Icelander Víkingur Ólafsson Wows Toronto

Those of us who were able to sneak away last week for a lunchtime musical interlude were treated to a recital by Víkingur Ólafsson, Iceland’s award-winning rising star pianist. ‘The Idea of the North‘ was part of a season of free concerts and dance events at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson

Víkingur Ólafsson at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.  Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The piano virtuoso made his Toronto debut performing folk songs from his native Iceland. He also paid tribute to one of his great inspirations, legendary Toronto pianist Glenn Gould, in a performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

As a small child, Ólafsson trained his ear by listening in on his parents’ music lessons at home. He learned to play piano before he learned to speak.

Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson-2

Víkingur Ólafsson. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

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Víkingur Ólafsson in his native Iceland. Photo courtesy of the artist.

At just 30, the young pianist displays an immense talent. Outside the concert stage, Víkingur is the driving force behind numerous innovative musical projects – a television series, Útúrdúr (roughly translated as Out-of-tune); the Reykjavík Midsummer Music festival at the Harpa Concert Hall; and, his own record label, Dirrindí.

He is wrapping up a cross-Canada tour and his busy schedule has him hopping across the globe. Catch him if you can! In the meantime, have a listen to this sampling.

Artists from around the world share their talent and passion in six series –vocal, piano, jazz, dance, chamber and world music against an ever-changing city backdrop seen from the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. For more information on the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series, see here.

Vertigo – without ever leaving the ground

Photos by Tom Ryaboi.

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Not many of us yearn to experience the literal ‘life on the edge’. Toronto-based photographer Tom Ryaboi does. He stealthily climbs to the uppermost reach of skyscrapers to capture some pretty incredible cityscapes. His (mostly clandestine) ‘rooftopping’ exploits have taken him across the globe. His images present an entirely new perspective on urban photography.

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Shots from Toronto, Chicago, and Hong Kong – cities that know a thing or two about towers – are on display at the Canary District Presentation Gallery in Toronto. Paired with Tom’s photography is another vertigo-inducing work named “Aletide”, as part of an exclusive art exhibit called Cities of the Future.

“Aletide”, an audiovisual interactive installation by Italian artists Fabio Giampietro, Ilaria Vergani Bassi, and Paolo Di Giacomo, comes to Toronto from Milan where it was first exhibited last year. The trio collaborated with composer Alessandro Branca to create a sensory artwork that recalls our first childhood experience on a park swing – but amped up. The swinging movement, surrounded by oscillating visuals and wind-like sounds, according to observers’ first comments, “feels like soaring over a concrete and glass canyon.”

Riding Aletide, an interactive swing with vertiginous qualities. Photo by Ilaria Vergani.

Riding Aletide, an interactive swing with vertiginous qualities. Photo by Ilaria Vergani.

Aletide – Interactive installation from Paolo Di Giacomo on Vimeo.

The photographs are on view from October 18th-30th at the Canary District Presentation Gallery at 398 Front Street East in Toronto. For more information see www.CanaryDistrict.com.

Case study in Planning for Higher Education Journal

The Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) published my case study/planning story: “A Transformational Gallery for Ryerson University’s Architecture School.” It is my first contribution to an academic journal —- happy for any feedback!

Abstract: The Department of Architectural Science at Toronto’s Ryerson University was already committed to community engagement. However, the need for a permanent gallery provided a new catalyst. The collaborative nature of the integrated planning process presented the school with an opportunity to revisit its public programming mandate. The school’s transformation, through the innovative physical positioning and use of the gallery, deepens its dialogue and level of engagement both within the University and the greater community.

The full article can be downloaded here.

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First page of the article. Volume 43, Number 1 Utilize-Space | Oct–Dec 2014.

Paul H. Cocker Architecture Gallery, Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University. Photo by Shai Gil.

Paul H. Cocker Architecture Gallery, Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University. Photo by Shai Gil.

Recalling Lake Ontario’s lost edge with steel and grass

A version of this post appeared in the October 10th edition of The Fort York Foundation’s website. For more information, see www.fortyorkfoundation.ca/.

The much-anticipated Fort York Visitor Centre is now open – to positive reviews.

The long, linear building recreates the lakefront bluff that defined the Fort’s 19th century geography and has taken root below the hulk of the elevated Gardiner Expressway. Its main exterior façade is composed of a sequence of monolithic weathered steel panels and a ”liquid landscape” of meadow plants, aligned with the contours of the original shoreline. The Visitor Centre inhabits the space behind this industrial escarpment, partially buried under the Commons. It is an ingenious approach to working with the landscape as a form of historical narrative.

Forecourt space will be planted in tall grasses with boardwalk circulation routes, recalling the original lakeshore landscape. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Forecourt space will be planted in tall grasses with boardwalk circulation routes, recalling the original lakeshore landscape. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The building is a joint project by Vancouver’s Patkau Architects and Toronto-based Kearns Mancini Architects – the result of an international competition held in 2009.

There is a remarkable similarity between the winning competition drawings and the final building. This is rare. Although the project underwent a comprehensive value engineering process, the original concept was not diminished nor was a more conventional approach to design taken.

