PLANT Architect: The City of Toronto’s ‘Everyone is King’ Design Build Competition was launched in 2018 to improve place-making and support economic prosperity within the King Street Transit Pilot’s boundaries. Initiated in November 2017, the King Street Transit Pilot aims to improve streetcar transit between Bathurst Street and Jarvis Street along one of downtown Toronto’s busiest east/west traffic corridors. The City of Toronto initiated the Transit Pilot to test out whether a street redesign and a ‘more streetcars, fewer cars’ approach to traffic management along King could alleviate congestion and improve what had become a grindingly slow transit route.
The blocks of King between Jarvis and Bathurst constitute one of Toronto’s primary entertainment and commercial districts, lined with restaurants, bars, shops, and offices. The competition was for the creation of approximately 18 parklet public spaces in the curb lane of the roadway, varying in length but all no more than two metres wide. Most were to be temporary installations that would be in place for no more than eight months. Two were to be “durable destination parklets”: movable, reusable public realm structures that would be installed along King between April and December 2018, stored indoors for the winter (or to remain out for winter events), reinstalled in the same or a new location in the spring of 2019, and used for up to four years in total. Face to Face / Tête à Tête was one of the two winning designs in the Durable Destination Parklet category.
Face to Face / Tête à Tête transforms 13.4 metres of an urban curb lane into a concentrated public conversation zone. Two long, narrow, boomerang-shaped tables zigzag through an ‘outdoor room’ flanked by continuous benches and wrapped with planting. Our inspiration was a big family dinner party, with people packed in tightly around a long table with several animated conversations all taking place at once. With just 2 metres in width, the challenge to create a magnetic public realm space and feel safe in the occupation of the street (there is no parking at all as part of the pilot, so the parklet is exposed) seemed impossible. Instead, the parklet’s narrowness promotes intimacy within the bustle of King Street, and its aesthetic is the visual equivalent of voluble, overlapping conversations. In blue and orange, the words “Face to Face / Tête à Tête” are dynamically projected over all surfaces – bench, planters, tables, and deck with plants in green, yellow, and lavender. This vibrancy ensures that the curb-lane parklet is clearly visible to pedestrians and drivers– and that it looks inviting even at grey, bare-branched times of year. The bench enclosure provide a real and perceptual protection while maintaining a visual dialogue with streetcars, cyclists, and drivers. Although Face to Face / Tête à Tête was conceived as a place for conversation, co-working, and gathering, we also wanted it to be a welcoming spot for individuals to use as a touch-down workplace, pause and check email or social media feeds, or simply somewhere to sit and watch passersby.
The total budget for the project was $25,000 including all fees, supply and installation. The tiny budget narrowed our choice of materials to focus on form, pattern and planting to bring visual vibrancy. The plants were chosen for color, continuous blooms, fragrance and protective buffering. Our entire office contributed to the parklet’s assembly, painting, and installation. We worked collaboratively with the contractors to determine how best to build the parklet for easy installation and removal. It was entirely built off site, and craned in and installed in one day.
The City’s evaluation of the King Street pilot is underway and the final report will be presented in March 2019. Until that time, Face to Face / Tête à Tête and other pilot components remain on King Street.
Plant List: Yucca (Yucca filafera ‘Golden Sword’); Siberian Iris (Iris sibiria ‘Ceasar’s Brother’); Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbekia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’); Lavendar (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’).
Short office name: PLANT Architect
Role of the office in the project: Design
Project location: King Street East, Toronto, Canada
Design year: 2018
Year Built: 2018