January 30, 2009
by Canadian Architect
The City of Toronto’s international design competition for the June Callwood Park has been won by gh3, a Toronto-based architecture and landscape design firm.
The starting point of the design takes a voice sampling of June’s own words—“I believe in kindness”—physically mapped onto the site, its undulations creating the abstract geometric pattern of openings and clearings within the dense groves of the Super-Real Forest. June spoke of kindness as “the god in our machinery,” believing in kindness rather than organized religion or God; these words are taken from her last interview expressing that core idea. The edge of this voice wave pattern creates a sinewy path that runs north to south through five clearings in the forest, connecting Lakeshore to Fort York, its black granite planks touching the edges at several points to provide east-west community access into the park.
The Super-Real Forest inhabits the site with plantings of native Canadian trees, a sampling of the specimens that would have inhabited the Lake Ontario shoreline at the time the city was settled. The park is loosely zoned into six clearings: the Puddle Plaza, the Puzzle Garden, the Maze, the Pink Field Plaza, Time Strip Gardens, and Ephemeral Pools, each with its own unique spatial character and aspects of unprogrammed play it encourages.
The range of experience invited in the park is rooted in archetypal, timeless themes of human play, rather than contrived mechanical devices or apparatus that often limit their enjoyment to a specific age range. The surfaces openly invite activity that can be social, recreational or meditative. Support for play and self-directed games is implied in the spaces, open to ageless activities that could range from splashing in the shallow pools and puddles in summer, to hide-and-seek in the maze, to impromptu sports in the clearing and tai chi in the morning by the mist pools.
Intrinsic to the Super-Real Forest is the idea of ecological responsibility, its design inextricably bound to its underlying environmental imperative. Its open spaces are priceless amenities of good city living, the context for the kind of play that results in a healthy population. Investment in a forest commits to thinking long-term; we imagine the lifespan of the park will make it relevant to centuries of children and adults alike.
The basic moves of the design—the creation of a richly varied forest interwoven with opportunities to enjoy the simple pleasures of community and play—find a common starting point in the fundamentally optimistic vision of life in the city that characterized June’s world view.
Community engagement in the process will also play an important role: gh3 imagines that Toronto youth will be active in the park’s creation and stewardship. Children from TDSB’s 451 elementary schools and 16 alternative elementary schools will be invited to plant a tree on behalf of their school, gathering on the site in early spring to take part in a city-wide planting ceremony that will celebrate June’s life and legacy in shaping our city. The forest planting will also welcome members of the community, friends and family of June, and people she influenced and mentored as well, who we will encourage to come together to plant a tree in June’s honour.