Access from downtown Toronto to its waterfront has been an ongoing issue for the city fathers for the past decades. One of the major visual barriers to Lake Ontario is the Gardiner Expressway, just a few blocks from the waterfront and the subject of a 2010 competition. It was abandoned with no premiated designs and no indication of future solution. Participants in that competition were familiar faces: KPMB + Bjarke Ingels Group, Rem Koolhaas/OMA, James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro/ Architects Alliance, West 8 DTAH/Cecil Balmond AGU, and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (See: http://gardinereast.ca/design-ideas). Part of the problem with either burying the Gardiner or eliminating it altogether within the central core did not have so much to do with political will, but the lack of funding at the municipal level.
One piece of the puzzle has now been addressed—the ferry terminal on the waterfront and its environs. Although the site is confined to a relatively small area, the vision for rethinking the possibilities of making it more pedestrian and user-friendly have been the subject of a recent competition, with five invited firms vying for the opportunity to realize their proposals.
What made this competition so interesting were not only the challenges of packing a number of required elements into a relatively small site—without giving the impression of crowd congestion—but also the organized flow of several thousand departing (and arriving) passengers headed for offshore islands and other destinations on Lake Ontario. Combined with all that were the aesthetics—the visual impressions of arrival, departure and a park-like setting, as well as the location of the necessary terminal structure(s).
The competition itself was launched as an RfQ, with five shortlisted firms invited to present schemes in a single-stage competition. They were:
The major departure features of all but one of the entries were the location of two-tier structures directly across from the ferry docks, with two having large canopies as shelter, and two providing rooftop parks with outlooks to the Lake. One of the latter was the winner of the competition, KPMB of Toronto with landscape architecture firm West 8 of Rotterdam and Greenberg Consultants (planning) of Toronto.
KPMB’s main entrance to the Ferry Terminal from Bay Street is a parklike entrance, creating a promenade eventually leading to an entrance to the processing area for passengers, with the option to climb up an elevated rooftop extension of the park where one finds a meandering pathway leading to a lookout area. From the eastern side, the path is also accessible from Yonge Street, also leading into the park. Parking is located under a hill in the park, with ticket processing and waiting areas for the boats located under the park extension canopy. The area to the west of the Terminal is a generous park area, which includes a slip for recreational craft.
KPMB’s meeting with planning and port authorities after winning the competition was instructional for the subject matter discussed: most of the emphasis concerned the ability of the facility to accommodate increasing numbers of visitors in the future. Aesthetics were a low priority in the discussion, an indication that financial issues were not a serious problem at this development stage of the process.
Stoss Landscape Urbanism was the only entry with a generous bosque at grade as a holding area with direct access to the boats. The process and administrative areas are two separate buildings separated by the bosque. The structure containing ticket processing and a waiting area has the aura of a large pavilion. Vehicle access from Yonge is to the east, next to the easternmost dock, with dropoff and parking for busses. The park area to the west of the terminal includes a giant swimming pool, certain in summertime to be a big hit with visitors.
Clement Blanchet proposed a strong, extensive promenade, with a large ramp visible from Bay Street, inviting pedestrians to climb to the roof of the terminal and enjoy the view. Those intending to board a boat could pass under this promenade to their destination. The very size and prominence of the stairs to the rooftop could suggest a favorite meeting place. The arrival view from the Lake differed from the other proposals in that it suggests a strong linear building, rather than a pavilion-like setting.
Diller Scofidio Renfro’s design was branded a “Civic Canopy,” creating a similar impression, whether entered from the city of viewed from the Lake. In that sense, one can view the transition idea as their strong suit. The canopy, which covers most of the terminal site and extending partially out over the water, also included a second level as observation deck. From the upper level of the canopy, a boardwalk extends along the shore to both east and west along the perimeter of the park.
Quadrangle Architects envisioned a very festive site, replete with numerous public art works and high design. Their terminal also featured two levels in a linear configuration, linked to suspended boardwalks at both ends—a boardwalk at waters edge leading to a swimming/boating area and dunes/play site. Quadrangle certainly presented a plan which was high-energy, high-activity in its concept. With its extensive use of the boardwalk idea, it was no doubt envisioned not just for boat passengers, but fitness advocates.