Our Jarvis Slip Is Showing
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Our Jarvis Slip Is Showing

Moving insect legs! A dazzling shimmer wall! Faux beach, part deux! Waterfront Toronto has selected three proposals for the redevelopment of the Jarvis Street slip area, which currently features a dumpy, underutilized parking lot and not much else. Already part of the greater Waterfront Revitalization Plan, Lower Jarvis and Queen’s Quay will soon be home to some new architecture (namely First Waterfront Place, the headquarters and studios of Corus Entertainment) and will be the gateway to 22 hectares of fresh development—dubbed East Bayfront—including an estimated 7,000 residential units and an uninterrupted, 1.5 km shoreline promenade. An eastward expansion of the Queen’s Quay streetcar tracks is also part of the strategy, first extending to Jarvis, and then eventually to Sherbourne.
Late last year, Waterfront Toronto solicited innovative plans for the half-hectare Lower Jarvis site, which were meant to informally animate the street level as well as accommodate large-scale gatherings. Proposals had to have a strong connection to the water’s edge, achieve excellence in design, and be highly sustainable. The square also had to accommodate the existing water’s edge promenade plan, as well as fit in aesthetically with the industrial gantries of the Redpath sugar refinery (about thirty ships still unload raw sugar annually in the Jarvis slip).
The design jury consists of George Baird (U of T Dean of Architecture, Landscape, and Design), Peter Clewes (partner, architectsAlliance), Siamak Hariri (principal, Hariri Pontarini Architects), and Greg Smallenberg (partner, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg), who plan to announce the winning proposal on February 1. The three proposals will be exhibited to the public from January 21–25 at the Metro Hall Rotunda (55 John Street).
Read on to see a preview of the landscape renderings and a rundown of each proposal.


This proposal by firms West 8 and du Toit Allsopp Hillier is our choice pick, mainly because of a wonderfully grotesque animated sculpture planned for the square. Resembling two giant, articulated limbs seemingly ripped off a Louise Bourgeois creature, the insectoid timber masts hydraulically move in a freakish ballet that would make H.R. Giger proud. Representatives from the design firm seemed to balk somewhat when we classified the sculpture as audacious, but let’s call a spade a spade—they’re two huge, wriggling bug legs. And that’s fantastic.
The sculpture sits on a pleasing patchwork of paving that the designers call “quilted,” inspired by tapestries and classic geometric puzzles. A series of twelve diminishing triangular “softshapes” split up the western edge of the square, which show grass in the design renderings, but could consist of multicoloured seasonal plantings or even water features.
One edge of each grassy wedge is raised, though our concern would be the maintenance of the lawn segments. We can see the tip of each triangle deteriorating into packed dirt with the traffic from pedestrians, baby strollers, and pets. The topography is split at a pleasing angle, opening the east part of the square to the Corus studios, although the demarcation seems to reduce the utility of the site for very large event crowds.
Giant mechanical arms aren’t new or particularly complex technology: Rotterdam’s Schouwburgplein (also a West 8 project) is currently home to the largest articulated-arm lamp posts in the world, and the space shuttle’s legendary Canadarm uses a similar hydraulic rotation system to the ones proposed by the West 8/DTAH designers. Basically, each joint moves only in one planar direction, but joints are at varying angles from each other, allowing a wide range of movement and the appearance of dexterity (think Rubik’s Snake). Once again resisting our comparison to the wiggly appendages of a giant insect, the design team instead claims inspiration from the organic appearance of a stalk of sugar cane—surely a more palatable comparison for the entomophobes of Toronto, and one that alludes well to the Redpath refinery next door.
We also suggested that such a sculpture might require frequent maintenance and repair, which the team passively acknowledged, and which Waterfront Toronto says has been taken into account in the greater revitalization plan. We were additionally intrigued by the notion that the arms could feature sensors that could interact with the movement of pedestrians, or that might be animated by the public via the internet.
The sculpture is also both industrial and organic-looking, which is appropriate for the mixed-use site, echoing the loading cranes across the shipping basin. We can see tourists being attracted to this oddity—especially children, who’d find it less creepily anthropomorphic—and it would be an iconic landmark for the square. If the waterfront can handle a massive pair of testicles, why not bug legs?


