HtO Urban Beach
Photo Credit: Claude Cormier
Initial Research by: Desiree Theriault
Edited by: Samantha Miller & Nicole Brekelmans
Case study compiled in 2017
Project: HtO Urban Beach
Type of Urban Strategy: Water
Type of Project: River Walk / Recreational Plaza
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Date Designed/Planned: 2003
Construction Completed: 2007
Designer: 2007 Janet Rosenberg + Associates Landscape Architects, Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagiste Inc. Hariri Pontarini Architects
In the early 2000s there was a dire need to address Toronto's waterfront, not only was it coming apart from the rest of the Greater Toronto Area - but it was also taking away one of Toronto's best asset: Lake Ontario.
In order to combat this issue, the City of Toronto and Toronto's Waterfront issued a competition brief to revitalize the Toronto Harbourfront into multiple parks. The competition winners for the first phase of the competition were Janet Rosenberg and Claude Cormier architects with their design HtO. The proposal looked at creating a brand-new relationship between the city and its residents. It was the catalyst and first step into making Toronto a waterfront city.
HtO is one of the first activators to Toronto’s waterfront inspired by Georges Seurat’s painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Just as its name suggests, a quirky play on the formula of water H2O and the abbreviation of TO, HtO aims to create a sense of serenity next to the water all the while utilizing unique and quirky elements to formulate an iconic destination.
The project designed by Janet Rosenberg & Studio sits on approximately 1.8 hectares of former industrial land. It features an urban beach that contrasts against the metropolis just behind it. The dramatic sequencing of berms which are interwoven into the site leading to a large sand pit captures the enjoyment and character of the beach, while transforming an old industrial site to a vibrant residential neighbourhood. HtO has become a catalyst for the development across Toronto’s waterfront.
(Janet Rosenberg and Studio, n.d.)
The City of Toronto funded the HtO park and urban beach as part of the design competition for the revitalization of Toronto’s Harbourfront parks. The competition was administered by the Economic Development, Culture and Tourism divisions through the Purchasing and Materials Management division of Finance.
Built upon Toronto’s old quays and docks, HTO locates itself west of Harbourfront Centre on Lake Ontario. The urban beach utilizes a multitude of berms to remediate the land and to attract people to the water’s edge and create a barrier between the world of city and beach. Yellow umbrellas line the ‘shoreline’ giving the sandpit an even more alluring look. The fun atmosphere created by HtO highly contrasts the hustle and bustle of the city, creating a new space for visitors to enjoy, relax and forget about their troubles.
(Claude Cormier, n.d.)
PROJECT BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
HtO park is built upon two quays that once operated for ships berthing in Toronto’s Inner Harbour. The quays are large concrete infill lots that were home to the Maple Leaf Quay and the Peter Street Slip. The site has an extensive history in its industrial formation. The eastern half of the site (Maple Leaf Quay) was home to the large Silos of Maple Leaf Mills. The western half, the Peter Street Slip Quay, harboured various industrial development, structures and a few tanks. In the 1980s, a multitude of these industrial businesses abandoned the quays and moved inland towards the development of Toronto’s downtown in hopes of economic prosperity. This left a stretch of vacant and polluted land along the waterfront in desperate need for remediation.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s when the City of Toronto decided to rejuvenate the waterfront quays of Lake Ontario. They dedicated approximately 16 hectares of abandoned land within Toronto’s Harbourfront to be revitalized and create a new public realm right next to the water’s edge. This included utilizing public parks, promenades and school/community centres in order to reinvigorate the multiple abandoned quays that clogged the waterfront.
In 2003, the first phasing of Toronto’s Harbourfront began with linking the maple leaf Quay and the Portland Street Slip. Toronto sent out a competition brief, asking designers to contemplate a space that would not only refresh the city’s amazing waterfront and ecology, but also provide a new dimension for the diverse neighbourhoods of Toronto.
Janet Rosenberg & Associates alongside Cormier Architects Paysagiste, created the winning scheme of HtO for this challenging request from the City of Toronto. Their design captured the fundamental changes required to create a new relationship between Toronto and its waterfront.
The problem that HtO addressed was creating the necessary link between Toronto and the downtown waterfront as well as reinvigorating the abandoned industrial areas. HtO does just this by utilizing the concept of an urban beach to contrast against the city but also provide a space of relaxation right next to one of the world’s largest lakes.
GOAL OF THE PROJECT
• Re-invigorate Public Realm
• Provide a relationship between Toronto and Lake Ontario
• Establish an ecological framework for new biodiversity
• Create a viewing area that utilizes the lake as the stage.
• A reclamation of the lake and the possibilities of living on the waterfront
DESIGN, DEVELOPMENT, AND DECISION MAKING PROCESS
HtO’s design created by Janet Rosenberg, Montreal Paysagiste Claude Cormier and architect Siamak Hariri, explores a simple material palette that softens the harsh features of the metropolis.
The first phase of the project was dedicated to remediating the contaminated soils of the old industrial quays. This included overlaying a thick layer of clean soil to allow for proper construction and foundation standards. Extensive planting, as well as tilted planes and berms, were utilized to stimulate biodiversity and serve as ecological habitats for the surrounding fauna and flora. The park utilizes an on-site irrigation system that draws water from Lake Ontario and transports it towards the diverse vegetation of the park. Lastly, the designers explored innovation with the on-site debris and recycled the concrete. The repurposing of these elements allowed for the creation of built aquatic and wetland habitat structures harbouring new life on the former industrial site.
The design itself leads visitors through a composition of concrete, paving, and brick that intermingle with multiple little berms shielding the beach from the concrete jungle. The area invites its users to come sit and picnic on the small hills shaded by the multiple red maple trees and willows.
The berms and concrete aid in combating the visual noise and hustle and bustle of the city, leading the user to a large sandy beach. The sandy beach overlooks Lake Ontario, utilizing the water as the stage for the city. The beach is lined with yellow umbrellas adding shade and an edge of quirkiness to attract users. HtO becomes a new way for the City of Toronto to re-introduce itself to its waterfront.
ROLE OF DESIGNERS
GENESIS OF THE PROJECT
In the early 2000s, there was a dire need to address Toronto’s waterfront, not only was it disjointed from the rest of the Greater Toronto Area – but it was also taking away one of Toronto’s best asset: Lake Ontario.
In order to combat this issue, the City of Toronto and Toronto’s Waterfront issued a competition brief to revitalize the Toronto Harbourfront into multiple parks. The competition winners for the first phase of the competition was Janet Rosenberg and Claude Cormier architects with their design HtO. The proposal looked at creating a brand-new relationship between the city and its residents. It was the catalyst and first step into making Toronto a waterfront city.
Yellow Umbrellas lined into a sand pit linking both infill quays and creating a large urban beach
Multiple grassy berms interweave into paving creating movement towards the sandpit
Recycled materials create large structures harbouring aquatic and ecological habitats for fauna and flora
Tilted ground planes regulate stormwater flow and encourage sustainable biodiversity
Red maples and oak trees top the berms contrasting the concrete jungle behind it
Public access to Martin Goodman Trail and Toronto’s main downtown core