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Nathan Phillips Square Revitalization (2015)

23 Mar 2017
Image Credit: Steven Evans
Architectural Credit: Plant Architect Inc. and Perkins+Will Architects in Joint Venture
Location: Toronto, Ontario 
Architects: Plant Architect Inc. and Perkins+Will Architects in Joint Venture
Date of Completion: 2015

OAA Awards 2017 Design Excellence Finalist

The Nathan Phillips Square project revitalizes the 12 acre site that frames Toronto’s City Hall (1965), a modernist masterwork by Finnish architect Viljo Revell. The square was originally designed as an integrated composition setting the stage for Revell’s daring City Hall. The original design featured an expansive paved plaza framed by an elevated walkway on three sides. The gestural forms of the City Hall include a sinuous ramp to a podium terrace. Concealed beneath the plaza are four levels of underground parking. Over the decades, many of these elements had fallen into a state of disrepair with numerous ad hoc interventions compromising clarity and functionality.

Site Plan
Diagram Credit: Plant Architect Inc. and Perkins+Will Architects in Joint Venture

Launched as an international design competition in 2007, the revitalization project called for architectural and landscape elements to address increasingly ambitious programming and a long list of deferred maintenance items. Specific interventions include a permanent stage structure, new washrooms and concessions, new ice rink support and mass underground bicycle storage. An overlay of landscape interventions provides an intensification of the urban forest, green roofs and improvements to public amenity, security, connectivity and accessibility on the square.

Diagram Credit: Plant Architect Inc. and Perkins+Will Architects in Joint Venture

The design rethinks the heritage designated square to transform it into an exemplary 21st Century public space. The concept AGORA/THEATRE repositions the square as a celebration of democracy, exchange and spectacle through four tactical moves:

  1. Open the Square: remove clutter at the centre to accommodate large gatherings.
  2. Activate the Stoa: create new connections between the raised walkway and the square.
  3. Program a Porous Perimeter: introduce a series of programmed, landscaped rooms that frame the square and connect to the street.
  4. Bridge the Threshold: strengthen links between levels and zones using new architecture and programming. 

Nathan Phillips Square is the major space for gathering, protest and celebration in Toronto.  On an annual basis, it hosts 250 events and approximately 1,500,000 visitors. To support this scale and diversity of programming, AGORA /THEATRE creates a space of pure potential, balancing open flexible space with more intimately scaled environments at the square’s perimeter and upper levels. 

Designed to complement the Modernist style of Viljo Revell’s City Hall, the theatre accommodates large scale performances as well as encouraging casual use as a perch overlooking the plaza.
Photo Credit: Steven Evans

Program elements accommodate more than one function to serve changing seasonal use and a variety of scales: the stage becomes a shaded seating area, the skate rental shop becomes an ice cream vendor, and so on. Adaptability and scalability allow the City to optimize resources and leverage the potential of an incredible civic realm.

Landscaped “green rooms” around the perimeter frame the square and provide gathering spaces.
Photo Credit: Steven Evans

The design also targets LEED Gold and Toronto Green Standard Tier Two with sustainability strategies that include the use of reclaimed heat and cooling from Toronto City Hall’s district energy plant, storm water retention for greywater reuse, green roofs and a 60% increase to the biomass on site. A 450 space bicycle parking area, shower and change center in the below grade parking structure supports sustainable transportation to and from the site and the downtown core. Energy reuse strategies allow the new structures to achieve net zero energy consumption.  

The new Peace Garden climbs and bridges the Elevated Walkways and redirects the parking garage vent below, while creating a new gathering area including the restored Peace Pavilion.
Photo Credit: Steven Evans

The revitalization allows Torontonians to reengage public space in new ways. Uncluttering and opening the centre of the square has enhanced daily use and created possibilities for major events like the 2015 Pan Am Games festivities and Nuit Blanche. The architecture and landscape interventions have proven their ability to work within Revell’s original composition while providing a much needed programmatic infrastructure that supports the Square’s complex workings. By supporting and enhancing the usability, sustainability and comfort of the Square, the revitalization ensures the enduring relevance of Revell’s modern masterwork and Toronto’s premiere public space.

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October 25, 2018 18:30 by Anonymous

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