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 Stoss Landscape Urbanism (Boston), nARCHITECTS (New York City) and ZAS Architects (Toronto).

Overview of The Cloud Park, image courtesy of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, nARCHITECTS, ZAS Architects

We recently had the occasion to talk with Chris Reed, architect at Stoss Landscape Urbanism to talk about "The Cloud Park".

This is not the first time the company has submitted a proposal for an urban design competition in Toronto. Indeed, a few years ago Stoss competed for the re-naturalization project of the Lower Don Lands—also lead by Waterfront Toronto—and in the process gained considerable knowledge of Toronto's waterfront, the issues it faces, as well as the transformation it is undergoing.

Overview of The Cloud Park, image courtesy of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, nARCHITECTS, ZAS Architects

When questioning Reed about the source of inspiration for this project, he mentions this always changing low flat line that marks the point where the city meets the lake. He also mentions the importance of the lake when it comes to the city's climate, regularly disappearing in the fog coming from that vast stretch of water. The starting point is thus the natural geology of the site, and is the theme around which the Cloud Park and Ferry Terminal were developed. This translates into one of the park's most impressive installations and from which it actually took its name, The Cloud. The bridge that currently links the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel and the 33 Harbour Square Condominiums to the west, spanning over the foot of Bay street will be equipped with a mist-making feature that will produce a refreshing mist during the hot summer months while in the winter, a warm fog will envelop the so-called Cloud Gate. 

Walking south on the Cloud Gate, image courtesy of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, nARCHITECTS, ZAS Architects

The idea is to reconnect visually and physically the city and its lake shore. To that end, the existing tunnel leading to the underground residences' garage will be moved to the west in order to open the view towards Lake Ontario from Bay Street, while the trees that might block the view will be removed to create a sort of natural corridor, a transition from the built spaces to the water. The park itself will be totally revamped, with a thick tree canopy planted on the future rolling hills to the west for the passerby to enjoy as well as a bosque in the waiting area of the new ferry terminal that will provide shade to passengers waiting to board during sunny days.

View from the park towards the pools, image courtesy of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, nARCHITECTS, ZAS Architects

The second most important criterion in the conception of the Cloud Park is to bring a bit of the islands' culture to the city. The Toronto Islands are a unique place to escape and feel a sense of abandon, but also be entertained, should it be at the amusement park or at one of the beaches. The new park should be seen as an extension of the islands, as part of the adventure, and not only as a facility used for transportation purposes.

Reed sees The Cloud Park a place to go to and not only to leave from. A series of activities such as a floating pool, a hot tub (both filled with the lake's filtered water), a water/ice plaza, areas to get a tan or sit and have lunch will bring life to the harbour, sometimes in the harbour. For Reed, it is about intensifying the already existing Torontonian outdoorsy culture and provide new spaces to enable its development.

The proposed ferry terminal, image courtesy of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, nARCHITECTS, ZAS Architects

The ferry terminal will be a discreet but nonetheless appealing light-toned one-storey building, more or less at the same location the current facility is situated, on the east side of the new tree corridor. Once again, Reed insists that the building must be embedded in the park and vice-versa. It results in a self-sufficient space that shows users all they need to see: the city, the park, the lake, the islands and the ferry boats represented by the 5 points and sides the terminal is made of, but also with a feeling of openness and clarity, highlighted by a maple wood ceiling, letting the light get in through the roof. It differs from the old ferry terminal often considered as an enclosed, not easy to get around place. The technical spaces, meeting rooms and such will be relegated to the other end of the site, close to the Yonge Street slip, also revamped with a floating promenade deck.

Inside the proposed ferry terminal, image courtesy of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, nARCHITECTS, ZAS Architects

Finally, just like many things in the city, the architecture and general design of the park was influenced by the extremes of Canadian weather. In order to entice visitors to this place even during the harshest months of the year, even winter, the park had to be designed as a flexible space. Just like the nature changing throughout the seasons, the Cloud Park will be in constant evolution. First, as mentioned above, the fog will give the park a constantly evolving look. At night, discreet light fixtures embedded in the ground will light up the trees and the maple leaves set into the pavement.

The changing colours of the tree canopy, image courtesy of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, nARCHITECTS, ZAS Architects

The shadowed spaces protected by the trees in the summer will get sunnier as those same trees lose their leaves in the fall. The water plaza will be transformed into a skating rink in the winter, while the hot tub will remain open no matter how cold it gets, creating an interesting contrast its the frozen surroundings. The ferry terminal is conceived as a flexible space that can be divided into smaller spaces if needed, thanks to a series of moving glass walls. Accessible by everyone and animated by a coffee shop, visitors will be able to rent their pair of skates during the winter, and find there a warm shelter from the freezing winds and snow.

Scale model of the Cloud park and ferry terminal project, picture by Marcus Mitanis

Before finishing our interview, Reed highlighted again the fact that the park is the first element taken into consideration in this project. Native plants and tailored uses aim to make the Cloud Park an iconic space in Toronto, in the continuity of the recent improvements realized along the waterfront. It aims to improve the space, dealing with the constructions going back and forth along the water while contributing to the public realm in a sustainable way.

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 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. 

Related Companies:  urbanMetrics inc., Waterfront Toronto