As work slowly pushes forward on the Nathan Phillips Square Revitalization, many Torontonians are impatiently anticipating the day where they can enjoy the square unimpeded by the noise, dirt and overall mess caused by the construction. With the exodus of construction crews still more than a year off, many elements of the grand plan have already been completed, including the refurbishment of the famous reflecting pool with its fountain and iconic Freedom Arches.

Nathan Phillips Square Perkins+Will Canada Plant Architect Inc.Reflecting Pool at Nathan Phillips Square with new Ai Weiwei installation, image by Jack Landau

Earlier this week, the refreshed pool, a popular cool-off spot for local seagulls and mallards, became the new temporary home for a much wider collection of animals. Until September 22nd, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, a set of sculptures by internationally acclaimed Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei, will be on display for a three month stop on its World Tour. 

Nathan Phillips Square Perkins+Will Canada Plant Architect Inc.Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, at Nathan Phillips Square, image by Jack Landau

The twelve sculptures, representative of the symbols of the Chinese zodiac, stand in a circle in the reflecting pool, each rising three metres from a base of solid marble and weighing up to 950 kilograms.

Nathan Phillips Square Perkins+Will Canada Plant Architect Inc.Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, at Nathan Phillips Square, image by Jack Landau

This is the first major public sculpture by Weiwei, famous for his architectural contribution to the game-changing Bird’s Nest stadium in China, as much as he is for his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government.  

Nathan Phillips Square Perkins+Will Canada Plant Architect Inc.Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, at Nathan Phillips Square, image by Jack Landau

In addition to his temporary contribution to our great public square, Weiwei’s work will be featured at the AGO’s exhibition 'Ai Weiwei: According to What?', opening August 17th.

Nathan Phillips Square Perkins+Will Canada Plant Architect Inc.Ai Weiwei's Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads, at Nathan Phillips Square, image by Jack Landau

Meanwhile, other parts of the huge public space hold other interest. Though construction crews have already finished with much of the Nathan Phillips Square, the relocated Peace Garden to the west is still very much an active construction site. 

Nathan Phillips Square Perkins+Will Canada Plant Architect Inc.Peace Garden under construction to the west of the square, image by Jack Landau

The landscaped garden, originally created as memorial to the victims of the Hiroshima bombing, is being rebuilt as part of the Perkins+Will and Plant Architect-led revitalization plan.

Nathan Phillips Square Perkins+Will Canada Plant Architect Inc.Peace Garden under construction to the west of the square, image by Jack Landau

Construction is next to begin on another element of the revitalization, the Queen Street forecourt.  Decades of heavy foot traffic have ground the grassy forecourt into a scarred landscape of erratic grass patches and rotting wooden benches, interspersed with countless exposed-earth bald spots.

Nathan Phillips Square Perkins+Will Canada Plant Architect Inc.Queen Street Forecourt, image by Jack Landau

Though urban green spaces are dwindling, this particular patch of grass has been nearly impossible to maintain through the years, owing to the high volume of pedestrian traffic. To make the forecourt a more enjoyable public space, plans call for stone pavers to extend the square out to Queen Street and replace the current mess of earth and grass, while still maintaining the existing trees and planting more within islands of green.

Nathan Phillips Square Perkins+Will Canada Plant Architect Inc.Rendering of completed revitalization plan, with new paved forecourt

Nathan Phillips Square revitalization by Perkins+Will Canada and Plant ArchitectPlan of completed revitalization, with new paved forecourt

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