Posts Tagged 'Adamson Associates'

Art and architecture on the Spadina subway

A defining characteristic of many great cities is their subway system (or metro/underground), and the primary points of contact for those using the system are its stations. From the earliest stations in the London Underground, the Paris Metro and the New York Subway to the recent creations of Santiago Calatrava, Norman Foster and Renzo Piano, a city’s subway stations are important elements of civic identity and pride for both residents and visitors.

Toronto’s relationship with its subway stations has been decidedly mixed since the system’s opening in 1954. The early stations on the Yonge, University and Bloor-Danforth lines, based on standardized designs by John B. Parkin Associates, were intended to be functional: clean-lined, durable and efficient. But by the late 1960s, despite increasingly lurid combinations of coloured wall tiles, Toronto’s stations began to seem overly utilitarian and sterile, particularly compared to the avant-garde stations of Montreal’s new Metro.

To address this aesthetic deficit, in 1974 the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) decided to engage architects and artists in the design of the eight stations comprising its new Spadina Line. Three architectural firms were selected and assigned two stations each: Arthur Erickson Architects (Eglinton West and Yorkdale), Adamson Associates (Spadina and Glencairn) and Dunlop Farrow Aitken (Dupont and Lawrence West). The TTC retained architectural control over the St. Clair West and Wilson stations due to their technical complexities. Nine Ontario artists were selected from over 400 entrants in an open competition: Ted Bieler, Claude Breeze, Louis de Niverville, Michael Hayden, Rita Letendre, Gordon Rayner, James Sutherland, Joy Wieland and Gerald Zeldin.

The Spadina Line opened with great fanfare in January 1978. Dupont, Eglinton West and Yorkdale are generally considered the most successful stations, combining architectural verve with vibrant and well-integrated artwork. Dupont is the most fantastical of the three, a wondrous subterranean world of organically curving walls lined in shimmering melon-coloured tiles, which culminate at platform level with James Sutherland’s enormous glass-mosaic murals of psychedelicized plant life. Station entrances are Plexiglas bubbles framed in bright orange metal, startling insertions in their drab, workaday surroundings; hulking black steel gates by Ron Baird guard the electrical substation adjoining the northwest entrance.

TTC Eglinton West

Viewed from Eglinton Avenue, Arthur Erickson’s Eglinton West station appears as an octagonal glass-walled pavilion, topped with a concrete waffle-slab roof and pyramidal skylights. Once inside, though, a series of terraced staircases descend through the station to platform level, which features Gerald Zeldin’s well-loved Summertime Streetcar murals of abstracted TTC streetcars. The station’s refined details and limited materials palette of concrete, glass, stainless steel and variegated orange brick contribute to a visual serenity that counters the clamour of trains, busses and people.

Yorkdale station, also by Erickson, is a striking visual metaphor for speed and motion, a long, slim, stainless-steel-clad extrusion punched with oval windows like a subway car and capped by a vaulted glass roof running the entire length of the station. The slender steel roof arches once supported Michael Hayden’s stunning Arc en Ciel, a 570-foot-long light sculpture of neon tubes that pulsated with the colours of the spectrum in sequence with the arrivals and departures of the trains below. A particularly effective integration of art and architecture, the sculpture was unfortunately removed in the early 1990s for lack of maintenance funds. The same fate befell Rita Letendre’s Joy, a painted-glass skylight over the Glencairn station platform, which faded from sun exposure and was replaced by clear glass.

Spadina: Adamson Associates; Morning Glory by Louis de Niverville (porcelain enamel mural) and Barren Ground Caribou by Joyce Wieland (fabric quilt)
Dupont: Dunlop Farrow Aitken; Spadina Summer Under All Seasons by James Sutherland (glass mosaic tile murals)
St. Clair West: TTC architects; Tempo by Gordon Rayner (porcelain enamel mural)
Eglinton West: Arthur Erickson Architects; Summertime Streetcar by Gerald Zeldin (porcelain enamel murals)
Glencairn: Adamson Associates; Joy by Rita Letendre (painted glass skylight, removed)
Lawrence West: Dunlop Farrow Aitken; Spacing…Aerial Highways by Claude Breeze (ceramic tile mural)
Yorkdale: Arthur Erickson Architects; Arc en Ciel by Michael Hayden (neon lightwork, removed)
Wilson: TTC architects; Canyons by Ted Bieler (aluminum wall relief).

A walk along Ardwold Gate

Atop the escarpment above Davenport Road and just east of Spadina House, Ardwold Gate meanders through what was once the estate of Sir John Craig and Lady Eaton. Ardwold (“high on a green hill” in Gaelic) was their enormous, opulent Italianate manse, completed in 1911 and demolished only 25 years later. The grounds were then subdivided and upscale homes began to rise among the aged oak trees.

In addition to traditional Georgian and Colonial styles, Ardwold Gate boasts two notable Modernist residences. 17 Ardwold Gate was designed by Gordon Adamson & Associates for St. Clair Balfour, president of the then-powerful Southam newspaper chain, and completed in 1960. The two-storey house presents a very private public face: a starkly rectilinear façade of off-white sandlime brick framed in black steel is relieved only by three windows arranged in an asymmetrical pattern. Low garden walls of matching brick further distance the house from the street. At the rear, however, rows of sliding glass doors open onto a full-width balcony and terrace, capturing southern sunlight and capitalizing upon superlative views over the city below. The Balfour house was a finalist in the 1961 Massey Medals for Architecture competition.

At 95 Ardwold Gate is the Richard Mauran residence, designed by Estonian-Canadian architect Taivo Kapsi and completed in 1968. It’s a striking and highly unusual example of a Brutalist house: the entire structure, including the exterior and interior walls, is of cast-in-place concrete. Kapsi used saw-cut timber forms to achieve a raw, rough-textured finish, the prominent striations adding surface interest and emphasizing the three-dimensional effect of the house’s interlocking vertical and horizontal planes. A front courtyard is screened from view; at the rear, cantilevered terraces appear to float within the dense foliage of Roycroft Park. The weighty, almost primal effect of the concrete is effectively countered by broad expanses of clear glass. Ceilings of cedar boards add a tactile warmth. The second-floor balcony overlooking the street was later filled in, slightly disrupting the house’s visual rhythm but not compromising its powerful presence.

Tragically, Kapsi didn’t live to see his work completed. He died in August 1967 at the age of 31, following an altercation with intruders at a cottage north of Toronto. The Mauran house stands as a testament to his unrealized potential as an architect.


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