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 Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design.

Site plan, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

Similar to the other design entries, 'Civic Canopy' proposes year-round activities along the water's edge, situated around a large renewed terminal structure, with the goal of reflecting Jack Layton's visionary principles of "inclusion, accessibility, equality and enlightened populism."

The proposed terminal structure, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

'Civic Canopy' is an unenclosed structure with no defined boundaries. An undulating timber roof covers the ferry loading and vehicle drop-off areas, with trees poking through large expanses in the ceiling. Slits in the canopy allow for an abundance of both shade and sunlight, as environmental modifications help alter the space according to the seasons. In other words, the slits would allow more light in the spring and fall, and the most in the winter, while providing the most shade in the summer.

Trees poke through the canopy, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

The location of the terminal in this plan will move to the south and the west from its current spot, an arrangement which provides more room to accommodate crowds while being flush with Bay Street. Hammocks and rope swings are proposed to hang from the canopy in places, allowing for playful activities both inside and outside the structure. 

Farmer's market, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

The pier heads will be connected via a boardwalk which will hover over the ferry loading area, allowing passengers to travel underneath. The boardwalk will also connect to a portion of the canopy which dips below, forming an amphitheatre-like space. 

The boardwalk rises within the canopy, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

At night, the canopy will be lit in colours corresponding to the needs of the seasons: suggesting coolness by amping up blue hues in the summer, and suggesting warmth with orange tones in the winter. LED lights located at the bottom of each canopy column would be programmed to mimic Lake Ontario's harbour waves. 

Summer illumination, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

Winter illumination, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

Offering more than just orange light in the winter, an inflatable air cafe and bar fitted with lounge seating and a fire pit also provides protection from the harsh elements.

The air cafe in the winter, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

A climate controlled greenhouse is also proposed for the winter, containing a variety of flora to add another touch of warmth to the bitter cold. The flora that develops during these months would then be scattered around the park in the summer.

The climate controlled greenhouse in the winter, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

A circular ice cave, which stretches from the canopy roof to the ground, is another feature designed to provide thermal protection for visitors in the winter. 

The ice cave, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

A cooling effect occurs when the cave begins to melt, finally transforming into a mist room and wading pool in warm months.

The mist room, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

The current ticketing system will be revamped and replaced with timed ticketing, and a large geyser erupts just before the departure of each ferry, letting passengers know when their journey is about to begin. Tickets would be purchased at the base of each supporting canopy column, helping disperse the painful and lengthy lineups. 

The geyser clock, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

At the west end of the site, Harbour Square Park will be transformed by taking back the hard harbour edge and replacing it with a beach. A floating wetland is proposed to sit just beyond this beach, complementing another planned wetland planned at the Yonge Street slip. 

The beach, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

A rock hill offers a lookout over the scene as the nearby children's garden hosts a variety of migratory bird and butterfly species. The park will also include a fountain which will double as a skating rink. 

Children's garden and rock hill, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

The existing unwelcoming entry at the foot of Bay Street will be redesigned as an open space by eliminating the pedestrian bridge and vehicle tunnel which currently serves Harbour Square residents. The plan calls for an extension of Bay Street into the site, terminating at a turnaround/drop-off point underneath the canopy. A private road and parking lot will will be accessible off the main road, replacing the tunnel, allowing bikes, pedestrians and buses to travel down a curb-free pathway into the canopy. 

Drop-off/turnaround area, image courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architectsAlliance and Hood Design

The first phase of the project would include the geyser clock at an estimated cost of about $600,000. The design team also plans to experiment with a variety of ticketing options before the current terminal is demolished. 

Model in City Hall's rotunda of the proposed design, 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 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. 

"It doesn't matter who wins, it's that what wins needs to be extraordinary," said Peter Clewes, Principal of architectsAlliance. "Now we're starting to embrace this idea of how do we make this a more extraordinary city from a design perspective, particularly the design of the public realm."

There are plenty of images in the dataBase file linked below to salivate over, from all five entries. If you want to get involved in the discussion, you can visit the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the field provided on this page.

Related Companies:  urbanMetrics inc., Waterfront Toronto