Public spaces are taking centre stage in Toronto as of late, as the City is investing millions—and possibly even billions—in bringing world-class public spaces to our expanding metropolis. With the recent completion of celebrated spaces such as Sherbourne Common and Corktown Common, to the soon-to-be-complete revamps of Grange Park and Berczy Park, to the high-profile Under Gardiner and Rail Deck Park projects coming our way, Toronto is poised to become an international leader in public space design.
Next up on the docket is a complete overhaul of Moss Park, a highly visible—and highly contentious—park at the corner of Queen and Sherbourne Streets just outside the downtown core. Spearheaded by The 519 and funded by all three levels of government, the Moss Park project—affectionately called More Moss Park—aims to completely redesign the poorly organized plot of land to provide more amenities and better services to its diverse group of users. The proposal includes a brand new building by MJM Architects with sports facilities, gathering spaces, and services, and a completely reconfigured park designed by Dutch landscape architects West 8.
The concept behind the proposal is one of openness and inclusion, with a host of flexible and multi-purpose programming hoping to cater to the disparate current and future user groups that form the Moss Park community. That vision was presented this month to Toronto's Design Review Panel for their assessment.
The proposed building presents a stacked typology of three double-height floors that include all facilities under one roof, a feat that one Panelist likened to a game of Tetris. Pushed to the western edge of the park, the location of the new building will allow the existing facilities to remain in operation during construction until the grand opening, when the existing structures will be vacated and demolished.
The shape of the building responds to existing site restraints, with a water main passing underneath the park at an angle that determined the irregular shape of the ground floor. With a diminished ground floor and basement floor plate, the second floor cantilevers out to the south creating a dramatic canopy framing the park entrance from Queen Street.
The ground level is envisioned as an extension of the park, with a large open space interrupted by pockets of programming. The fully glazed envelope allows views both into and out of the park, and multiple entrances aim to maximize accessibility.
The double height of each of the floor levels allows for mezzanine areas that play with the interconnection of spaces and creates some interesting relationships between programs. A terraced seating area steps down from the ground floor to a platform featuring a picture window overlooking the ice rink on the basement level below. Meanwhile, a running track circles on a mezzanine level above the ground floor, which is open in the middle allowing views to the main lobby spaces below.
The basement level contains a new ice rink with seating and change rooms, while the second floor houses the gymnasium and swimming pool, along with their respective facilities.
The third floor has a much smaller floor plate that accommodates flexible multi-purpose rooms that can be used for community gatherings, fitness and wellness, or special events. The remainder of the third floor level will be a rooftop garden that incorporates a second running track.
Other notable building elements include the three dramatic exit stairwells that accent the west facade, as well as the cantilevered picture windows of the gymnasium and swimming pool. The subtle angles and ins and outs of the different floors create various greenscaped balconies and terraces on the different levels. Finally, the loading docks will be located to the north off of Shuter Street.
Moving away from the building, the design of the park takes a unique approach to the demands of the new program. The three edges of the park have three different responses to their respective streets, which frames an open flexible green space at the centre of the park.
Aiming to create an inclusive and multi-purpose common, the new design avoids over-programming of the spaces, particularly with the required sports facilities. The baseball field, soccer pitch, and open green space are proposed to be overlapped onto a central common that can be used for these different purposes during different times of the day. This move also frees up much more space in the park to be devoted to other activities. The central common is enclosed by a treed buffer on all three edges that offer respite from the urban environment.
Along Queen Street, a promenade of large-canopied trees pulls the sidewalk into the park, playing off of the existing conditions of thick foliage along the street. Roughly 50% of the existing trees in the park will be preserved.
The eastern Sherbourne Street edge features the 'Court Area', which contains tennis and basketball courts that welcome people into the park but also create a buffer between the busy traffic on the street and the open common within. A kiosk housing a possible cafe is located at the southeast corner at Queen and Sherbourne.
The north edge along Shuter Street contains family and community-oriented programming, with a splash pad that doubles as a skating rink in the winter, community gardens, and a playground area.
A notable element of the new park is a bridge feature at the northeast corner of the central common. Playing on the history of the park, which once contained an open creek running through it, designers wished to recreate this topography by digging down and spanning across the area with a bridge, offering views to the southwest toward the downtown skyline.
Security was also addressed in the proposal, as the entire park is lowered 1.5-metres from street level to allow clear views in as well as across the park. Lighting is ensured throughout to increase safety at night.
Public art is being curated by Public Studio, a local art and architecture collaborative between filmmaker Elle Flanders and architect Tamira Sawatzky. The guiding principles of the art in the park will be community engagement, reuse, and integrated art and architecture. Examples of possible interventions include 'unfollies', which are elements or pieces of the demolished buildings rearranged as installations throughout the site; a coloured facade of the building; the reinstallation of the currently existing lion at the community centre (including giving the lonely lion a new partner); and the installation of tree columns in the ground floor space of the building.
Overall, the Panel's reaction was positive toward the project, complimenting the design team on their efforts and supporting their approach of inclusivity and openness. They had little negative to say about the building, with which they were thoroughly impressed. They recommended more of an integration between the building and the park, particularly beneath the overhang, which has the potential to become a ceremonious entry point to the park but currently does not present anything of special consideration.
Panel members were more critical in their review of the park design. They pondered whether the central common space could actually accommodate all of the programs it was intended to, and while they agreed that the flexible approach was a step in the right direction, they questioned whether some suggestive programming—such as a backstop for the baseball field or some goal posts—might help to better define some of the sports fields. They also claimed that the park was currently overplanted with trees, which would seriously hinder the activities that can take place in the central common, and may affect visibility across the park.
The issue of the bridge and change in grade below it split the Panel into a lively debate. Some loved the idea; others strongly opposed it. Those in opposition claimed that it was an unnecessary feature that did not fit with the overall concept, and also occupied some valuable space at the centre that can be used for other activities. They also questioned how the space on and below the bridge would be used, and whether or not that would create security concerns by blocking visibility.
Panel members applauded the varied conditions on the three edges of the park, but offered some modifications to improve their design. The promenade along Queen Street was questioned as to whether it was appropriate to pull people away from the street rather than pulling the park onto the sidewalk, and cautioned the potential barrier created by adding too many trees. They also pointed out the discontinuity of the promenade, which begins at Sherbourne Street and ends mid-block at the Moss Park Armoury.
Finally, future considerations played heavily into the Panelists' commentary. Though the future of the Moss Park Armoury is unknown, they urged designers to consider its possible demolition and the potential reconnection of George Street through the park, and the implications of this on the design of the proposal. They also brought up the topic of a possible Moss Park subway station as part of the proposed Downtown Relief Line. It was recommended to consider the future location of this, as it was stated that it would be a shame to design such a beautiful park, only to have someone come later and ruin it by installing a poorly-placed subway entrance.
In two separate votes, Panel members unanimously supported the building for refinement of the current design, but were split on the park, with four members voting for redesign, and three voting for refinement of the current proposal.
We will keep you updated as more info becomes available on this exciting project. In the meantime, you can tell us what you think about More Moss Park by checking out our associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.