like any other public space.

  17. I wondered from the beginning if Eric Haldenby should be on this jury, given that PLANT is comprised of his former U of Waterloo students. Not saying anything was biased – and am definitely hoping it wasn’t – although now that PLANT has won, it certainly reflects well on Eric Haldenby and his school…

    Other than that, while PLANT’s work at a small scale is often exquisite, I was rather underwhelmed by this particluar design.

  18. Disappointed in such a typically Toronto choice … I’m glad the gaudy Ziegler design didn’t win, but considering we’re committing $40 million to this, I would have liked something a bit bolder than the Plant design. This design would’ve been more than nice for any other square, but City Hall is the stage for the city and demands a bit more drama.

  19. >I wish there was something that could be done >about it. Like a media campaign or letter writing >campaign or protests. Something that will make the >politicians realize that we want and deserve the >best for our city.

    Ironically this is how we got the Revell designed City Hall. Protests over the proposed new city hall in the late 50’s resulted in a design contest.

    50 years on we had a design contest to start out with but in the age of Digg and other social voting mechanisms I don’t know why the public didn’t choose the design rather than an elite few.

    The public display efforts did include a comment capability but I’d be curious about whether these comments fed into the jury process or were merely decorative.

    As one of the multitudes who live and work downtown and regularly use the square I would have liked to have had more involvement rather than watching from the sidelines. Perhaps a hybrid public/expert juror 60/40 scheme could be an alternative.

    In the meantime we’ll have to go to NYC to enjoy Marvel like designs.

  20. I stand corrected.

    Just noticed this on the site. Kudos to the city for this level of input:

    The Nathan Phillips Square Revitalization Public Advisory Group will forward a summary of public comments to the Competition Jury that will be meeting to select the winning design proposal.

  21. They are going to be spending A LOT of millions on this. Outside of my office, there is a woman who lives in a plastic bag.

  22. God, listen to the whiners.

    Heaven forbid that the city should select a proposal that respects the modernist design of Nathan Philips Square.

    It’s because of tasteless boobs like the people on here — people who equate frippery and doodads with “architectural excellence” — that we get so many shitty condos in Toronto.

  23. This feels like a very “timid” choice, not a “bad” one. Perhaps well-suited to Toronto in that regard? Still, I’m already bored…

  24. Dabusan:: “50 years on we had a design contest to start out with but in the age of Digg and other social voting mechanisms I don’t know why the public didn’t choose the design rather than an elite few.”

    Do you honestly, truly want a redesign chosen in the same manner as Digg, or perhaps Canadian Idol?

    Think about it for a sec.

  25. This plant design is so incredibly suburban, uninspired and frankly unenlightened. The final design looks like a generic concept from of an intro. to architecture course, rather then the winning concept of an international competition. The plant scheme is overly focused on discreet objects that in aggregate don’t add up to anything. The Rogers Marvel scheme was actually a space forming, exciting design that added meaning, purpose, and function to the elevated walkways, walkways I remind you we are stuck with. As a Torontonian I am disgusted to think we have 50 more years before something inspiring will come. As an aside, was the Roger Marvel team kept on board to keep the competition “international.”

  26. The key issue now is, will the city actually commit the money required to maintain the new design? Nathan Phillips Square wouldn’t have been in such desperate need of an overhaul if the city had actually maintained the walkway and other aspects, rather than simply closing things off as soon as they needed any kind of serious maintenance.

    The new design will need even more maintenance. Will the city come through, or will PLANT’s nice redevelopment of the walkway be closed off as soon as it starts to deteriorate?

  27. Thickslab >> Godforbid anyone has a different opinion and wants to talk about it online. That doesn’t amke them whiners, it makes them individuals.

    A little less snootiness would go a long way.

  28. Dylan, you bring up a good point. I think the overly complicated design of plant will become a future financial burden in terms of maintenance. I also think that from a design stand point the busy design will inevitably take away from the grace and simplicity of city hall. A clean bold design like city hall needs to be complimented by an equally as assertive yet gestural design such as the one proposed by Rogers Marvel.

  29. “I wondered from the beginning if Eric Haldenby should be on this jury, given that PLANT is comprised of his former U of Waterloo students. Not saying anything was biased – and am definitely hoping it wasn’t – although now that PLANT has won, it certainly reflects well on Eric Haldenby and his school…”

    Actually, the same claim might have been made, for stylistic and ethnic reasons, about Eero Saarinen’s role in the 1958 competition jury.

    Sometimes, perhaps, “the fix is in”, even in mythical days of yore. But nearly half a century later, we’re more than willing to forgive…

  30. Gio: Puh-leeze. Are you telling me that comments like “Once again, Toronto has managed to disappoint” and “are we to assume they picked this because it would be the cheapest” and “When will this city stop accepting mediocrity and blandness” and “Disappointed in such a typically Toronto choice” and “We’ve missed another chance at true greatness in our city” aren’t whining?” No, it’s whining from a bunch of people who think that every public space has to be a fake version of nature.

