From the Star, by Hume:
Rival top guns love that Docklands mix
Feb 15, 2007 04:30 AM
Everywhere but in Toronto, this city's waterfront has become the object of international attention.
Far-flung architects and landscape architects are trying to figure out the best ways to transform a derelict, severely damaged area into a place Torontonians can live, play and be proud of.
Here at home, the cynicism continues. The Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. brings the best practitioners in the planet to suggest solutions and we complain that they're from away. Local people are hired and they're not good enough to do the job.
If there were any doubt that Toronto is its own worst enemy, look no further than the shoreline of Lake Ontario.
Fortunately the tireless and well-calloused souls at the TWRC are able to carry on regardless â€“ and that's exactly what they're doing.
Last week, they organized a day-long briefing for the four teams that made the short list to redesign the Lower Don Lands. The important 40-hectare site includes the mouth of the Don River as well as the entrance to the Port Lands. It connects the communities being planned for the West Don Lands, the east Bayfront and the Docklands, which will eventually be home for up to 100,000 residents.
Though it is too soon for these teams to have come up with concrete proposals, they're obviously excited about the possibilities, even if Torontonians aren't.
"This is a fantastic project," enthused Chris Reed of Stoss, a Boston practice that specializes in landscape urbanism. "You've got a severely damaged inner core with a mishmash of discontinuous urban fabric. We need to understand what each of these systems means and how to reintegrate them. It's incredibly challenging."
Stoss is partnered with Brown & Storey and ZAS Architects, both of Toronto.
For Weiss/Manfredi of New York, recently acclaimed for the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, the opportunity to work in Toronto is something the firm has wanted for years.
"Toronto is an international city," said Michael Manfredi. "And this is an extraordinary opportunity. We like infrastructure and we like challenges; this site has plenty of both."
Weiss/Manfredi has joined with du Toit Allsopp Hillier, one of Toronto's pre-eminent architectural offices, for the project.
Landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh of New York has assembled a stellar team that also includes Behnisch Architects of Los Angeles, Great Eastern Ecology of New York, and Ken Greenberg of Toronto.
"This is a tremendous opportunity," Greenberg declared. "This is the first time in my memory that Toronto has taken a whole series of complex technical and engineering issues â€“ naturalizing the mouth of the Don, flood protection, transportation, light rail, clean-up, development â€“ and dealt with them as a part of a larger pattern of relationships and connections. Traditionally, we have handled these matters as a series of discrete projects. The authorities have realized that the best way to go is with multidisciplinary teams. I'm optimistic because this has to happen. There has been a long period of frustration and pent-up desire; the question now is whether we can overcome jurisdictional gridlock."
The fourth team â€“ Atelier Girot, Zurich; Office of Landscape Morphology, Paris; and ReK Productions, Toronto â€“ is equally excited by the competition.
"For us, the interesting thing is the idea of restoring nature," Cristophe Girot explained. "Urban nature is a central theme for us. Today the site is marginal. It's an environment of neglect and degradation; it's marooned. But I have great expectations. I can see a lot of potential to recreate neighbourhoods, new developments, a new environment and restructure the city."
Regardless of who wins, it's already clear that Toronto is an ideal candidate for this new multidisciplinary approach, one more focused on the big picture than on individual elements therein.
The city, comprised of countless disparate parts, desperately needs to be knit into a larger whole. The subtext is that of connection; after decades of dividing the city into discrete areas, each dedicated to a separate function, we have relearned the value of joining things together, of mixing them up and creating urban diversity.
So far, diversity is something we talk about in strictly racial terms; but the word also applies to cities. We need not fear complexity; it will make us stronger.