For the past four summers, a piece of land just east of RioCan Hall in Toronto’s Entertainment District was temporarily transformed from parking lot to patio, the grey tarmac replaced with brightly-coloured swirling patterns, picnic benches, and people. The site (located between Richmond Street West and Nelson Street, east of John Street), was acquired in 2019 by the City of Toronto as part of a larger transaction of land, and selected for a new public park.
The City has since begun a two-staged design competition for this space: from January to March 2023, the City invited design teams, led by a Landscape Architect, to submit their qualifications for the design and construction of a park. Based on these RFQ submissions, five shortlisted design teams were announced in June 2023, with the subsequent designs from each team having been submitted late Summer 2023.
This article provides an overview of the five shortlisted designs (listed in no particular order), which will be assessed in November 2023 by a jury of experts in landscape architecture, architecture, urban design, art, curation, climate resilience, and Indigenous design. (A list of jury members is available on the project website, as is a public engagement survey.)
Design 1: ‘Nookomis Garden’ (by DTAH Architects, Paul Raff Studio, Trophic Design)
The design by DTAH Architects and team — titled ‘Nookomis Garden’ — consists of a primarily hardscape surface interspersed with droplet-shaped landscaped sections. The focal point of the park would be a central landscaped area defined by a series of sculptured formations with stepped seating that when viewed from above roughly form the outline of an open palm. According to the design team, the palm cradles the garden, and the word ‘Nookomis’ is to reflect this sense of caring and guidance that is embedded in the park’s design. Around this central ‘palm’ section are areas for walking through the site, landscaped planters, and a combination of movable and fixed furniture.
There are multiple entry points to the park, which is described as being connected to its surroundings and being able to accommodate large crowds while offering opportunities for more quiet areas – “a place for gathering [and] sharing stories.”
The Nookomis Garden pavilion, located at the southeast corner of the site, would accommodate public washrooms and a storage area, and incorporates an extended canopy for additional shade. Proposed to be constructed mostly of wood, the structure is said to reflect the park’s underlying objective of connecting to nature while demonstrating durability and sustainability.
The design also includes decorating the eastern laneway with catenary lights, provides approximately 16 bicycle parking spots, and enhances an existing service lane along the southeastern border of the site adjacent to the 30-34 Duncan Street heritage building.
Design 2: ‘Electric Forest’ (by Public City Architecture, Sook Yin-Lee, Sean Carson Kinsella)
This submission, led by Public City Architecture, is called ‘Electric Forest’, and is designed as an “energy source” for the city. The focal point of this proposal are a series of neon park signs and tree sculptures with LED lighting. The concept name ‘Electric Forest’ pays homage to both the Anishinaabemowin phrase ‘Waasamoo-mitigoog’ (which means electric forest/trees), as well as a nod to Electric Circus; a former MuchMusic show, which was housed in the building directly north of this site. The design of the tree sculptures themselves take cues from the Eastern White Cedar, a tree that has medicinal and spiritual significance, and symbolizes strength and resilience. The tree also has connections to Treaty 13, and is known in Haudenosaunee as “the tree of peace.”
The underlying theme of this design is the regeneration of living environments, with the design team explaining it does so “playfully and without austerity.” Embedded into the proposal is a ceremonial fire pit, raised seating decks, and additional seating options such as logs, stumps, tables, and chairs.
The design also incorporates a public washroom in a low energy building that meets the City of Toronto’s Net Zero goals and is a Certified Passive House facility. The use of wood as a primary structure is consistent with the park’s ethos.
Across the site, ‘Electric Forest’ proposes a combination of concrete paving, permeable reclaimed stone paving, and crushed granite surface. The design also proposes enhancements to both streetscapes such as stormwater infiltration areas and bicycle parking spots, and while it maintains the service lane at the southeastern corner, it labels this area as being green-painted recycled asphalt.
Design 3: ‘oneSKY’ (by PMA Landscape Architects and SLA, Glow Hastings Architects, Ned Kahn Studio, Tàmmaro Art/Design, Ridge Road Training and Consulting)
This design, submitted with PMA Landscape Architects and team, is called oneSKY. According to the design team, they recognized the challenge of creating a park amidst a rapidly changing area that is adjacent to major streets and attractions. The concept behind this design is the idea that in an ever-changing urban environment, the only constant shared by all people is the sky, which provides a universal connection.
