Canadian Architect


GO Roof, Union Station

December 1, 2012
by Canadian Architect

ARCHITECT Zeidler Partnership Architects
LOCATION Toronto, Ontario

Located at Union Station, one of Canada’s national historic sites, the renovation of the train shed roof covering the passenger platforms and tracks which connects GO Transit’s Union Station Bus Terminal to the station building delivers part of the “Big Move” promise, Metrolinx’s 25-year regional transportation plan for Ontario. A major component of the Union Station renewal project, the objective was to renovate and restore the east and west portions of the shed totalling 30,000 square metres and to replace the central 5,000 square metres of the train shed with a large glass atrium. An early 20th-century Beaux-Arts-style building, the train shed is a designated heritage structure on a national historic site, so the architects worked closely with Parks Canada during the design stages, ensuring preservation of the heritage character. 

While most of the seven-acre train shed roof will be refurbished, the central portion will be removed and replaced with a new glass atrium to celebrate the station. The glass jewel box will float over the tracks, providing daylight at platform level and a visual connection from the station to the waterfront. Midway in this overlap, delicate curtains of clear glass louvres will be suspended from the roof on a light network of steel tubes and cables to repel penetration by rain and snow while naturally ventilating the train shed. The view of the roof, visible from offices and other tall buildings in the area, will be improved by the glass jewel and a green roof with photovoltaic (solar) cells. These changes will help reduce the heat-island effect that raises temperatures in urban areas, reduce the concentration of rainwater runoff, and generate electricity to offset the needs of the station. Another major element of the project is the provision of additional access stairs and elevators to increase the number of connections between the concourse level and the platforms. When completed, more than 50 new sets of stairs and elevators will have been added to greatly improve passenger access to and from the trains. GO Transit is also working with the City on separate projects to increase the concourse space in the station. The firm has designed the enclosures to the stairs, escalators and elevators as minimalist glass boxes, similar to the floating atrium roof glass box. A combination of clear and fritted patterns will give mostly transparency while screening some views for privacy.

After many years of planning and design, the jewel box atrium is taking shape. Installation of the glass fascia and soffit panels began in mid-September 2012, and construction of the atrium is expected to run until late 2014. The overall work of the project is being phased over six years to minimize disruption to daily train service. When completed, the project will fully restore, repair and renovate all elements from the top of the roof down to track level, honour Union’s Station’s legacy as the most opulent railway station in Canada, and celebrate the nation’s busiest transportation hub.

DC: Its singularly monolithic gesture is pleasingly detailed in a decidedly restrained though refined way–which may do more to lessen the individuality of the project as a standalone feature, but is a welcome and true “last piece of the puzzle”–a piece that also reintroduces the nearly century-old Bush shed as a sophisticated and significant part of the overall composition of Union Station. Suddenly, the new glass-covered court space legitimizes the “back” into what may become a new “front”–particularly since it also becomes a navigable and highly identifiable floating (and by night, glowing) canopy reaffirming Toronto’s doorstep to the downtown district.

MCC: This project at Union Station reminds me of the monumentalism of 19th-century buildings like Gare du Nord or Gare de Lyon in Paris, seen in the lightness of the structure and the abundance of natural light. The proposal is very elegant and will provide Toronto with an interesting public space. The high-tech vocabulary is very appropriate and illustrates the challenges that we should be able to realize in this century–in a similar way that the architects of the 19th century did in the past. 

BH: In a country where train station architecture has historically been underexpressed relative to the dramatic examples of great train stations in other parts of the world, the Union Station train shed provides an opportunity for large-scale urban intervention in the very difficult layered and grimy context of historic Union Station and its more recent sadder additions. The solution proposed has the potential to create a dramatic new public realm, while elevating the conversation about architecture for transportation.

Client Yolles (CH2M HILL)–lead for GO Transit/Metrolinx
Architect Team Tarek El-Khatib, Don Vetere, Neal Panchuk, Dalibor Vokac
Heritage Architect ERA
Structural Yolles
Mechanical/Electrical Smith and Andersen
Contractor Aecon
Construction Administration RJC
Area 6,580 m2
Budget $50 M
Completion December 2014

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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