Nathan Phillips Square Bicycle Station - Toronto (Canada)

The modernity of bicycles and history

In Toronto's landmark square, architect Vis Sankrithi has combined the modernity of a new underground parking station for city cyclists with the location's iconic history
Virginio Briatore
Vis Sankrithi (UOAI architects)
Thin Tile Canada
CIOT Canada

In 1958, the city of Toronto launched an architectural design competition to build a new City Hall and adjacent square. It was a historic event that attracted submissions from 513 practices based in 42 countries.
The jury, composed of six members including Eero Saarinen and Ernesto Rogers, worked at length to select a shortlist of eight semi-finalists and eventually chose Finnish architect Viljo Revell as the winner of the Toronto City Hall project.
All participants were asked to submit a mock-up of the project, and the spectacle of over 500 small models set out on the tables and thousands of drawings hanging on the walls of the Horticultural Building pavilion was a truly unforgettable sight.
The double-volume building and square were finally inaugurated in 1965, and fifty years later to commemorate this iconic project the Toronto Public Library (TPL) digitalised the project’s entire image archive and placed it online.
In 2017, Vis Sankrithi from UOAI architects, who was working on a project for a public bicycle garage in the underground area of Toronto City Hall, contacted the TPL.
In North America and Northern Europe, bicycle garages are generally a kind of bike service station complete with mechanics, locker rooms, showers and coffee-making facilities, and in the case of Toronto it is part of a broader project to redevelop the entire square and its buildings.
The Nathan Phillips Square Bicycle Station, opened in 2019, offers 200 bike parking spaces and a wide range of services for the vibrant community of urban cyclists who use their bicycles as a means of transportation.
Vis Sankrithi, who graduated from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape & Design in 1999, had the inspired idea of reimagining the new station as a way of enhancing the spirit of the location and its extraordinary architectural history.
As he explored the links between contemporary urban infrastructure and the origins of Toronto’s modernist architecture, Sankrithi thought of showcasing the extensive archive of the 1958 City Hall International Competition in the underground gallery where the new bicycle station is located. In cities where for six months of the year the low temperatures force people to live their lives underground, these places are not only highly popular, but also have a well-cared-for, bright and in some ways vibrant and diurnal aesthetic.
The architect used texts and images supplied by the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre (Toronto Reference Library) and the Panda Collection (Canadian Architectural Archives, University of Calgary) and reassembled them to create a powerful exhibition. The list of all the 513 architecture firms that took part in the 1958 competition has been transcribed on the large windows of the central vestibule. The images of the architectural models and the corresponding texts have been printed using innovative digital technology on Lea Ceramiche’s large, thin Slimtech slabs, combining the high definition images with the stunning aesthetics of a pure ceramic material.

Lea Ceramiche, Slimtech Plus
porcelain stoneware
200x100, 230x100, 280x100 cm (spessore/thickness 3.5 mm)
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