  31. Gio: Puh-leeze. Are you telling me that comments like “Once again, Toronto has managed to disappoint” and “are we to assume they picked this because it would be the cheapest” and “When will this city stop accepting mediocrity and blandness” and “Disappointed in such a typically Toronto choice” and “We’ve missed another chance at true greatness in our city” aren’t whining?” No, it’s whining from a bunch of people who think that every public space has to be a fake version of nature.

  32. None of the proposals was completely satisfactory, to me.

    I didn’t like the Marvel design because the hill intruded too much onto the Square — it was a big gesture, but inappropriate. It would have effectively hidden the Square from view when approached from York Street or the southwest. It cut the Square off too much from its neighbours to the west. And if you’re going to get rid of the west side of the elevated walkway, you might as well get rid of the whole thing. In effect, the Marvel design competed with City Hall instead of complementing it. I’m actually glad it didn’t win.

    I would have liked to have seen a design that would have completed the walkway to make it join with the podium on both sides and so continous along the perimeter of the Square. Baird came close to this with their northern extension of the walkway. Their relocation of the Peace Garden was good, but I found their Peace Pavilion too intrusive.

    Zeidler’s undulating gardens were mystifying and a kind of circus sideshow next to the modern elegance of city hall. I did like Zeidler’s extension of the pool — a better idea than Plant’s disappearing fountains. (We’ve already got some of those at Dundas Square).

    I’m not fond of Plant’s permanent bandstand — particularly its placement, but since the ramshackle mobile one seems to be there all the time, perhaps it will be an improvement.

    As it stood, Baird and Plant were most respectful of the entire site and didn’t fit it out with too many unnecessary gimmicks. And their designs best complemented the existing Square and City Hall. I’m not thrilled with the overall outcome of the competition, but I’m satisfied.

  33. This debate has always been about what to do with the ugly and derelict concrete walkways. Underlying this debate is the issue of whether we should preserve architectural mistakes at the expense of the public good. Unfortunately, some people argue that the useless and crumbling walkways cannot be torn down because they are protected by an Ontario Heritage by-law. The same issue applies with respect to the law: do we uphold poorly conceived by-laws at the expense of the public interest? Clearly not. In helping to set the guiding principles for the competition, Mr. Adam Giambrone (City Councillor-cum-Archeologist) got exactly what he wanted: a requirement that the new design “respect and restore the beauty and dignity of the original design.” The architects were put in a straight-jacket. Only the outsider team–Rogers Marvell–had the balls to propose a judicious and very necessary “editing” the walkways. They were extremely diplomatic at the public presentation in City Hall–they showed that Revell’s original concept did not even include walkways. They pointed out that the walkways make the square much (much!) smaller than it really is. They also made the obvious point that the walkways block the public’s view. They did not say that the walkways were “ugly,” but they did say that it was difficult for the public to “negotiate” its way into some parts of the square. They knew that this “non-competition” was all about how to fix the problem of the decrepit walkways without offending the archeological/architectural purists who want to preserve bad designs at the expense of the public’s pleasure. Rogers Marvell should have won. We ought to remember what is important here: public squares are created, first and foremost, for public conviviality, not architectural navel-gazing. This debate is far from over…

  34. Thickslab >> All i was saying is that this is a place for discussion and people to give their opinion. I certainly hope peple disagree with the choice — it shows how varied we are.

    I think you lost any perspective on irony with my oringial comment — you were whining about people whining and you continue to whine.

    I can live with the choice but I also love that people care enough about this square to spend the time to pick apart what is good and bad about these proposals (though, I too loved Marvel’s design, as it addressed the problems with the sqaure more than any other finalist).

  35. Marvel, not Marvell… excuse me.

  36. Have any of you read any travel books or internatinal press on Toronto? Have a look at what they say about our city and especially about our architecture, our public spaces, our city planning!!! It is boring. It is safe. It is conventional. It is uninspiring. It is often truly extremely depressing! It is not “world class” even though we have been desperately trying to convince ourselves that we are a world class city. Look at the architecture in Montreal. Look at Vancouver. Vancouver has gotten the next winter olympics. We somehow never manage to get the olympics or Expo. Toronto seems always to be the bridesmaid, never the bride. We accept being second (or third, or fourth) place and somehow are ok with it. We are ok with appealing to the lowest common denominator. This does not make for a great city!!!! This is not the way New Yorkers or Londoners or Parisians or Bostonians or the citizens of any great city think! I agree with D Labatt’s comment. Why do we put up with mediocrity? We have the capacity to have an extraordinary city – a city we are truly proud to live in and a city we are proud to welcome tourists to! We have major brain drain with our best and brightest leaving for New York, London or other truly “world class” cities. Torontonians need a massive dose of self confidence. We really must stop accepting mediocrity and learn to strive for excellence. I’m so very sick of our “can’t do” attitude and our provincial, backwater thinking!! Get out there, travel more, read more and learn from the great thinkers of our time. Then apply this thinking to Toronto!!!