Posts Tagged 'landscape architecture'

Conserving a Hideo Sasaki landscape

IMG_8871 Queens Park Complex LR

Even more so than heritage buildings, heritage landscapes are fragile entities. Composed of often ephemeral elements and frequently overlooked and undervalued, the art of the landscape architect is all too vulnerable to inadequate maintenance, insensitive alterations or outright destruction.

In Toronto, a significant Modernist heritage landscape that has avoided such a fate is the Queen’s Park Complex at 900 Bay Street, built between 1964 and 1971 as the Government of Ontario’s flagship offices. Surrounding the four-tower complex, beautifully integrated with the architecture and site, is a peaceful, serene oasis of greenery designed by Hideo Sasaki, the renowned Japanese-American landscape architect, with Richard Strong of the Sasaki firm’s Toronto office. Trained at Harvard University and later chair of the school’s department of landscape design, Sasaki was a leading Modernist landscape architect of the postwar era and received worldwide acclaim for classics such as Greenacre Park in New York City, Eero Saarinen’s Deere & Company World Headquarters in Moline, Illinois and Waterfront Park in Charleston, South Carolina.

IMG_8681 Queens Park Complex LR

For the Queen’s Park Complex landscape, Sasaki eschewed the windswept plaza-and-a-sculpture clichés of the period and instead established a series of outdoor rooms on all four sides of the site, enclosed by plantings and linked by carefully considered pedestrian connections. The primary landscape faces Bay Street to the east and is the most formal and urbane, a limestone entrance court bordered by Japanese yew hedges and subtly divided by elevated planting areas, seating benches and rows of Japanese flowering crabapple and white birch trees. Greeting arrivals at the busy Bay/Wellesley corner is The Three Graces, a sculptural bronze fountain by Gerald Gladstone that emerges from a series of shallow reflecting pools. The north, west and southwest landscapes are more informal, with gently sloping berms and naturalistic clusters of trees and shrubs amid green lawns.

All the landscapes flow smoothly together, connected by a continuous ground plane of limestone pavers. Adding to the engaging and rewarding pedestrian experience is the sheltering effect of the deep entrance porticos at the base of the towers and the high quality of the building itself: the elegant, subtle detailing, fine materials and impeccable craftsmanship reward close study. The complex exudes a sense of pride and purpose, a belief in government as a force for positive change that seems poignant in today’s context.

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IMG_8938 Queens Park Complex LR

Sasaki’s landscape design also included an outdoor courtyard, set in the middle of the complex and visible through the glass walls of the main Bay Street entrance. Here, the rectilinear grid of the surrounding buildings is broken by an organically-curved reflecting pool; its edging of rough-textured black granite blocks loops across itself and continues onward into the landscape. Water patters soothingly from the pool’s fountain, an assemblage of bronze cubes by E.B. Cox. Sasaki’s interpretation of traditional Japanese gardens is reflected in the courtyard’s winding stone pathways and viewing platform, ornamental trees and shrubs and thick ivy groundcover.

Public art was another significant landscape component. As well as the Gladstone and Cox pieces, the province commissioned sculptures for the complex’s four primary entrances: Walter Yarwood’s The Pines on Wellesley Street; Jack Harman’s Mother and Child at the adjacent Whitney Block; Paulosie Kanayook’s Hunter with Seal on Bay Street and Louis Archambault’s towering Man and Woman on Grosvenor Street. The art program continued inside with more than twenty permanent installations by the likes of Jack Bush, Kazuo Nakamura, Jordi Bonet and Harold Town.


After years of neglect, the Queen’s Park Complex landscape was restored in the early 2000s in accordance with a heritage landscape assessment and master plan by heritage architects ERA Architects, landscape historian Mark Laird and landscape architects Hough Woodland Naylor Dance Leinster. It has been designated by the Province of Ontario as a significant landscape of cultural and heritage value. To find out more about the Queen’s Park Complex and other significant designed landscapes in the U.S. and Canada, visit The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

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Toronto Islands Modern

Located just across Toronto’s inner harbour from the downtown core, the Toronto Islands have long been a popular summertime retreat from the heat and noise of the city. While the 17 or so islands are dotted with structures dating to the early 1800s, the creation of Centre Island Park in the late 1950s and early 1960s produced some interesting Modernist versions of traditional park facilities.

In 1956 Project Planning Associates began work on the master plan for Centre Island Park, intended as the first stage of a larger plan to redevelop the entire Toronto Islands as a vast public park. Led by Macklin Hancock, planner of the internationally-acclaimed Don Mills, Project Planning Associates was one of Canada’s first broadly multidisciplinary design firms, providing in-house teams of planners, architects, landscape architects, civil engineers and other specialized consultants for large-scale projects.

