The journey to 'the Island' is the quintessential Toronto experience, and it should be exciting. Once you're on the ferry it usually is, but the trip actually begins at the terminal at the foot of Bay Street—renamed the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal after the late Federal NDP leader in 2013—and that part is definitely downmarket. Since its opening in 1972, the terminal has experienced crowding problems due to its lack of a proper designated waiting area, the concrete pavilion provides limited shade, and is not ready for a growing populace seeking out the natural retreat the Islands provide. Besides the practical considerations, it's looking the worse for wear, and it conveys none of the pride that Torontonians feel for this special park or the experience of getting to it.

The existing ferry terminal, image by Craig WhiteThe existing ferry terminal, image by Craig White

For these reasons, Waterfront Toronto launched a design competition to revitalize the terminal and the adjacent Harbour Square Park, one of the waterfront's most centrally-located spots. After 33 international design firms submitted their qualifications, five teams emerged:

Cowd swarms around models and speakers at City Hall, image by Marcus MitanisA large crowd swarms around the models and speakers at City Hall, image by Marcus Mitanis

After eight weeks, the five teams have developed their plans for the terminal and surrounding park, which were revealed in City Hall's rotunda on Monday. UrbanToronto took a quick look at the projects before the official unveiling, which can be viewed here. UrbanToronto is now exploring each of the proposals in further detail, with this article examining the entry by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign and Janet Rosenberg & Studio. 

Water view, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign and Janet RosenbergWater view, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign and Janet Rosenberg & Studio

London-based architect Will Alsop is known internationally for his distinctive and striking designs. Torontonians have come to know him through the Sharp Centre for Design, the pixelated tabletop structure which forms part of OCAD University on McCaul Street. His colourful and avant-garde work is apparent once again in this plan for the waterfront. 

Terminal building, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign, Janet RosenbergNighttime visual of the terminal building, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign and Janet Rosenberg & Studio

The plan envisions a united and functional park and terminal space for the 21st century, with a "horizontal datum" acting as the ferry terminal. The path to the ferry from Bay Street simulates shoreline water with a gentle sloping in topography that continues towards the terminal. The proposal aims to bring a proper waiting space to the area through a series of playful "street creatures" which will provide much-desired shade and cooling in the summer months, followed by heat in the winter. The creatures will also act as a vending space, providing guests with the opportunity to buy drinks and timed ferry tickets. It is imagined that tickets may also be purchased online. Umbrellas dotted throughout the area will also act as shade structures while providing light at nighttime. 

Street creatures, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign, Janet RosenbergStreet creatures dot the landscape, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign and Janet Rosenberg & Studio

Unlike the current enclosure, visitors will have direct access to the water's edge from the waiting area. The horizontal structure which lines the waterfront will also house a bar and cafe, providing guests with an elevated lookout over to the Islands. Hugging the terminal building, an elongated 18-foot tall walkway borders the shoreline and offers a lookout to Lake Ontario and the crowds approaching the docks. A structural steel frame wrapped in wood is supported by zinc primed steel pillars. The terminal building would also be constructed with steel, ensuring a durable and relatively quick build. 

Beach, splash pad, walkway, image by Quadrangle, aLLDesign, Janet RosenbergThe urban beach, splash pad and walkway, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign and Janet Rosenberg & Studio

Moving west to Harbour Square Park, an urban beach is proposed. Differentiated from its predecessors HTO Park and Sugar Beach, this beach would include a splash pad with programmed vertical water jets and LED fixtures. With activities in mind for year-round use, the splash pad would be converted into a skating rink in the winter months. A boardwalk wraps around the beach and splash pad, providing a safe separation from the lake. 

Kayak pond, terrace, pool, image by Quadrangle, aLLDesign, Janet RosenbergKayak pond, terrace and pool, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign and Janet Rosenberg & Studio

To the west of the urban beach, the elevated walkway terminates but connects to a boardwalk which extends into the harbour. A south-facing terrace with amphitheatre-like seating overlooks a kayaking pond. Underneath the terrace, change rooms and washrooms are provided for a pool which shares the entire length of the east-west boardwalk. 