Conceptual Sketch of the steel escarpment. Image courtesy of the project team.

Conceptual Sketch of the steel escarpment. Image courtesy of the project team.

The ‘fortified’ edge of the site is defined by steel panels. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The ‘fortified’ edge of the site is defined by steel panels. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Fort York Visitor Centre winning competition drawings - Perspective

Fort York Visitor Centre winning competition drawings – Perspective

The most significant change was in the superstructure –the “Ghost Screen”– a self-supporting layer that proved to be expensive and difficult to turn into an implementable piece of construction. Without compromising the essential imagery, the screen is (re)presented instead as a semi-translucent cast glass channel wall, which defines the building’s uppermost volume along its length. “We decided to get more pragmatic about it”, says Patricia Patkau. “I think in some ways the project may have benefitted from that.”

A very rich landscape idea was presented as part of the winning submission, reflecting the historic harbour and telling the story of the site. Budget constraints, however, made certain key features undeliverable. These enrichments can be added as more funding becomes available.

Fort York Visitor Centre –Transversal section through the building and site.

Fort York Visitor Centre winning competition drawings – Cross section

To complete the weathered steel façade, an additional 37 inclined panels need to be installed. This extension of the wall from the east end of the Visitor Centre would demonstrate how the natural escarpment contributed to the Fort’s defences. As part of the liquid landscape, expanses of softly moving grasses will continue all the way along this steel edge, creating the illusion of the lake that, until the 1850s, came right up to the Fort itself. A series of illuminated raft-like objects and boardwalk circulation routes will help recall the former presence of the lake.

The full master plan also calls for a large terrace –”Events Dock”– reaching out into the liquid landscape. This will be the site for a slew of activities and here, at its highest elevation 20m up, the massive concrete and steel overpass will act as a huge covered canopy. (Just this past weekend, it was the site for a video installation during Nuit Blanche.) Imagine art installations hanging from its underbelly, and space for theatre, for concerts, and for kids to play. This is where the Fort York National Historic Site welcomes the modern city with diverse large-scale public events.

The new urban plaza will transform the previously derelict and underused space into a bright, new, urban neighbourhood amenity. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The new urban plaza will transform the previously derelict and underused space into a bright, new, urban neighbourhood amenity. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Fort York Visitor Centre winning competition drawings - Perspective

Fort York Visitor Centre winning competition drawings – Perspective

“There is a long list of enhancements that are not essential to the scheme but will make it richer. We hope that, over time, they can be phased in,” says John Patkau. After all, these details are the elements that we interact with most closely – they are the parts we see and touch.

The main façade of the visitor centre recreates the original escarpment and presents a strong elevation along Fort York Boulevard. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The main façade of the visitor centre recreates the original escarpment and presents a strong elevation along Fort York Boulevard. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Fort York Visitor Centre winning competition drawings – South Elevation

Fort York Visitor Centre winning competition drawings – South Elevation

The building is the result of a collaborative partnership between two innovative firms. It is not always obvious how two design firms can act as a team. In this relationship, there was no ‘master sketcher’, no single person taking the lead. The idea of the architect as solitary genius is outdated. Instead, it was a discussion, a conversation at all stages. “It’s two complimentary, compatible design firms that are able to work together”, says Jonathan Kearns. “It’s almost like having a built-in peer review. We have a shared understanding and common goals.” Toronto-based landscape architecture firm Janet Rosenberg & Studio was also an important part of the discussion.

The Fort York Visitor Centre will help Torontonians engage in the history of this site and the city. The designers, City of Toronto Culture, and community partners are committed to seeing some of the important missing elements that were described in the competition come to fruition. It’s just a question of when. The Fort York Foundation will continue to campaign and will need your support to realize this vision.

The canopy of the Expressway produces a huge, covered urban space for community events and programming. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The canopy of the Expressway produces a huge, covered urban space for community events and programming. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The project's main façade is intimately interwoven in alternations of transparency and solidity. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The project’s main façade is intimately interwoven in alternations of transparency and solidity. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Stephanie Calvet is a Toronto-based architect and writer specializing in architecture and design. For over a decade she worked in architecture and planning firms in Boston, designing projects in the hospitality, multi-unit residential, education and healthcare sectors. In addition to consulting, she writes for the popular press, trade publications, corporate organizations, and academic journals.

An Urban Forest: June Callwood Park Opens in Toronto

A version of this post appeared in the October 6th edition of UrbanToronto.

Shadowlands Theatre performers take visitors on a journey through June Callwood Park. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Shadowlands Theatre performers take visitors on a journey through June Callwood Park. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

There’s a new kid on the block. And it’s kid-friendly too. On Saturday October 4th, Fort York neighbourhood residents and those from beyond gathered to welcome a much-anticipated public space at its heart: a new urban park with a richly varied forest and striking pink covering. June Callwood Park injects colour and a dose of street life into the urban landscape.

