Portals are gateways to urban design Monday, August 8, 2005 Page A8 -- John Barber
While otherwise praising the University of Toronto, the jury that handed out the latest Toronto Architecture and Urban Design Awards went out of its way "to register its unanimous dissatisfaction" with the Alumni Gateway, a controversial new structure on College Street at King's College Road, designed in the stripped-down classical style favoured by the architects of various totalitarian regimes -- Nazi, Fascist, Communist -- during the 1930s. The jury further registered its "hope that the university will reconsider the strategy of defining its perimeter with ponderous ceremonial portals."
Yet elsewhere in the city, ponderous ceremonial portals are all the rage. A few kilometres southwest of the university, the city is beginning a lavish restoration of the gateway to old Trinity College, now Trinity Bellwoods Park. And this summer, another jury will nominate a plan for an even more ambitious makeover of the city's most imposing (and loved) ceremonial portal, the Princes' Gates at Exhibition Place.
Interestingly, both projects are being funded in large part by developers whose projects are currently transforming the western part of downtown into the city's newest and temporarily trendiest residential neighbourhood. Just as developers of the early 20th century erected ceremonial gates in open fields to signify the arrival of a new subdivision (eventually turning to functional gates and guard houses to ensure exclusivity), their modern counterparts are restoring historic gates in order to celebrate the revival of an old neighbourhood.
Although far less imposing than the monumental Princes' Gates at the bottom of Strachan Avenue, the Trinity gates at the top of the same street will receive the most thorough going-over. Restoration will include the addition of at least a metre in height to each of the two main columns flanking the park entrance, which were cut down as part of an earlier repair, and the replacement of the wrought-iron doorways that somehow turned up at Trinity College School in Port Hope decades ago.
"Since we don't understand how they got there in the first place, we're not quite sure how to get them back," said deputy mayor Joe Pantalone, the local councillor. So a second set will be crafted for the old gates.
Nothing so drastic is planned for the Princes' Gates, which have benefited from ongoing restoration efforts over the years -- most notably the replacement of Winged Victory, the badly eroded statute that adorned the top of the gates' central arch, with a plastic replica. This time, the effort will focus on the mess of asphalt that surrounds the gates.
"The Princes' Gates are a wonderful, iconic Toronto symbol," Mr. Pantalone said. "But instead of complementing them, the area around the gates simply denigrates them."
The brief for the design competition -- which is currently in full swing -- calls for a dramatic reduction in the asphalt hemming in the gates, including the elimination of traffic lanes on Strachan and the redesign of that street's intersection with Lake Shore Boulevard. The idea is to create a setting that is "perhaps piazza-like," Mr. Pantalone said.
The fact that the competition is restricted to Italian architects from Milan should help achieve that goal. The Italian connection grows out of Toronto's "twin city" relationship with Milan, with the Princes' Gates competition conceived as a concrete example of that otherwise nebulous relationship. And as the Italian-born deputy mayor asserts, without prejudice, "Italians know their piazzas."
The winning scheme, as selected by a jury of local experts, will be announced in late September at a gala fundraiser hosted by Lanterra Developments and H&R Developments, two of the companies most active in transforming the skyline of west downtown. They have guaranteed to raise at least $250,000 from the private sector to support the project. Final construction of the winning scheme is scheduled to be finished in June.
Let none declare that this city neglects its ponderous ceremonial portals.
This was quite interesting, I had not heard at all that the Trinity Bellwoods park gates were getting work, and although I recall hearing that the Prince's Gates area would be redone, the bit about people from Milan doing it was new to me. Sounds really interesting, a good use of our twin relationship with the city.
I don't think I understand why the U of T would have been criticized for the Alumni Gateway, was it the existence of the gates themselves or their design?