Two large pods, one for play and one for waiting, lie directly south of a service building attached to the Westin Harbour Castle. The service building would include another ticketing station, as well as security services and washrooms. A variety of tree species will populate the area, with Elm marking the entryway at Bay Street, Honeylocust around proposed lawn dunes, Birch parallel to Harbour Square West and Oak and Maple around the urban beach. 

Play and warming/cooling pods, image by Quadrangle, aLLDesign, Janet Rosenberg Play and warming/cooling pods also act as waiting areas, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign and Janet Rosenberg & Studio

Island residents will have their own dedicated lockup space along the west side of the Yonge slip. The plan eliminates the existing vehicular tunnel that connects Bay Street and Queen's Quay to Harbour Square Condos, opening up the view from the street directly to the lake. Students of the Island Public/Natural Science School will be accommodated with a dedicated bus lay-by where the current tunnel sits. Beyond the lay-by, a drop-off/turnaround area provides condo residents access to the building. 

Site plan, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign and Janet RosenbergSite plan, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign and Janet Rosenberg & Studio

UrbanToronto caught up with Janet Rosenberg, Founding Principal of Janet Rosenberg & Studio, and Will Alsop, Founder and Director of aLLDesign, who shared their thoughts behind the vision. "We designed it very simply but we also recognized that this is not a big, sophisticated facility," said Rosenberg. "These are people going to the ferry in their shorts, with their running shoes, with their suntan lotion, and it should speak to them."

Quadrangle, aLLDesign, Janet Rosenberg & Studio design, image by Marcus MitanisThe design by Quadrangle, aLLDesign and Janet Rosenberg & Studio, image by Marcus Mitanis

On the elevated walkway, Rosenberg continued: "It's really quite magical to see the ferries come in and go out. When we did HTO it was always about the relationship with the water, being able to touch the water. Now it's about experiencing the waterfront from a different point of view because there's so many places at grade but nothing really gives you the magic of really seeing the activities happen." Alsop added, "The boats are the main event. It's kind of romantic, seeing the boats coming and going."

Bar and cafe, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign, Janet RosenbergThe elevated bar and cafe area overlooks the lake, image by Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign and Janet Rosenberg & Studio

To the vast array of playful and colourful structures proposed in the plan, Rosenberg explained: "We've all sort of lost our sense of humour, especially down by the waterfront where these buildings are just so enormously done." She continued, "Bay Street really needed to see it. You're constantly being stopped and asked where the ferry terminal is." 

Will Alsop speaks about his team's design, image by Marcus MitanisWill Alsop speaks about his team's design, image by Marcus Mitanis

"It's a comfortable place to be and it's additive," said Alsop. "You can actually do it in pieces. A lot of it is quite interesting and they're all deliverable and we're quite comfortable with that." Alsop pointed out that the new terminal and park will be a destination in itself. "You don't have to catch the boat," he said, also pointing out that rather than visitors going to the Islands, "The Islanders can decide to come here."

The image below depicts members of the team and the model, which, among the others, will be on display until Friday. From left to right are Caroline Robbie and Ted Shore from Quadrangle Architects, Will Alsop from aLLDesign and Janet Rosenberg and Raphael Justewicz from Janet Rosenberg & Studio.

Quadrangle, aLLDesign, Janet Rosenberg & Studio team, image by Marcus MitanisThe Quadrangle Architects, aLLDesign and Janet Rosenberg & Studio team pose behind their proposal model, image by Marcus Mitanis

The public is encouraged to provide feedback on the proposals until Saturday, March 21. The entries will be judged on the following design elements: 

  • Create an iconic and welcoming ferry terminal;
  • Promote continuous waterfront access;
  • Improve queuing areas for ferry passengers;
  • Enhance Harbour Square Park;
  • Create connections to the city;
  • Promote sustainable development;
  • Provide universal access for people of all ages and abilities.

Google Maps image of the existing state of the ferry terminal and Harbour SquareGoogle Maps image of the existing state of the ferry terminal and Harbour Square Park

Once a design is chosen in the coming weeks by a jury of architects, landscape architects and planners, it will form part of a master plan for the area that, once funding becomes available, can be built in phases. Waterfront Toronto has signaled that if no single plan is chosen, elements of the proposals may be combined to create one unified design. 

We will return with a look at two more design entries tomorrow. Until then, there are plenty of images in the dataBase file linked below to salivate over, and if you want to get involved in the discussion, leave a comment in the field provided.