Editorial: Preparing for the Games

Following the Games, the Pan/Parapan Am Aquatics Centre and Field House will serve as an athletics facility for the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus and its surrounding community. Photo by Shai Gil
Following the Games, the Pan/Parapan Am Aquatics Centre and Field House will serve as an athletics facility for the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus and its surrounding community. Photo by Shai Gil

The Pan American and Parapan American Games are coming to Toronto this summer. Some 10,000 athletes, coaches and team officials will descend on the region—twice the number of athletes than Vancouver hosted for the Winter Olympics five years ago.

The Games have kickstarted the development of the Canary District on Toronto’s waterfront (see page 24). Several major new athletic facilities have also been constructed for the Games. The largest is the Aquatics Centre and Field House on the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, completed by NORR Architects. Like several other venues, including the Athletes’ Village, the project was completed under a design-build-finance model, administered by Infrastructure Ontario. B+H Architects was the lead consultant on the Planning, Design and Compliance (PDC) team for the project.

In planning the project, B+H and their clients took the approach of offering a flexible illustrative scheme, rather than a rigid exemplary design. “In the end there was room for architectural exploration, and design became an important part of the winning strategy,” says architectural design principal David Clusiau of NORR. The final building includes a dramatic drop-off canopy that will be completed after the Games, when a temporary spectator seating area is removed.

B+H was also the PDC consultant for three stadiums—the Milton Velodrome, the Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton and the York Athletic Stadium—and were architects of record for the Markham Athletics Centre, the Etobicoke Olympium Aquatics Facility, and the Whitby Abilities Centre.

B+H’s heavy involvement drew on their experience participating in Toronto’s 2008 Olympic bid. They brought in particular expertise in elite-level sports planning, including the logistics of providing for additional seating, security, broadcast infrastructure, and other event needs.

Logistically, says B+H principal Mark Berest, it was a “large management exercise” which at its height included 28 subconsultants and some 30 B+H staff. Through the process, they developed skill with a building type and with planning for a complex event with a lasting built legacy. “We got to experience what this kind of event means—not only for the event itself, but for all the municipalities and stakeholders who are a part of it,” says Berest.

How did the AFP process affect the resulting work? Certainly, the use of this model spurred many new facilities to on-budget, on-time completion—an essential in this case. The venues also incorporate tight technical standards: from large moves such as housing an internationally certified cycling track, to minute adjustments such as controlling water flow to give swimmers the edge needed to potentially break world records. “We reached a very high level of performance that we may not have gotten with another process,” says Berest.

This comes, however, at an enormous cost in architects’ resources. “This process puts a great burden on all the consultants,” says Berest. “There are four designs that are developed for each venue in a very short time.” Adds B+H CEO Bill Nankivell, “As it exists now, I think the AFP process asks for too much detail in terms of the project submitted with a bid—in some cases, they’re asking for partially completed construction documents.”

While technically outstanding, the resulting venues are also unlikely to be showered with design awards. “The nature of any P3 is dictated to a large degree by the scoring matrix,” says Clusiau. “In Ontario, design is part of that scoring; however, the percentage could be larger, particularly if the objective is to produce great architecture.”

The Pan Am Games have been a large-scale testing ground for the AFP process. As the Games begin, it’s a chance for procurement authorities to assess Infrastructure Ontario’s accomplishments, and to set higher goals.