Toronto’s best built environments honoured

Joel Weeks Park won the 2017 Toronto Urban Design Awards for having distinct spaces for a myriad of activities.
Photo © Jackie Beale

Earlier this month, the 2017 Toronto Urban Design Awards were handed out to projects enhancing the civic experience of the city’s denizens. This year, more than 120 submissions were considered in nine categories. Jury members David Anselmi (Real Estate for Canada Lands Company), Elsa Lam (Canadian Architect), Gary McCluskie (Diamond Schmitt Architects), and Betsy Williamson (Williamson Williamson) chose the winners—12 awards of excellence.

“Every two years, the City of Toronto Urban Design Awards program provides an opportunity to assess the progress of the city’s built environment, and to recognize buildings [in the past two years] that strengthen the public realm,” said the jury in a statement.

“Two Circles,” a work of public art by Micah Lexier is tremendously complex. Two simple shapes—a black circle on a white backdrop and the outline of a black circle on a white background—break the visual clutter of Adelaide Street West in the city’s downtown. The circles were made with a high-level of detail and precision. Project team includes KPMB Architects and Entuitive.

The other project winning in the ‘Elements’ category was the collection of East Point Park Bird Sanctuary pavilions. This project demonstrates restraint by using a simple palette of materials. The pavilions—formed with folded, perforated Corten steel sheets—are simple and well-proportioned. They include a viewing station and a blind. The structures are elegant, robust, and precisely detailed. There are perforated patterns, including silhouettes of flocking birds, at the viewing station. PLANT Architect was part of this winning project.

Private buildings in context: Low-scale
Branksome Hall Athletics and Wellness Centre features a glowing pedestrian bridge, transparent second-storey fitness area, and full-height clerestories that bring daylight to a swimming and rowing pool at the lower-level. The complex also has a gymnasium and a dining hall. MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects was part of the project.

Private buildings in context: Mid-rise
Critical to the success of the 10-storey condominium at 383 Sorauren is the landscape by NAK Design Strategies. Front-facing courtyard areas provide semi-private spaces for residents. The diagonally slanted building corners give it a distinctive character. The open brick frame of the top storey represents a creative solution to maintaining the street edge, while simultaneously stepping back the building mass to reduce the presence of upper-storey units.

Another mid-rise award went to the Broadview Hotel restoration and renovation project by ERA Architects, which was notable for the care given to a heritage asset. Of particular interest was the nighttime lighting design (Marcel Dion Lighting Design), celebrating the rich three-dimensional character of the masonry façades.

Private buildings in context: Tall
Queen Richmond Centre West is noteworthy for maintaining the form and identity of two loft buildings. A new atrium runs through the development, providing public access to the interior. The different material—glass for the new loft and masonry for existing building—establishes a clear identity for the upper volume. Sweeny & Co Architects was part of the project.

Private buildings in context
Toronto Public Library’s Scarborough Civic Centre Branch and Civic Green is a low-slung building with canted, large-scale glued-laminated timber (glulam) columns and beams. Extensive glazing ensures its wood columns are visible from all sides. The library also has a vegetated roof. The project team includes LGA Architectural Partners, Phillip H. Carter Architects, and Urban Watershed Group.

Another winner, the Ryerson University Student Learning Centre, creates a strong urban gateway to the school’s campus. The geometric patterns on the façade give the building a seemingly opaque skin from the outside, while maintaining an open feel from inside. Zeidler Partnership Architects was part of the project.

Small open spaces
Joel Weeks Park has been organized into distinct sections—spaces for play, gathering, sport, and sanctuary are layered and defined by planters. A simple and well-proportioned grassy berm allows the active zone at the park’s north-end to be visually and acoustically separated from the quiet, shaded spaces at the south-end. Project team includes Janet Rosenberg & Studio.

Large Spaces and/or neighbourhood designs
The West Donlands Public Realm project’s scope—including streetscape design, pedestrian-first woonerfs, parks, and public art—is handled cohesively. Sustainability, innovation, landscape, and public art guided the design team. The generous and well-detailed sidewalks, playful public art, intermittent landscape, play elements, and strong linear tree plantings give the neighbourhood a clear identity. The Planning Partnership with PFS Studio is part of the project team.

The other winner for this category, the redesign of Queens Quay Boulevard on the Central Waterfront clarifies the multiple modes of transportation occupying the boulevard. By compressing the lanes used by car traffic, additional space was created for a streetcar corridor, cycle lanes, and enlarged sidewalks. Distinct material palette for each mode ensures the zones are clearly identified, and allows for flattening of the pedestrian plane between the lanes. Project team includes West 8 and DTAH.

Yupin Li’s project Flex envisages the creation of multifunctional units at 749 Dundas Street West. Flexible spaces can be divided off as rental apartments, then absorbed back into the units as families grow, providing a high-density solution. The development of permeable and landscaped back-of-house spaces is a nod to the notion of livable laneways.

In addition to these awards of excellence, there was a special jury award for urban activation for the Hearn, a venue used for the 2016 Luminato Festival. During the previous year’s arts festival, the decommissioned Hearn power station served as a venue for a set of late-night concerts. In 2016, it became the festival’s central venue. The building was equipped with a series of interventions such as a restaurant, theatre, and the world’s largest disco ball. Circulation through the site was master-planned to accommodate pedestrian, cycling, and transit routes. PARTISANS was the architect on this project.

To see a list of nine other projects honoured with Merit Awards, click here.

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