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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

NO MEAN CITY: Abbey Gardens by Williamson Chong Architects

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Cross-posted from No Mean City, Alex’s personal blog on architecture

This isn’t a “tour” of a completed building but of a proposal: an idea by the Toronto architects Wiliamson Chong to revive a former gravel pit north of Toronto as a hub of sustainable community development. It recently won a Canadian Architect Award of Excellence.

Sustainable, community, agriculture – these are all sexy terms (for architecture, I mean), but the depth of this proposal is just as compelling. Starting with a 440-acre site in Haliburton, Ontario, that has been ravaged by gravel extraction, it suggests a series of buildings that would hold greenhouses and a growing assortment of cultural activities related to food. There would be a library and visitor’s centre, gallery spaces, a test kitchen for workshops and culinary conferences, and more.


As the architects put it:
Using the artists-in-residence format, people from all walks of life who in their own way engage food — nutritionists, agriculturalists, urbanists, chefs, farmers, food policy planners — could find a home at Abbey Gardens (in the Food Spire) where seemingly disparate interests can provide a place for a healthy coalescence of advanced thinking. In many ways, the gardens can be an ‘abbey’ where ideas are cultivated and developed with thorough study, focus and collegial input.

The greenhouses themselves would form “the Cradle,” an arc-shaped assortment of greenhouses divided into sections for optimal ventilation and lined by a corridor that allows viewing. They would surround “the Nest,” an artificial wetland that would encourage plant growth on what’s now a barren landscape.

This set of concerns – the combination of environmental regeneration, infrastructure and (carefully oriented) buildings – reflect the state of the art in contemporary architecture. But, together with a strong community organization like this one, it also suggests how architects can be proactive in advancing the ideas of new cultural and economic projects as well as community-building.

Eventually the project could expand to include a food market and cultural venues. All of them, as imagined by Williamson Chong, are beautiful forms. But those forms – which I would love to see realized – are only the starting point for the real work.

Do read the full description here. Click below for a series of plans, renderings and description.

And as the proposed mega-quarry in Melanchton township wends its way through a political and regulatory process, we should consider what the end product of gravel extraction looks like: