Canadian Architect

Feature

The Possibility of an Absolute Urban Artifact

January 10, 2019
by Christian Kliegel

As a newcomer to the city, one of my first encounters with Toronto’s many idiosyncrasies involved navigating a series of awkward intersections northwest of downtown. Just south of St. Clair Avenue, Vaughan Street cuts the city’s grid at a diagonal and veers to the west. This results in an uninhabitable traffic island that lay forlorn for decades, standing amidst the regular tangle of commuters in all directions.

The scaffold-like Three Points Where Two Lines Meet incorporates a hydro mast that powers its LED lights.

Artists Dan Young and Christian Giroux were recently commissioned to create a project on this site. Their response is Three Points Where Two Lines Meet, a new public artwork for the City of Toronto’s collection that includes a sculpture, the landscaping under it, and the sidewalk around it. At night, the site hosts a programmed ambient light show. Young and Giroux also created an accompanying Spotify playlist for viewers of the piece. (Search the public artwork title; it’s a trip.)

The site-specific sculpture approximates a colourful scaffold, sitting at a level height of 3.2 metres. A highly engineered series of intersecting box trusses floats over the sidewalk. Slender diagonal columns touch the ground at three points, offset from the curb’s edge around the triangular island. The title of the sculpture comes from pop culture—specifically, British band Alt-J’s song Tessellate: “Triangles are my favourite shape / Three points where two lines meet…”

The project can be read as a deformation of Superstudio’s Continuous Monument, which imagined a grid laid over every possible pre-existing urban or rural artifact and landscape. Or perhaps it functions like a surreal study model of Yona Friedman’s Mobile Town Planning proposal, with new construction overhead and the surface of the ground below left free for plants and human activity.

When making public art, artists are challenged to tap into a given site and draw out its specific urban qualities. They must strive to position a piece of work that makes the ground newly visible, transporting the viewer into a space where they cannot imagine the site ever having existed without the work. This is no small feat. When I spoke with Dan Young, he acknowledged the inherent difficulties with creating work on this scale in the public sphere. The bold colours chosen for Three Points are one strategy for making Young and Giroux’s highly conceptual ideas permissible in the public sphere.

As with many successful public art projects, the reaction to Three Points has been loud and mixed. Some locals detest this insertion into their lives, while others welcome the way it changes one’s perception of the neighbourhood. Akin to the monumental scope of Yona Friedman and Italian Utopians like Superstudio, Young and Giroux envision Three Points as a single experience that is part of a larger project. These architects and artists share a vision of the city as an infrastructural patchwork of connecting nodes, each characterized by activity and life.


Christian Kliegel lives in Toronto and works at Carter AI.



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