The design’s main focus is an event lawn, delineated by two circular wind-animated public art structures, currently referred to as the “Aqueous Veil”. To the north of the event lawn are seating steps and a number of rain gardens, and to the southwest is a fairly large amphitheatre seating structure that would function as both passive seating and active seating for events on the lawn or the flexible space.
The amphitheatre structure faces east (toward the lawn), and incorporates a public washroom underneath the highest rows of seating with an entrance from Nelson Street. The south facade of the amphitheatre seating is proposed as another piece of public art – “Woodland Wall” – and would create a visual divide between the park site and the redevelopment to the west when viewed from the south.
Proposed elsewhere on the site are outdoor seating areas, picnic tables, bicycle parking, and a number of paths through the rain gardens.
Design 4: ‘River Park’ (by O2 Planning and Design and OLIN Studio, Omar Gandhi Architects, Michael De Bruin, Re:imagine Gathering)
This design submission is entitled ‘River Park’, submitted by O2 Planning and Design and team. This design is centered around restoring the connection between the city and its natural water systems, “paying homage to a lost creek [that was] paved over in the 19th century.” According to the design team, the proposal encapsulates three core objectives: tracing the path of the (former) river; lifting the edges of the river to create ‘banks’; and, connecting the city along the edges.
The physicality of the park follows that vision, incorporating an art sculpture from which a small stream flows south through the park, with slightly raised sections along either side for seating, a wooden boardwalk, and flexible lawn area to the north.
There are two proposed structures on the site – the larger of which incorporates a public washroom. This structure is comprised of structural ribs, a fine metal mesh enclosure, and infill material (river rock) which becomes gradually lighter in colour near the top of the structure. The smaller structure is a shade Pavilion and provides additional covered seating options. Along the east side of the site is a tree-lined pedestrian walkway, bolstered at the north with a proposed outdoor cafe.
Along the site’s interface with Richmond is a seat wall that runs along the back of the fairly large flexible lawn. Elsewhere the design includes a number of rain gardens, and new treatment of the eastern laneway between the two heritage buildings.
Design 5: ‘Wàwàtesí’ (by West 8 Urban Design and Landscape Architecture, hcma Architecture and Design, Native Art Department International, MinoKamik Collective)
The final design is led by West 8 Urban Design and entitled ‘Wàwàtesí’ (Anishinaabemowin for firefly). It has two main components: a central lawn area, and an elevated platform — a ‘balcony’ — from which to watch and perform. The balcony functions as a raised walkway through the south part of the site, providing visitors with a view north towards the central lawn area. Elsewhere the site is paved, what the design team are calling a ‘riverbed playscape’, acknowledging the river that used to cross the site.
Focusing on integrating landscape, light, and performance, the design team describe the design as Toronto’s first park with a curator that will schedule arts events and installations. According to the design team, the space under the balcony is a ‘canvas’ for public art, which creates a multi-level journey for visitors. On opening day it is proposed that The Canvas will debut a permanent, slowly moving projection by public artist NADI : Aki Illuminations (translated from Anishinaabemowin: Earth Illuminations).
As all the entries do, this proposal incorporates a public washroom, here in the form of two cylindrical buildings with separate lockable washrooms, a communal water source, maintenance space, and storage. At night, this building lights up, as a ‘lantern’. The design proposes enhancements to the streetscape along both Richmond and Nelson such as a row of trees and planters, and a designated area for a TIFF screen.
Looking ahead, the detailed design process and the hiring of a construction team is scheduled to take place in 2024, before construction beginning in 2025 and completion by 2026. You can find more detail and images per entry via the project website.
UrbanToronto will continue to follow progress on this development, but in the meantime, you can learn more about it from our Database file, linked below. If you’d like, you can join in on the conversation in the associated Project Forum thread or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.
* * *
UrbanToronto has a research service, UrbanToronto Pro, that provides comprehensive data on construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area—from proposal through to completion. We also offer Instant Reports, downloadable snapshots based on location, and a daily subscription newsletter, New Development Insider, that tracks projects from initial application.
|Related Companies:||o2 Planning and Design|