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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

MVVA Wins Lower Donlands Design Competition

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I just got back from the Leading With Landscape lecture, where it was announced that the the team led by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. (MVVA) won the Lower Donlands Design Competition. I thought this was the best design, re-imagining the space in creative ways while addressing the needs of the city and the future neighbourhood. To see the finer details of the plan, have a look at the design panels (PDF) the team presented.

The winning team:

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



  1. The Much Music Video Awards sure are a talented bunch of designers 😉

    I definitely liked this design much better than the “giant red spider” one, or the “bleak future” design.

    What really sealed it for me, though, was the Parisian riverside dining.

  2. When will this project start and when do they expect it to be finished?

  3. Re Development of Lower Don Lands:

    I sent this letter to the Toronto Star (published April 16).

    Christopher Hume gave us nice descriptions of the proposals for development of the Lower Don Lands but neglected to mention that those lands, surrounding the south end of Cherry St., were formerly home to dozens of large petroleum storage tanks, coal yards and other highly polluting industries (The Lower Don’s rise – April 14). Any 1950’s aerial photo will show the mess that was in that place.
    I wonder just how much effort will be taken to sanitize those lands before housing, neighbourhoods and parks are to be built. Also, that whole area was swampland less than 100 years ago. Can such a vast landfill support modern structures?

    Sincerely, George Dunbar

  4. Is it just me or do others think that the large number of design competitions seem to be designed to distract from the fact that very little meaningful construction seems to be happening.

    Design competitions are the opiate of the masses.

  5. “Also, that whole area was swampland less than 100 years ago. Can such a vast landfill support modern structures?”

    I doubt this will be a problem. Unstable soil conditions have not stopped people over thousands of years from building some of the greatest cities on earth: Venice, Amsterdam, New Orleans, Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), Rome.

  6. I thought that the idea was that redevelopment goes hand in hand with the reclamation and clean up of the land.
    The theory being that until there was a “real” reason (read: profit) to clean up the land no developer would touch the place.
    But now that it’s been proved that the city is committed to developing the land, and we know that there is a need for exactly this kind of mixed zoning and there is a clear and well thought out plan for building, there’s no excuse not to go forward and start sifting through the silt.
    At least that’s the hope any way.

  7. I think the best proposal won. But I also think it will never be built. TEDCO will start screwing up things and the city will not have the money to do anything. It is going to cost a fortune to clean up the site.

    I just don’t understand what are the plans for the Gardiner. Are they going to do something interesting with the structure? Put up sound barriers? Make it higher? Never mind, it will never happen anyways…

  8. I think these things will get built. There is support from the public, there is much more hype than previously about these type of plans, and Miller seems committed to it. I just have the feeling that *this* is the time it will happen.

  9. Matthew, I am really sorry for being so sceptical and I sincerely admire your optimism about the waterfront. It is just that there have been plans for it since 1911, that is almost 100 years of doing nothing. And the 30 year period for it to be done doesn’t inspire much on me, by that time I will be too old to enjoy it, so I am only happy for my children if that goddamn thing ever gets done.

  10. How do people feel about continuing the Queen’s Quay East LRT down Commissoners? There’s lots of room on Lakeshore, and it’s closer to centres of population. How about running it up to Lakeshore to Greenwood, and up Greenwood to the subway?

  11. It’s a relief they chose this plan – it’s the only one that showed a real understanding of what will attract people to walk the area and make it actually vibrant.

    There may be some truth to Andy’s amusing comment about design competitions. Wasn’t there one for “Commissioner’s Park” for this area a few years ago? On the other hand, the plan for the West Donlands is going ahead, so there’s a chance this one will too, eventually.

  12. Yeah, poor Commissioner’s Park died a quiet death. It was bounded by the current street grid and Don River channel, and so the site conditions given to the teams for this design competition listed it as “to be modified if and as necessary to accommodate the naturalized Don River”. All four teams used that land for something else and incorporated the park’s elements elsewhere. The result is an integrated plan that I think ends up creating a much better neighbourhood, but some earlier effort was wasted.

    As for West Don Lands, work is already underway at the site. (There’s also work underway building Union Station’s second platform, a joint TWRC/TTC project.) At last night’s meeting, someone asked about funding for various projects, and the answer was that much of the money needed is already committed by the three levels of government. Maybe I’m too much of an optimist, but I think the TWRC is on track to prove the cynics wrong.

  13. It has to be said that the US Federal government is putting a lot of money to revitalize American city cores. That is something that will not happen in Canada simply because our Federal government only exists to make Quebec happy to ensure they stay in the Confederation, and as such they don’t give a rat’s ass about Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, etc (even though we are the ones that pay the bills). This country needs a huge political shift where cities and their surrounding areas are at least as important as the provinces. The Feds should be decentralizing their powers and finances to our city-states, and not the to useless provinces of this country. I know, I know… there would have to be a major change in the constitution, and that is why everything will stay the same and our cities will keep degrading. Forget about the MVVA proposal, it ain’t happenin’. Toronto used to be an example for all North American cities, now we are looked upon with disdain and pity (with the exception of Detroit).