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Two Sections of Toronto’s Gardiner Underpass to Get Colourful Revamps

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Designs have finally been selected to bring some much-needed vibrancy to two underutilized sections of the Gardiner Expressway underpass.

After collecting public feedback on six proposed designs, The Bentway, in partnership with the City of Toronto, Toronto Downtown West BIA, and Waterfront BIA, has chosen the winners. The designs will transform two neighbouring spaces — one at Simcoe Street and the other immediately east at York Street — and come as part of the Waterfront ReConnect project, aimed at reducing the barrier that the Gardiner creates between Toronto’s downtown core and waterfront.

The Gardiner underpass has seen significant investment in recent years. The first phase of The Bentway, opened in 2018, saw the addition of walking paths, gardens, outdoor theatre space, and, in the winter, a skating trail. A second phase is currently in the works with everything from elevated rooms to a bridge to green space proposed.

Although the two yet-to-be-revamped spaces at York and Simcoe won’t directly connect to the Bentway, they’ll extend the enjoyability of the underpass further east. They’re expected to be implemented some time in 2022 and will remain in place until the Gardiner undergoes rehabilitation work beginning in 2025.

York Street’s Boom Town

The winning proposal at York Street, entitled Boom Town, is very on the nose for the notoriously always-under-construction Gardiner. It’s a theatrical reimagining of the space filled with a cast of animated “Bent Buddies.” Inspired by the lifts that are always found under the expressway for maintenance, it would utilize already-existing booms and bring them to life with paint and seasonal costumes.

5468796 Architecture Inc.
5468796 Architecture Inc.

“Boom lifts have a ubiquitous presence under the Gardiner,” the Boom Town proposal reads. “In order to inspect, maintain and repair the existing concrete and steel infrastructure, these pieces of crucial equipment move along, largely unnoticed, always in a supporting role but never the main act… Inspired by their figural and anthropomorphic nature, the lifts are transformed from observers to actors in the theatre of the street.”

5468796 Architecture Inc.

The expressway’s concrete bents will be painted a vibrant blue and wrapped in a chrome gradient pattern to reflect both sunlight and headlights.

Simcoe Street’s Pixel Story

A design entitled Pixel Story was selected for the stretch of underpass at Simcoe Street. Using a similar blue colour palette as Boom Town, it calls for four Gardiner bents to be painted in a pixelated design — something the designers say will frame views when looking down the corridor.

gardiner underpass
O2 Planning & Design Inc. + Mulvey & Banani Lighting + ENTUITIVE

“Pixel Story aims to reach people at various distances and speeds through a range of visual cues,
small to large, that point to nearby attractions and personal waterfront experiences,” the proposal reads. “From afar, you can get a glimpse of the blue hues, and as you approach the Gardiner, a finer resolution of the design comes into view—close enough to read the responses or the ‘whispers’ carried from other parts of the Bentway.”

O2 Planning & Design Inc. + Mulvey & Banani Lighting + ENTUITIVE
gardiner underpass
O2 Planning & Design Inc. + Mulvey & Banani Lighting + ENTUITIVE

With pedestrians in mind, there’s also an interactive element that will go up in the form of a curved pixel wall that can be arranged in different configurations, including displaying images or games like tic-tac-toe.

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