Posts Tagged 'urban planning'

Parkway West: A New Suburb of Fine Residences

Parkway 1

Buoyed by the success of their groundbreaking Don Mills garden city, in 1957 Don Mills Developments Limited launched its Parkway West community. Located southwest of York Mills Road and the Don Valley Parkway, just a tee shot across the Don River from the original development, Parkway West was a more traditional suburban residential enclave targeted at the middle to upper-middle professional and managerial classes.

The planning of Parkway West largely followed the principles established for Don Mills. The wide boulevards of Laurentide Drive and Three Valleys Drive gently wound down the sloping hillside, linking a network of curving crescents and cul-de-sacs that extended south and west to the edges of the Don River ravine. Lots were substantial, boasting wide frontages, generous setbacks and unbroken vistas of well-kept lawns. Amenities included the luxurious Donalda Club, whose golf greens blended with the naturalized parks and greenbelts of mature trees.

The development model also followed that of Don Mills: Don Mills Developments built the civil infrastructure and sold serviced lots, either to approved design-builders or to private owners who then directly commissioned their own residences. The Yarmon residence at 12 Spinney Court, designed by Henry Fliess, is a notable owner-commissioned example.

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Nisco Construction was one of the Don Mills builders also selected for Parkway West. In the spring of 1957 the firm brought to market 14 houses in five different styles, with prices ranging from a Crest semi-detached at $17,500 to an Executive on a prime ravine lot at $27,900.

The architecture of the Nisco offerings was a conservative, moderate Modernism, less advanced than some of the original Don Mills housing but in line with the rest of Parkway West and similar upscale Toronto-area developments. All but the Crest incorporated then-new split-level planning, combining the space efficiency of a two-level home with the convenience and low-slung roofline of a single-storey rancher. The fashionably low profiles were further enhanced by embedding the lower storeys partly below grade or into the slope of the lot.

Interior planning emphasized the primacy of family life, with the open-plan living / dining area and kitchen as the communal nucleus of the home. There were no private ensuite bathrooms, even in the top-of-the-line Executive, although Dad was given a den to escape to with his fly-fishing gear and Canadian Club. Attached carports or garages were a prominent feature of all models, a place to display the bejeweled tailfins of the latest Buick Roadmaster or Monarch Turnpike Cruiser.

Despite the emphasis placed upon the architects of the original Don Mills development, the authorship of the Nisco homes in Parkway West is unclear. Toronto architect Norman R. Stone is credited with the design of the Executive; the others are unattributed and may also be by Stone, although the Bancroft closely resembles earlier Don Mills houses by James Murray.

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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

Welcome to downtown Don Mills

Established in 1952 as a self-contained new town for 32,000 residents, Don Mills was Canada’s first garden city and a model for postwar suburban developments across the country.

Don Mills began with industrialist E.P. Taylor assembling some two thousand acres of farmland seven miles northeast of downtown Toronto. Taylor appointed the young Harvard graduate Macklin Hancock as director of planning, and in creating Don Mills Macklin drew upon Ebenezer Howard’s pioneering Garden City and Clarence Stein and Henry Wright’s Radburn.

In accordance with garden city principles, four neighbourhood quadrants surrounded a town centre of commercial buildings, community facilities and high-density housing, which was bisected by Don Mills Road and Lawrence Avenue and encircled by The Donway ring road. Vehicles were separated from pedestrians: The Donway separated the town centre from the neighbourhood quadrants, pedestrian walkways linked neighbourhoods and the town centre, and vehicular traffic within neighbourhoods was slowed by winding streets, cul-de-sacs and T-junctions. A greenbelt around the community was developed to buffer suburban encroachment, and connected to a system of neighbourhood greenspaces as well as the ravines and valleys of the Don River. Existing trees and natural landscape features were retained wherever possible. The integration of clean industry allowed residents to both live and work in Don Mills, a key differentiator between a garden city and a dormitory suburb.

A consistent Modernist aesthetic was ensured by the Don Mills Development Corporation’s control over architectural design, colours and materials; all houses and buildings in the original development were designed by company-approved Modernist architects such as John B. Parkin Associates, Venchiarutti & Venchiarutti, Henry Fliess, James Murray, Irving Grossman and Michael Bach.

The above postcard, published c. 1968, looks north up Don Mills Road through the town centre (click on image to enlarge). The white igloo-shaped dome (1) is the Don Mills Curling Rink (William S. Hall, 1960; demolished); directly behind it is the Don Mills Civitan Arena (Crang & Boake, 1960). (2) is the Don Mills Convenience Centre (John B. Parkin Associates, 1955; demolished), Don Mills’ central shopping plaza and a silver medal winner in the 1955 Massey Medals for Architecture competition. Just across Lawrence Avenue is the diamond-roofed Don Mills Library (3) (Craig, Madill, Abram & Ingleson, 1961). Forming a dense residential core opposite the commercial and recreational facilities are clusters of mid-rise apartment buildings (4) by various architects. To the east is Don Mills Collegiate (5) (John B. Parkin Associates, 1959), the community’s junior and senior high school. (6) is St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church (John B. Parkin Associates, 1963). An early example of the many well-designed row-housing developments in Don Mills is Greenbelt Heights Village (7) (Belcourt and Blair, 1958). In the bottom right corner is the Ortho Pharmaceuticals office and plant (8) (John B. Parkin Associates, 1955), recipient of a 1958 Massey silver medal and a Canadian prototype for innumerable corporate headquarters. In the distance is Highway 401 and Toronto’s ever-expanding suburban periphery.

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


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