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 KPMB Architects, West 8, and Greenberg Consultants. 

The project team came up with a ferry terminal that not only fixes the capacity issues for years to come, but one that creates an attractive environment replacing the rather desolate and underused space that exists today. 

Site plan for the park and ferry terminal, image courtesy of KPMB, West 8, and Greenberg consulting

The proposal includes a reconstructed park space and a new ferry terminal building to the south of the current one. The park will feature large hills, reflecting existing terrain and providing visual interest. The park is to be expanded significantly compared to its current size, on to the footprint of the current ferry terminal, and over the surrounding condominiums' parking ramps which would be reconfigured. Access to the ferry terminal at the foot of Bay Street is currently dominated by the entry to the Harbour Square parking garage, which is proposed to be reconstructed to have a much smaller footprint.

The Bay Street access would be reworked to deemphasize the condo ramp, image courtesy of KPMB, West 8, and Greenberg consulting

The waterfront promenade that has already been constructed along large portions of Toronto's waterfront is proposed to be extended into the park, and will provide increased traffic through the site. A large bridge across the Yonge Street slip will provide easy access to the east waterfront, and will be capable of removal when large visiting ships use the slip to dock. A playground is proposed to be constructed on the west end of the park, to encourage use by area children and provide a more diverse use of park users. 

The park would be significantly expanded to attract more families, image courtesy of KPMB, West 8, and Greenberg Consulting

To further maximize park space, the ferry terminal's roof is proposed to provide a publicly accessible green space which rises over the terminal below. The terminal would be constructed to the south of the existing terminal over the existing docking space for ferries, and a naturalized aquatic environment provided below the terminal which would be constructed on a structure that would support the building above the water. Large openings in the terminal's floor would provide a reminder of the water below for terminal users.

The terminal building and its green roof, image courtesy of KPMB, West 8, and Greenberg consulting

The terminal itself would feature a modernized fare payment system, using online ticket sales and presto card compatibility to streamline entry to the terminal and minimize the amount of space required for ticket booths. A large waiting area will present itself upon entry to the terminal, with a concession stand and an indoor waiting area for the winter. The roof structure will float above the waiting area, with two separate structures below it providing space for concessions, washrooms, and staff space.  

Entry to the terminal is through and opening in the undulating roof, image courtesy of KPMB, West 8, and Greenberg Consulting

The architecture of the terminal features a prefabricated wood structure supporting the park space above and creating a unique architectural expression for those in the waiting areas below. The precast concrete decking will provide a durable surface that will allow for vehicle access to the ferries and simple maintenance.

Interior of the proposed terminal, image courtesy of KPMB, West 8, and Greenberg Consulting

By locating the terminal over the existing ferry docking spaces, and moving the docking spaces further south into the harbor, the development is able to be phased through construction easily without necessitating the closure of the ferry terminal. The terminal is also designed to allow for changes in the ferry fleet in the coming years, whether that be to larger, higher capacity ferries, or to smaller but more frequent ferries modeled after european styles of ferry operations. 

Interior layout of the terminal, image courtesy of KPMB, West 8, and Greenberg Consulting

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 two 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