Public Space: Toronto’s winter stations
For a few weeks in February and March, a series of art installations along Toronto’s Eastern Beaches provided vibrancy, comfort, and a free, family-friendly design destination. WINTER STATIONS, initiated by RAW Design, Ferris + Associates, Curio, and Ward 32 Councillor Mary Margaret McMahon, started in 2014 with a fall design competition, and the result was a great variety of international teams who created outdoor experiences that temporarily buffered the harsh winter of 2015. Designing art for wind and extreme cold is a novelty, and people came out in droves, according to Councillor McMahon.
The 2016 theme for WINTER STATIONS was Freeze/Thaw. Highlights included basking in a semi-transparent sauna with reflecting sun, creating a “halo” effect, by FFLO (Claire Furnley and James Fox). A participatory piece titled FLOW by Team Secret (Calvin Fung and Victor Huynh) let you play with strangers of all ages by throwing wooden “ice crystals” into a constantly changing mound. (One drawback of this piece was observed when two small children were hit with falling “crystals.”) All senses were engaged by the installations and incorporated into the experiences. “I smell summer camp,” said Beatrice Saraga Taylor, OALA, upon entering Floating Ropes by MUDO (Elodie Doukhan and Nicolas Mussche). In the same installation of hanging sisal ropes, my 14-year-old daughter Asha told me that it smelled like her sailing classes on Georgian Bay.
Not surprisingly, the most popular WINTER STATIONS featured fire, like the sauna and the fire pit of this year. Long line-ups of visitors weathered the cold to experience the Belly of The Bear, by Caitland R.C. Brown, Wayne Garrett, and Lane Shordee of Calgary. This STATION featured charred curved wood on the exterior and animal hides in the interior to insulate the structure. The beautiful contrast of the black sphere against the barren winter beach was striking, particularly in the oranges and pinks at sunset.
WINTERS STATIONS takes its lead from the successful WARMING HUTS competition in Winnipeg. WARMING HUTS started in 2009 and is still going strong on the frozen ice of The Forks of the Red River, with similarly intriguing temporary art/architecture interventions each year.
The 2016 Toronto WINTER STATIONS competition had a modest budget of $15,000 per station to cover material, travel, and accommodation, with a modest honorarium of $3,500 for each team chosen. Following the November submission deadline, an accomplished jury, including Jane Hutton, Lisa Rochon, Lily Jeon, Diana Koncan, Catherine Osborne, and Alex Josephson, selected the winners. As part of the selection process, the jury conducted a detailed technical review of each proposal’s construction drawings; with the high winds blowing off the lake, construction integrity is important. Winners were announced in January, with an immediate request going to winners to begin off-site construction. After four days of on-site construction in February, the temporary installations opened on Family Day (February 15th) and remained open for almost five weeks before removal.
Councillor McMahon notes that several other municipalities are inquiring about the project, so perhaps we’ll see these warming stations in other locations across the province next winter.
THE OALA WAS A WINTER STATIONS SPONSOR.
TEXT BY RUTHANNE HENRY, OALA, A PROJECT COORDINATOR FOR PARK ENHANCEMENT PROJECTS AT THE CITY OF TORONTO, A WARD 32 RESIDENT, AND A MEMBER OF THE GROUND EDITORIAL BOARD.