JRA appealingly dubs their proposal “Weatherfront,” although it’s more of a conceptual reference rather than a tangible one. The hallmark of this design is a massive shimmering, semi-transparent wall by environmental artist Ned Khan, who has erected similar work throughout the United States. San Francisco-based Khan incorporates wind, light, sand, and fog as design elements, allowing nature to animate the works.
This ripple wall consists of thousands of pivoting, reflective squares mounted on cables, the surface of which undulates like a flag or a pond when wind blows across it. Bisecting the vertical façade is a horizontal canopy made from the same materials and incorporating a misting fog feature that would be irresistible during hot summer days.
Probably the strangest part of the proposal is the series of potentially copyright-infringing Egg Chairs, allegedly light and lubricated enough to twirl easily with the wind. The design firm told Torontoist that the chairs are meant as a social feature, pivoting to face each other and molded into in an inviting, embracing shape. Though surely a no-brainer attraction for kids, we can also imagine adults spinning around with fingers tented together, spouting a campily sinister, “Eeeeeexcellent!”
Paving is consistent with the material used throughout the greater Waterfront Revitalization Plan, although it is inlaid with flush, coloured lamps.
Our biggest concern with this design is how the square might hold up in winter. The permanent chairs aren’t easily plowed around, they collect snow and ice, and the high-maintenance fog feature is seasonally useless. Even the ripple wall might freeze into an inert series of static mirrors with the moisture-laden winter weather blowing in from the lake.
Still, one of Weatherfront’s advantages is the simplicity. It would easily accommodate large event crowds (even if the chairs wouldn’t survive the wear and tear), and it is attractive in its scarcity. Ned Khan’s artwork is site-appropriate with its industrial sheen, but the site may be too boring in its potential utility, serving mainly as a nice, open mouth to the foot of Jarvis, but little else. Nevertheless, do we really need loads of braggadocio for the Jarvis slip?


Look familiar? It should—the team for this design is part of the same one that built the quirky HtO Park at Queen’s Quay (along with Janet Rosen & Associates, who are now competing with Cormier for the Jarvis site). This design features the same sandy “urban beach,” fixed metal umbrellas, and wooden Muskoka chairs. Augmenting the plan are transplanted bedrock podiums reminiscent of the reassembled stone in Yorkville Park.
The designers see sloping rocks and “green dunes” as forming a natural amphitheatre for both people-watching or events, and the success of HtO Park’s tiny plot of fake beach shows that if you sand it, Torontonians will come. We kinda like how the beach and rocks allude to something natural, yet it’s entirely manufactured and isn’t afraid to celebrate that. Unlike the other proposals, this design is counter-industrial and stands-out in its unabashedly mismatched identity.
The northeast end of the square integrates well with the to-be-built structures, opening up a bit with swooping mounds into a pedestrian-friendly entrée leading to what we hope are animated storefronts, a museum, and a glass-front studio in the Corus building. From the paved section, looking southwest, the sandy wedge (charmingly dubbed Sugar Beach) would appear to jut out on an angle into Lake Ontario and it’s a nice continuation along street level of the marine theme from the famous Wyland mural painted on the side of the Redpath building.
For after dark, the Cormier team pitched strips of catenary (hanging) lights illuminating the diagonal pedestrian walkway, as well as a single, tall “moon lighting” pylon. The chain of hanging lamps would subtly pass through the trees in straight lines, and the main lighting tower could also house optional scaffolded event lighting. The industrial-looking pylon is meant to cast subtle, diffused illumination around its base, but it seems oddly out of place with the rest of the design.
Waterfront Toronto claims that the Jarvis slip square design competition is one of many to come, and that the era of glacial development is coming to an end. Vice-president of planning Chris Glaisek assured Torontoist that the money actually does exist and that he feels the Jarvis plans are realistic given the $4 million budget. When asked where the cash to maintain the sites will come from in the future, he stated that Waterfront Toronto, in cahoots with various government agencies, is actively soliciting philanthropic funding, which allegedly becomes easier to secure as a whole with the completion of each new site. What about income from advertising or naming rights? “Not in our plans,” we’re told.
It’s easy to get frustrated after years of aborted dreams for the waterfront and abysmal bureaucratic mismanagement, but it seems like Toronto is finally seeing some progress. Every new proposal within the revitalization zone must fit into a consistent template, which is a good thing, but it’s also nice that these projects, while tiny, have their own unique identities. Unfortunately, grand designs are easily fettered once the true costs are revealed (see: ROM), so it remains to be seen how much of what we’re seeing now ends up at the foot of Jarvis.