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 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:

A 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 Clement Blanchet Architecture (Paris), Batlle│Roig (Barcelona), RVTR (Toronto), Scott Torrance Landscape Architect (Toronto).

Global view of the project, image courtesy of Clement Blanchet Architecture, Batlle│Roig, RVTR, Scott Torrance

When Clément Blanchet first visited Toronto, he was impressed by the cultural diversity and economic dynamism of the city, but he never thought he would be back a few years later with his Jack Leyton Ferry Terminal Park redevelopment proposal. When talking about what inspired his work, Blanchet first says that as an architect, his mission is not only to design buildings, it is to understand the history of the place, define an "urban consciousness", and what links the inhabitants to their city. Everything thus started with an expansive socio-demographic study in order to understand the city beyond its edifices and develop a long-lasting proposal and to create an infrastructure that goes beyond the common aesthetic criteria often used in architecture. 

View of the park towards the terminal, image courtesy of Clement Blanchet Architecture, Batlle│Roig, RVTR, Scott Torrance

To address the "predominantly capitalistic architectural form of the city", aka the condominium and office towers dominating our skyline, Blanchet proposes a horizontal construction that would balance the urban landscape in the first hand and, and on the other hand structure what is here perceived as a fragmented and confusing place. He envisions the new ferry terminal and its park not only as a facility, but rather as a "city terminal", a gateway or, in other words, Toronto's lighthouse. Inside the Light House Terminal, pictures and mosaics expose the history of the Islands, while on the second floor is a tropical garden composed of endangered species from around the world. On the technical side of things, the building will house the Waterfront Park offices, shops to rent equipment related to the activities offered on the Islands such as skis, barbecue or sun screen, but also day lockers and safe storage. Finally, the PRESTO card system will be integrated to the new ferry boats, reducing waiting times and increasing the boats' capacity.

Scale model of the project from above, image courtesy of Clement Blanchet Architecture, Batlle│Roig, RVTR, Scott Torrance

The park will translate into an array of landscapes and uses, constantly re-inventing themselves and changing over the seasons while staying the same. It can be seen as an architectural interpretation of Toronto's motto, Unity Through Diversity. The series of gardens, each representing one of the many Islands' natural spaces, are clearly delimited both visually and in the way they are used. However, Clément Blanchet does not believe that a durable solution can be achieved only through landscaping. This is why the ferry terminal, as an infrastructure, is such an important component of his vision for the site in order to create what he calls a "soft framework for the city". Just like the gardens, the terminal will answer different needs, different people, and different activities.

Jack Layton's statue, image courtesy of Clement Blanchet Architecture, Batlle│Roig, RVTR, Scott Torrance

The idea here is to extend the social and activity diversity that makes the strength of Toronto, should it be with a multi-purpose room that can either be open on the park or an intimate space, a tropical garden situated inside of the ferry terminal to provide users with shade in the summer or a shelter from the cold in the winter. The large pool that will certainly be enjoyed when the weather is warm will become a skating rink when temperatures drop below zero. Also, the statue of Jack Layton will be placed at the centre of the park and convey the values of "democracy and belonging to the place" and should be seen as the metaphor of unity in what is an extremely diverse city.

Scale model of the project, image courtesy of Clement Blanchet Architecture, Batlle│Roig, RVTR, Scott Torrance

Finally, an imposing structure will rise from the foot of Bay street, rising above the park and connect to an elevated path in order to create some sort of natural flow, catching the energy of the city as well as its inhabitants. The belvedere offers a "poetic sight", an "elevated look" over the islands and the ferry boats.

View of the belvedere rising from Bay Street, image courtesy of Clement Blanchet Architecture, Batlle│Roig, RVTR, Scott Torrance

The Belvedere overlooking the lake, image courtesy of Clement Blanchet Architecture, Batlle│Roig, RVTR, Scott Torrance

He then explained how he was inspired by Paris' Orly Aiport. Built in the 1960s, it was topped with an extensive terrace overlooking the terminal apron and runways, where visitors would wave goodbye to their loved ones flying towards a new adventure, but also consisted of a fun place to spend an afternoon with the kids watching the planes come and go. On the practical side of things, the elevated belvedere here will enable pedestrians walking along the lake to get from Harbour Square Park to the foot of Yonge Street. It will be the link between the waterfront and Torontonians, in every sense. 

View from the ferry boats, image courtesy of Clement Blanchet Architecture, Batlle│Roig, RVTR, Scott Torrance

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 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 more design entries. 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. 

Related Companies:  urbanMetrics inc., Waterfront Toronto