Toronto Island postcard c.1960

As originally conceived, Centre Island Park included Middle Island, Olympic Island and the core of Centre Island itself. Visitors disembark at the Centre Island ferry dock and proceed southward along the Avenue of the Islands, winding through a landscape of sprawling green lawns, grassy berms and clusters of trees. Across Long Pond and Manitou Bridge are the park’s centrepieces, the octagonal Island Fountain and a grand pedestrian mall that extends south to the shore of Lake Ontario. Perhaps oddly formal for the resolutely casual Islands, the allée is lined with manicured hedges and trees, colourful flowerbeds and cool blue reflecting pools. Far Enough Farm, a small-scale children’s farm, was also established at the time.

In addition to executing the park’s overall planning and landscape design, Project Planning also designed a number of buildings as Hancock, Little, Calvert Associates. Particularly expressive is the hexagon-shaped Iroquois Restaurant, perched upon the bank of a lagoon and sheltered under a folded copper roof supported by massive timber beams. In a more rectilinear style is the nearby boathouse, as are the pavilions to the west of the Island Fountain and at the entrance to the Island Pier. Three smaller pavilions with festive folded-plate concrete roofs are by Venchiarutti & Venchiarutti (a fourth was demolished), while Olympic Island’s umbrella-roofed pavilion and open-air theatre were added a few years later by Irving Grossman.

Toronto Island postcard c.1960

The grand scheme to redevelop the entire Toronto Islands as parkland was never fully completed. Demolition stopped in 1970, leaving 250 homes remaining on Ward’s Island and Algonquin Island, and after years of controversy and legal action the community’s future was finally secured in 1993. Today, Centre Island Park is indistinguishable from the larger Toronto Island Park, and its hordes of visitors seem to more or less happily coexist with the Islands’ residential community.

Toronto Island postcard c.1960

Brentwood Towers in the park

Designed by Harry Kohl and constructed between 1958 and 1961, Brentwood Towers at 17-25 Lascelles Boulevard is one of Toronto’s earliest high-rise residential clusters. It’s also one of the few of its time to come close to fulfilling Le Corbusier’s urban-planning ideal of towers in the park surrounded by sunlight, space and greenery.

At Brentwood Towers, much of the espace et verdure, if not the soleil, is provided by the dramatic modernist garden in the postcard above. Created by the husband-and-wife architectural team of Pamela and Bill Cluff with landscape architect Bill Huber, the garden mixes natural elements, free-form shapes and fanciful whimsy. Large reflecting pools dominate the composition, the placid surfaces punctuated by rock outcroppings and water jetting from mushroom-shaped fountains. Elevated platforms provide views over the grounds and are prime spots for sunbathing, while flagstone walkways wind through grassy lawns, specimen trees, ornamental shrubs and beds of flowers. All is comfortably enclosed by a row of mature trees and three of the complex’s five towers.

After fifty years the garden is a picturesque ruin, the pools empty, fountains crumbling and pathways reclaimed by overgrown foliage, but it is alive with the extroverted squirrels and twittering songbirds that live in its now-tall trees.

As well as Brentwood Towers, the Cluffs and Huber also designed Modernist gardens for Kensington Gardens (21 Dale Avenue, Crang & Boake, 1957) and The Four Thousand (4000 Yonge Street, John Daniels and Wilfred Shulman, 1962). Expanded surface parking and other alterations have removed much of the Kensington Gardens gardens, although many fine specimen trees remain, including some from the previous 1874 estate. The Four Thousand’s gardens, by contrast, are largely original, with functioning fountains and well-maintained plantings.

Ontario Place: Toronto’s leisure-time utopia

Officially opened on May 22, 1971, Ontario Place was initiated by the Government of Ontario to celebrate the province’s preeminence, entertain an increasingly leisured population and counter the excitement generated by Montreal’s Expo 67. Strategically located next to Exhibition Place on Lake Ontario, Ontario Place was an immediate success: in the 1970s it was the fifth-most popular theme park in the world, drawing some 3.5 million visitors per year during its short May-through-September season.

Architect Eberhard Zeidler, then of Toronto’s Craig, Zeidler, Strong and on the verge of international renown, established Ontario Place’s futuristic image through a jaunty mix of nautical and high-tech design motifs. Three man-made islands, totaling 51 acres of fill, were juxtaposed with five glass-and-steel pavilion pods elevated above the water. Each pod is suspended from tension cables anchored to four central columns, which are in turn set into concrete caissons buried deep in the lakebed. A series of glass-and-steel staircases and walkways connect the pods, islands and shore. The transparency of the pods and walkways creates a feeling of floating in open space between water and sky, shielded only by a membrane of glass.

