PROJECT TRINITY COLLEGE QUADRANGLE RENOVATION, TORONTO, ONTARIO
ARCHITECT/LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT GH3
TEXT IAN CHODIKOFF
PHOTOS TOM ARBAN
One of the laissez-faire methods of designing a traditional campus courtyard is to wait for students to create muddy paths as they tread across verdant patches of grass, then cover those same paths with asphalt. For gh3, a multidisciplinary design firm in Toronto, eschewing this option resulted in the renovation of Trinity College’s quadrangle, a new formally designed courtyard intrinsically connected to its surrounding architecture rather than merely expediting travel between classes and the dorm. gh3 was formed in 2006 by landscape architect Diana Gerrard and architect Pat Hanson. The firm’s name is derived from the initials of the two partners’ last names, while the number “3” refers to the three disciplines practiced by the firm: architecture, landscape architecture and urban design.
Gerrard and Hanson had an established working relationship for about 10 years prior to the formation of gh3, collaborating on such projects as the award-winning Ashbridges Bay site-planning design in 2002. Hanson notes, “I’ve always been fascinated by larger site-work projects and how to give those projects structure.” As for Gerrard, who studied architecture prior to becoming a landscape architect in the early 1980s, her first reactions are often informed by her architectural origins. She ran her own wellestablished practice while Hanson worked at architectsAlliance, and their frequent collaborations explored the relationship between architecture and landscape architecture–most notably as members of the design team for the award-winning Terrence Donnelly Centre for Biomolecular Research at the University of Toronto. In this project, the landscape is literally brought inside the building, evolving into a series of interior landscapes. However, it was their project for Trinity College where the two partners’ complementary approaches converged as gh3’s first design project. “With Trinity’s quadrangle, you have architecture moving into the landscape, becoming the ground plane,” explains Hanson.
With an initial budget of $500,000, the courtyard commission was effectively a restoration project involving the replacement of the existing sod, asphalt pad and the relocation of an illplaced statue of John Strachan, the first Bishop of Toronto and founder of both the University of Toronto (1827) and Trinity College (1851). With 1,700 undergraduate students, Trinity College is one of the smallest colleges on the University of Toronto’s downtown St. George Campus. The academic building dates back to 1925 when it moved to the St. George campus from Trinity Bellwoods Park, located several kilometres away. With subsequent additions in 1938 and 1955, it wasn’t until 1963 when the final side of the College’s quadrangle was constructed. Nearly 45 years later, gh3’s new landscape completes the College’s architecture, creating a unifying outdoor living room.
Gerrard and Hanson wanted to incorporate aspects of the College’s Neo-Gothic designs into the landscape without being too literal or restrictive. Developing a modern design that respects Trinity’s Anglican heritage as well as the traditions of medieval and Gothic courtyards, gh3 decided upon a series of early Greek Christian icons, or chis (pronounced as “kize”), to convey a sense of the architecture’s origins. “You cannot find exactly those shapes in the surrounding buildings, but there are some elements in those icons found within the Gothic architecture on campus.” The resulting formal grid of warm-coloured concrete is also reminiscent of early Renaissance gardens which, in their quest to explain the universe, also contained a high ratio of hard-scaped to softscaped surfaces. While the Trinity courtyard is very static in terms of its formal geometry, it is also very organic. “It has its ebbs and flows,” describes Hanson, “and there is a very clear architectural order to it that allows a series of architectural possibilities. You organize what you can and give order where you can. What happens within the structure after that is unknown.”
The renovation didn’t affect any of the outer planter boxes, nor were any of the existing entrances affected. While two important and historic lamp standards were reinstalled, there were no other lighting enhancements. The commission’s mandate also included the protection of existing trees which were declining in health, partly due to root compaction and poor drainage. The solution was to design a vertical fertilization program to aerate the tree roots while installing a structural geo-textile under the entire lower quadrangle. Unfortunately, one of the mem- branes has not adequately performed its function to ensure proper drainage, and will be replaced later this spring.
“Some people don’t understand the nature of this kind of project. I think that it is as much an architecture experiment as a landscape urbanism experiment,” notes Hanson, adding that, “We see landscape design through an architectural lens. If landscape is relegated to an afterthought in design, it is often disconnected or ignored. For Trinity, it means that landscape, which can add so much to the quality of experience and the sus tainability of building, is a fundamental and inseparable part of design.”
What comes next? Emerging as a three-dimensional continuation of their gridded design at Trinity College, gh3 is currently working on 550 Wellington, a condo project that investigates the use of extensive landscaping along its three streetscapes, where the ground plane will be articulated through a range of high-quality paving materials reflecting the program of the building inside. At the end of June, Gerrard and Hanson will be travelling to Copenhagen to deliver a lecture about integrating faades with plantings. “When you look at all the residential buildings in the city, you want to find a way to make them more hospitable. It would be wonderful to not only design a ‘green building,’ but also to be able to see that ‘green’–and to live with it,” notes Hanson. Another upcoming project for gh3 is a lab building for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Group in Gamboa, Panama, which will be part of its terrestrial studies group consisting of around 10 live-in scientists. The commission represents a phenomenal opportunity for gh3 to work with a prestigious client, and to further their experimentations with architecture and landscape.
The tradition of integrating architecture and landscape architecture disciplines within a single practice has yet to yield a significant paradigm shift in the ways projects are built in Canada. But as Hanson optimistically states, “One thing we know, and it has yet to be borne out, is that there are ways to complete projects that are much more multidisciplinary. I think that our profession is going to morph into this paradigm. You already see it in many of the European firms.”
Indeed, the ability for the architecture profession to form partnerships with landscape architects is vital in certain design quarters. Architects can learn a lot from landscape architects who are often acknowledged as being a more collaborative profession and who typically view their projects over a much longer time span than architects. As Hanson notes, “Architects have their traditional ways. If we don’t change, we will become less relevant, more rarefied. It seems as though a multidisciplinary practice allows you to touch on a few points that are not only architectural but still effectively relate to the public realm.” CA