The Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky
WHY’s competition-winning design for a new waterfront park in Toronto was inspired by the Scarborough Bluffs – the iconic cliffs which rise above Lake Ontario. The site is currently dominated by the busy Gardner Expressway, and the new park will celebrate the drama and scale of the city’s infrastructure while opening new connections to the waterfront. Rather than resisting the industrial character of the site, the design heals the divide between the natural world and the built environment, creating a hybrid of monumental architectural forms and biodiverse natural planting.
The design of the park expresses one of the guiding principles of the WHY Landscape Workshop: green over gray. Through strategies of wilding, native planting, masterplanning, and sustainable maintenance, the “gray” of the built environment is interwoven with elements of “green,” the two working together to to re-attune the relationship between organic growth and human flourishing. The vertical structure of the ridge is designed to hold its own in relation to the urban environment, mitigating the impact of the Expressway and achieving the appropriate scale and proportion for a challenging site. As a sculptural “room” within the city, Rees Ridge will conceal the view of the Expressway for one long city block, radically improving the transition from downtown to the waterfront; at the same time, it is also visually and physically porous, accessibly linked to the city via openings to Lake Shore Boulevard.
Like the Scarborough Bluffs themselves, the Ridge is the interface where water and land meet—a liminal space where a gradient of activities, natural communities and geographical features coexist. The park is exceptional in its diversity of programming; activated by ramps, stairs, slides, hills, and slopes, the vertical structure creates an inhabitable landform for multiple different types of play, gathering, and contemplation.
The density of program on the Ridge frees a substantial portion of the park to operate as unprogrammed open space hosting flatland activities such as the marketplace, outdoor café seating, and an expansive lawn. The city’s extreme seasons were a key consideration: an ice wall and firepits provide a seasonal backdrop for winter programming and events, and the structure of the ridge creates microclimates which protect and encourage biodiversity. The park will be planted with species native to Lake Ontario, and planting zones follow the logic of bluff geomorphology. We seek to create an experience characterized by an immersive sense of place and ecology, inviting locals to enjoy a landscape they know well, and introducing visitors to learn about Toronto’s place in geological deep time.
“Landscape architects love working at the edges and in transitional spaces – waterfronts, rooftops, abandoned railways, vacant lots – these are our playgrounds.”