The festivities celebrated the opening of the park and the legacy of June Callwood, one of Canada’s leading social activists who passed away in 2007. Coinciding with the kick-off of the all-night art crawl Nuit Blanche, City of Toronto officials in partnership with the Garden Club of Toronto welcomed the gatherers. Following a short speech by Callwood’s daughter, author Jill Frayne, and an appropriately floral ribbon-cutting ceremony, local art group Shadowlands Theatre engaged the crowd in a performative experience, leading visitors through an interactive tour of the park’s features.

Exploring The Maze with Shadowlands Theatre performers. Photo by Craig White.

Exploring The Maze with Shadowlands Theatre performers. Photo by Craig White.

The park is located amidst a quadrant of tall condo buildings on a wedge-shaped corridor spanning from Fort York Boulevard to Fleet Street. It is a key element in reconnecting the Fort to the Lake Ontario shoreline, which has incrementally moved south with infilling over the decades. The area has seen rapidly increasing residential density —including a growing number of kids— and, most recently, has garnered additional attention with the unveiling of the Fort York Visitor Centre.

Dedicated in 2005, the new 0.4-hectare park honours Callwood’s role in the development of social aid organizations and her fervent championing of children’s causes, through its design and art installation. The design, by Toronto-based multidisciplinary firm gh3, was the result of an open, two-stage international competition, which included extensive public consultation led by the City’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation division.

Landscaped site plan of June Callwood Park. Image courtesy of gh3.

Landscaped site plan of June Callwood Park. Image courtesy of gh3.

It was a visual representation of the words of Callwood that formed the basis of the winning design. During one of her final interviews she was asked if she believed in God or in the afterlife. Her response, “I believe in kindness,” is a physically mapped voiceprint whose undulations create a path running north to south through the park, with an abstract geometric pattern of clearings within the groves. It is a contemporary urban vision of a park and garden.

The $2.6-million park includes an ephemeral reflecting pool, granite paving and benches, pole lighting, classic wooden park benches painted pink, and bright pink rubberized benches and surfacing. The forest is planted with over 300 trees, including plantings of native Canadian tree species, a sampling of the specimens that would have dotted the shoreline at the time the area was settled.

The starting point of the design takes a voice sampling of Callwood’s own words physically mapped onto the site. Image courtesy of gh3.

The starting point of the design takes a voice sampling of Callwood’s own words physically mapped onto the site. Image courtesy of gh3.

The park is loosely divided into six clearings, each with its own unique spatial character: the Puddle Plaza is made up of depressions that collect rainwater to create splash pads; the Ephemeral Pools act as a splash pool in the summer and a mist garden in the fall; a hedge Maze; the Pink Field boasts a wide rubberized play surface; the Puzzle Garden features a series of maze-link benches; and, the Time Strip Gardens borrow from a variety of native landscape and European settlement themes. A lone apple tree —the Callwood Tree— stands at the point where all of the park’s paths converge. The park is a series of gestures that reads at the neighbourhood scale, and at the human scale.

View northward through June Callwood Park. Ephemeral Pools at the forefront. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

View northward through June Callwood Park. Ephemeral Pools at the forefront. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Granite pavers, trees, plantings, and fine gravel at June Callwood Park. Photo by gh3.

Granite pavers, trees, plantings, and fine gravel at June Callwood Park. Image by gh3.

Callwood had envisioned this park for toddlers and their caregivers. The new park’s spaces are open to a broader array of experiences and ageless activities that could range from tai chi by the mist garden, hide-and-seek in the maze, and lunch among the poplars. There is no grass. The cushioned rubberized surfacing in bright pink makes for an especially inviting playground for kids.

As a complement its sound-inspired layout, the park integrates a permanent sound installation – Toronto’s very first – by Douglas Moffat and Steve Bates of Montreal who work together as soundFIELD. The artists derived the concept for the innovative sound work, entitled OKTA, from Callwood’s own experiences of gliding through the clouds: “Flying is like entering another dimension where your body becomes flexible and gravity lets go. I once flew through a cloud – I thought it would be warm and fluffy, but it was ice cold. In the sky there are always discoveries,” said Callwood.

OKTA is an installation where multiple points of sound are distributed across the site.

OKTA is an installation where multiple points of sound are distributed across the site.

A sensor aimed at the sky reads current cloud cover. The shifting shape and movement of clouds overhead triggers the sounds released across a field of 24 sculpted sound-columns, creating an ever-changing experience for the listener.

Good planning ensures good interaction between public space and the diverse nature of public life. The site, which until recently sat empty, was revitalized using open space as a physical framework and shifts from being a transit street to a destination. By inviting social, recreational and meditative activities, Fort York’s new neighbourhood park creates space to foster positive relationships and healthy lifestyles while also providing long-term environmental benefits.

The rubberized Ure-Tech surfacing is soft, anti-slip, self-draining, and accessible. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

The rubberized Ure-Tech surfacing is soft, anti-slip, self-draining, and accessible. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Snippets from the evening can be seen below.

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and a writer specializing in architecture and design. She can be found at www.stephaniecalvet.com