Winner Announced in Nathan Phillips Square Design Competition
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Winner Announced in Nathan Phillips Square Design Competition

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Last month, we announced the finalists for the Nathan Phillips Square redesign competition, naming Plant Architect with Shore Tilbe Irwin as our pick. We liked the proposal’s subtlety and forward-thinking environmental slant, as well as nods to elements of Revell’s original plans that were never realized. Tonight, the competition jury committee agreed with us and revealed Plant/STI’s entry as the winning proposal.
Torontoist writer and Toronto Public Space Committee member Jonathan Goldsbie attended the announcement tonight and remarked, “My favourite line of the evening was Eric Haldenby [Jury Chair] quoting Frederick Law Olmstead: There is no greater art than that which creates public space. In praising jury member David Crombie, Haldenby said—with apologies to Miller—’David Crombie is still and always the symbol of the city.’ Miller was visibly miffed.”
The project has an overall cost of $40 million, which includes development and design firm fees. At the end of 2005, City Council approved a $16 million funding plan to begin implementation of the project, which was based on cost estimates to maintain the square over the next few years, whether or not a competition was held. $24 million has yet to be raised, but Mayor Miller expects it to come from from the provincial and federal governments, as well as the businesses community.
“This, of course, aroused thoughts of the Scotiabank Peace Garden and American Express Amphitheatre in the middle of a new Rogers Square,” says Goldsbie. “Later, however, when Haldenby spoke, he emphasized that the square ‘must be fully and truly public,’ meaning ‘free from franchises’ and ‘corporate intrusions.’ This set off remarkable applause from the audience.”
Read-on for more photos and a detailed breakdown of the winning proposal.


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• The plan has a primary focus on eco-technologies, from installing a green roof on the podium level to addressing light pollution. Rainwater is to be retained and reused while radiant heat is to be recovered for other uses. A complex system of subterranean irrigation and soil support technology is to be installed to better maintain the flora.
• The “urban forest” is significantly increased—the most visible tree canopy enhancement out of the four proposals. The plan states that coverage is increased by 30% overall, and 60% around the perimeter.
• Waste from construction is to be reused and recycled into the new construction. For example, concrete and gravel could be ground-up and recomposited into new pavement tiles.
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• A smaller glass pavilion at Queen and Bay will house tourist information and a bicycle rental kiosk. It will also include an elevator to the colonnade level and entry into the underground parking facility. The designers wished to have bicycles clearly visible high inside the structure to underscore the importance of alternative transportation. Extended bike parking will also be included here.
• Original architect Viljo Revell had planned for a reflecting pool on the podium level, surrounding the base of the rotunda that houses Council Chambers. Though the podium level will be re-opened and revived as a sustainable green roof, a large, round, polished black granite disc will allude to the reflecting pool design, but act as a public gathering spot. At night, the area will become a “lightstick garden” somewhat reminiscent of the one in Yorkville Park.
• The south end PATH and parking garage exit would be reconfigured to face north, so pedestrians would ascend to street-level facing City Hall.
• A large glass box pavilion at the southwest corner of the square would house skate rentals, washrooms, and the two-storey Treetop Restaurant with an outdoor patio and observation roof deck (City Hall currently has no exterior food services). A cedar-decked café is also planned for area of the podium known as “the prow,” which is the part of the southeast podium corner that juts out alongside the ceremonial ramp.
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• The Peace Garden would be relocated to the western strip, reducing clutter, freeing-up space around the reflecting pool and creating a new water feature—the “disappearing fountain”—in its place. The new Peace Garden will feature a larger pool made of black granite, and the water is to be so shallow that it can be walked-through without getting one’s shoes wet.
• Plant’s proposal calls for wood decking to be installed along the colonnade and a small cutout section of the walkway in glass at the south end. We’re curious to know how often the planking would need to be replaced, and what that might cost. It could end-up as a casualty of the inevitable changes in the final design.
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• New paving, seating and lighting will open up the square into Queen Street. The forecourt paving is meant to look rough and organic and echoes the cladding on the back of the towers and other materials used in the original construction.
• Concern is taken to minimize light pollution. Low-level lighting is to be subtle rather than flooding the square with flat, harsh light.
• The permanent concert stage is designed as a stepped, flat riser with a staircase that meets the colonnade level. For smaller shows, the back stairs can act as bleachers, and the stair structure conceals a staging area behind it.
• Though not technically part of the square design, the proposal calls to re-open the abandoned observation deck on the 27th floor of the east tower.
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