One of the largest infrastructure projects in Toronto’s history is well underway in the Port Lands, where the project to naturalize the mouth of the Don River is moving millions of tons of earth around in the industrial neighbourhood. The initiative will greatly reduce the risk of flooding, while undoing a century of industrial harm, allowing the river to flow freely through a newly vegetated delta and away from its awkward concrete-framed ninety-degree turn into the lake. The massive undertaking will also unlock many acres of land for redevelopment, including a new street grid, streetcar network, parkland, and an island that will be home to thousands of new residents.

The architectural centrepieces of the project are the four new bridges that span across the re-routed Don River. Designed by Grimshaw Architects and structural engineers Entuitive, the eye-catching bridges stand out thanks to their unique curving design and their bright pops of colour.

View of one of the bridges in the Port Lands with guardrails installed, image by Kevin Robinson

All four bridges are now installed, having famously been assembled in Nova Scotia and transported on barges down the St Lawrence River to their final resting place on the shores of Lake Ontario. The finishing touches are now being applied; this is where Feature Walters comes in, providing their expertise to help design and fabricate the guardrails of the bridges that will add one of the final pieces needed to complete them.

Feature Walters, a division of Walters Group, is a steel fabrication company based out of Hamilton which specializes in architectural metals and Architecturally Exposed Structural Steel. They offer a full range of services from design through to fabrication and installation, and their portfolio comprises a diverse range of projects from feature staircases to sculptures and art installations; custom-made windows and curtain walls; awnings and canopies; guardrails and handrails; and everything in between. They have been producing unique architectural steel and metal products for over 50 years, and they specialize in custom-made installations that are specific to each project.

View of one of the bridges in the Port Lands, image by Kevin Robinson

On the Port Lands project, Feature Walters was engaged to fabricate the guardrails for each of the four bridges. Working closely with the client and design team, Feature Walters were able to help bring the vision to life, offering their technical and design expertise to improve upon the design in order to achieve the desired look.

The Feature Walters team identified issues with the proposed design that might be difficult to install or may not achieve a refined final look. For example, the connection of the guardrail pickets to the bottom fascia was one such detail where Feature Walters designed a new connection. Rather than piercing through the top surface of the fascia, they instead proposed ending the pickets at the face of the fascia and fixing them with pins which produced a cleaner finish. The new detail guaranteed a more uniform look across each guardrail; complied with engineering requirements; and was more conducive to the constraints of installing the guardrails while working from the bridge.

Installation of the guardrails in progress, image by Kevin Robinson.

Feature Walters also worked with the design team and their workers on site to optimize the weld sizes and methods. Welding can be a tricky task, particularly with exposed finishes, as the type of metal, size of the weld, and finish profile can all have significant impacts on the final look. As well, if the weld is done incorrectly, it can cause discolouration and distortion of the metal. Working closely with the design team, Feature Walters conducted various mockups and tests prior to fabrication and installation in order to determine the best welds that would deliver the best possible result on the guardrails.

View of the guardrails installed, image by Kevin Robinson

For any project with architectural metals, Feature Walters offers design-assist services in addition to fabrication, where they work alongside the architects, engineers, and clients to help design their unique project-specific components. Engaging with them early on in the design process can help mitigate issues that may arise later on and can help clients save time and money during construction. Their technical expertise will also optimize the design and installation to ensure that the desired finish and look is achieved. Their work is not limited to steel, as they also fabricate and design with a wide range of metals and associated materials including bronze, aluminum, copper, composites, glass, and wood, in order to deliver a complete product.

View of the guardrails installed, image by Kevin Robinson

More information on Feature Walters can be found on their website here. We will keep you updated on the progress of the Port Lands Bridges and the naturalization of the Don River, but in the meantime, you can join in on the discussion by checking out the associated Forum thread or by leaving a comment in the space provided below.

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