Photo by Eric Yip/Torontoist.
Bruce Mau, the OCAD-dropout-turned-graphic-designer best known for dropping the “graphic” from his title to become an authority on all things just, good, and beautiful, was the guest of honour at the now-two-weeks-past Design Exchange Black & White Fundraising Gala. It was at said gala, on the cusp of our city’s mayoral election, that we cornered Mau to probe his mind on the state of our city and where, if at all, Toronto might benefit from a redesign. Mau’s reflections might come as a bit of a surprise to some. For one, he loves the Gardiner. At least, sort of.
“It’s one of those few moments in urban Toronto that is really dramatic. I mean, you get up there and you have a perspective on the city that is really super cool. I think it’s a completely stupid idea to bury it.”
Through Bruce Mau’s optimistic and altruistic perspective, the Gardiner Expressway is not a waterfront barrier but, instead, a missed design opportunity. His pragmatic solution for the area underneath is a lighting system that would make the experience more enjoyable—or, specifically, less hideous.
“It’s designed ugly, so people don’t want to go there,” he says. “There are lots of places in the world, like Chicago, where it’s much more difficult to get to the waterfront than that. But people still go to the lake. If you actually analyzed it and look at the experience in Toronto, it’s nothing. You would walk right past it if it were beautiful. But when you create this big industrial wasteland, it’s not something that I really want to walk through. But other than that, I love the place!”
Still, it’s clear that the waterfront is an ongoing point of frustration for Mau. “One of the things that we discovered when we moved to Chicago [the U.S. headquarters for Bruce Mau Design, Inc.] that’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever thought of about Toronto, is that every Friday afternoon in the summer, everyone who can afford it gets in a car and drives for three or four hours, away from a lake, so they can go swimming. We have a lake! We have twenty percent of the world’s fresh water right here in front of us, and we drive away from it for three hours instead of designing the waterfront so that we actually want to be there.”
The same principle can be applied to the TTC, an area of Toronto’s urban landscape that Mau has been vocal about revisioning. Again, it all boils down to the experience.
“We don’t design transit to win. We design it to lose.” Mau recalls a drive through Toronto in February when he and his wife passed a glass box bus shelter containing a woman huddling against the cold. “Now, if you use the same bus shelter in February in Toronto and in Los Angeles, already we’ve got a problem.”
“I said to my wife, in a million years I’m not getting out of the car, and no one else is either. No one except someone who can’t have a choice is getting into that bus shelter. So long as we design it to lose, it’s gonna lose. If we really want to change that, we have to redesign the experience. We have to make an awesome experience that’s way better than the car.” Mau adds, “It’s just a design problem. You can do it.”
Waterfront and transit woes aside, Mau is upbeat when asked to describe his ideal Toronto. “It’s pretty much as it is, I think. I think it’s very cool here.”