Ontario Place’s five pods were originally offset by two other focal points: the Forum, an 8,000-seat open-air concert bowl with a revolving stage and a hyperbolic paraboloid roof; and the Cinesphere, a light-studded triodetic dome housing the world’s first permanent IMAX theatre. All structures were finished in white and silver, their pristine coolness contrasted by supergraphics in brilliant primary and secondary colours. Keeping with the theme of something for everyone, Ontario Place also featured a 300-slip marina, a sheltered lagoon for pedal boats and the Trillium restaurant for fine dining. The islands’ gently-contoured hillsides, pebbled shorelines and many shade trees provided quiet retreats from the raucous play areas.

Ontario Place 2 LR

The 1972 season unveiled the Children’s Village, a revolutionary interactive play environment created by Toronto exhibition designer Eric McMillan. The Children’s Village quickly became Ontario Place’s top attraction, and McMillan’s concept of soft play was soon an integral part of children’s play installations around the world. His Water Play area opened the next year, and its water cannons, spray bridges and pedal-powered deluge fountains also became international standards. A notable addition in 1977 was the ceremonial Goh Ohn Bell, a gift from Ontario’s Japanese-Canadians, suspended within a glass-and-steel pavilion designed by Raymond Moriyama.

Recent decades have seen an ever-changing assortment of amusements, the most significant being the replacement of the Forum in 1995 by the 16,000-seat Molson Amphitheatre. Today, as Ontario Place approaches its 40th birthday, the attraction is at a crossroads: attendance has considerably fallen from the glory days, much of the physical infrastructure is in need of refurbishment or replacement, and the original clarity of concept and design has been severely compromised by unsympathetic additions and alterations. Perhaps it’s time for Ontario Place to revisit its original conception of a crisp, clean and untroubled tomorrow that never was.

Ontario Place 1 LR

Edwards Gardens’ exquisite pavilion

Postcard c.1965 by Williams, Toronto

Located at the southwest corner of Leslie Street and Lawrence Avenue East, Edwards Gardens was once the private sanctuary of businessman Rupert Edwards. After purchasing the rural 27-acre site in 1944, Edwards created a glorious ravine garden with one of the largest rockeries in Canada, an elaborate series of pools and waterfalls and a nine-hole golf course. In 1955, with development encroaching upon his pastoral idyll, he sold the property to Metro Toronto as a public park. The original Civic Garden Centre, the former Edwards manse, burned down a few years later and architect Raymond Moriyama was commissioned to design the replacement Garden Centre and the new Garden Pavilion.

The Pavilion is the more distinguished of the two structures. Set on the crest of the ravine and overlooking the garden below, it’s defined by a massive Wrightian hipped roof clad in cedar shingles and inset with translucent skylight panels. Diffused natural light washes down over the beautifully detailed Douglas fir roof trusses, the precise joinery and pattern recalling Japanese building traditions. Soffits, decorative screens and benches are of cedar and redwood. The roof is supported by tapered limestone columns organically emerging from the pavilion’s terraced stone base, itself a remnant of the vanished house. The stonework is a tribute to the mason’s art; pieces fit tightly in intricate patterns and the mortar is nearly invisible. Completed in 1964, the pavilion was recognized for its enduring quality and timelessness by a 25-Year Award from the Ontario Association of Architects.

IMG_2436 Moriyama Edwards Garden V2 MR

Born in Vancouver in 1929, Raymond Moriyama received a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Toronto and a Masters of Architecture in Civic and Town Planning from McGill University. He began a one-man practice in the spring of 1958 and immediately gained notice for his exquisitely-designed small buildings. His steel-and-brick gatehouse for the Crothers Used Equipment Centre in Leaside (1960, demolished) and the delicate Halfway House for George Crothers’s private golf course (1958) were a finalist and a Silver Medal winner respectively in the 1961 Massey Medals for Architecture competition. The Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (now the Noor Cultural Centre), completed in 1963, was his breakthrough project and earned him national acclaim as one of Canada’s most promising young architects.

As Moriyama’s reputation grew, the firm was awarded a series of major civic projects: the Ontario Science Centre (1969), the Scarborough Civic Centre (1973) and the Toronto Reference Library (1977). In 1970 the firm became Moriyama & Teshima with the appointment of Ted Teshima as partner. Key works from the 1980s onward are Science North in Sudbury (1984), the North York City Centre and Central Library (1984-91), the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, Japan (1991), York University’s Vari Hall (1992), the Bata Shoe Museum (1995) and, most recently, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa (2005). Moriyama and Teshima have since retired; the firm is now led by sons Ajon and Jason Moriyama and two other partners.

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