ShapeLab is an innovative program intended to harness the ideas and energy of future city builders. CBI Research Assistant Patrice Mitchell participated in ShapeLab’s inaugural design competition, as a member of one of the 13 teams focused on the City of Toronto’s King Street Transit Pilot. In this post, she shares her impressions of the iterative co-creation process to produce installations to animate the streetscape.
Related reading: “Students give a new shape to King Street,” Ryerson Today
Why Design for King Street?
The King Street Transit Pilot rolled out in November 2017 to free streetcars from mixed traffic and prioritize the 72,000 daily transit riders along this route. From Bathurst to Jarvis, the redesign provides local access only to the estimated 20,000 private vehicles that use King Street daily, while streetcars, cyclists and pedestrians can continue to travel unrestricted.
The curb lanes, now unencumbered by cars and parking, have opened up new opportunities for a more pedestrian-friendly public realm. Less traffic means a safer experience, and Torontonians are embracing the opportunity to frequent businesses, theatres and restaurants on King Street in relative comfort. (This map gives a great visual explanation of how it all has been implemented. For more information, make sure to read Long Live The King Street Pilot Project to get a better sense of the original intentions behind the project.)
Since the King Street Pilot officially began, the most exciting addition has been that of the new public spaces—delineated curbside spaces that have been assigned to people *gasp* not cars. To maximize community engagement in the design and construction of these new public spaces, the City of Toronto launched ‘The Everyone is King: Design Build Competition’ in January 2018. The city building community responded in force with nearly 100 submissions for the 10 Temporary Public Space Installments and 2 Durable Destination Parklets spots offered. The winning street installations were unveiled from April – May 2018 and will remain in place until December 2018. Take a walk down King Street at noon and you’ll now see local residents and workers lounging and lunching in the new seating area and patios, and engaging with the new public art.
The Design Challenge
This city-wide competition provided the perfect opportunity for a partnership to develop between Ryerson University and Toronto City Planning. Together they launched ShapeLab—a four-month experiential learning initiative which reserved four new public spaces along King Street for student-led designs celebrating the 2018 theme “Everyone is King”.
Participants were challenged to design a Public Space Intervention (PSI) defined by ShapeLab as “any temporary creative design, activation, or installation that contributes to community vibrancy, self expression, culture, symbolic affirmation, and urban dynamism”. These interventions were meant to be original ideas from interdisciplinary teams of three to five Ryerson students. Submissions were evaluated based on four categories: Creativity, Engagement & Fun; Accessibility & Inclusion; Feasibility; and Team Composition.
ShapeLab officially launched in the Ryerson Student Learning Centre on March 12, 2018 with an information session open to all interested participants. At this session, the production team was introduced and the theme was explored. Participants still in need of a team to call home were brought into the fold so that that no one was left out. Some teams were eager to get started right away while others waited out the week in anticipation of the design jam on the coming weekend.
On Saturday March 17, 2018 the design jam got started with a clear explanation of the support systems for the thirteen teams who had their sights on the four winning positions. Teams then had 27 hours to workshop their designs before final presentations were due for submission. Sunday afternoon, each team took turns presenting their interventions to a 14-person panel.
The panel was scheduled to spend 25 minutes deliberating on the top 4 teams, but trepidation rose as an hour went by without their return. When the panel finally returned, the teams were reassembled and a hush fell over the room. Gregg Lintern, Chief Planner & Executive Director of the City Planning Division announced the teams who would walk away with the $1,000 cash prizes and up to $4,000 in prototype funding.
The number of high quality submissions resulted in a very close race which required extended consideration. In the end, the panel decided that in addition to the top four teams, two honourable mentions had been selected and those two teams would each be awarded $500 in recognition of their innovation and efforts.
“I am humbled by the inspiring and creative ideas from #Ryerson students for the #KingStreetPilot.” tweeted @GavinTBailey on the evening of March 18 after the winners were announced. It is clear that the experience was valuable for this Industry Advisor. Comments like this reinforce the vital nature of developing quality relationships between students and practitioners.
The excitement was real and the energy was high in regards to tangible takeaways. One contestant, Kaitlyn Hundt shared, “this was the first time that I would actually be a part of building [my] design with my own two hands.”
2018 Winning Teams
All winning designs are featured on the City of Toronto website.
Despite King Street’s ample number of entertainment venues, Project Imprint argued that “Not everyone is King today” because there were so “few spaces for free, creative, personal expression.” A problem that many unheard voices are challenged with in Toronto is finding a place in this city to be someone without having to buy something.
Do you remember the 3-D pin art boards popular in the 1990s and 2000s? The solution here took inspiration from those pinscreen toys and invited people to leave an imprint using a series of coloured, life-sized wooden dowels. The panels themselves can be moved back and forth mirroring the dowels to change the “imprint” left on the streetscape. This exciting project and the fact that the structural forms were not all exactly the same, serves as a strategic reminder that fair means that everyone gets what they need to participate fully.
Although accessibility & inclusion was part of the evaluation criteria for all submissions, Resonance proved how powerful intentional design decisions can be in achieving the spirit of unity and reconciliation. When asked about the motivation, team member Dane J. Simpson responded, “We live in a diverse city, and although many of us differ in things from ethnicity to ability, music and art are accessible to many and creates unity in its enjoyment. Drums are universal in terms of culture, and they are representative of the indigenous cultures of our country.”
Music as a universal language, and the art of creation bridges uncomfortable and often unspoken gaps, inviting users to come as they are to join the drum circle. Plastic coated steel wire would be suspended between drums made with wooden frames and drum heads at varying heights. When drums are played, the vibrations cause the wires to wave, catching the light and making their bright colours noticeable from far away, drawing the audience in to become part of the song.
Park Here completed extensive demographic research, observational studies, and conducted interviews with community members to inform their design solutions. During their site visits they determined that despite the vibrancy of the St. Lawrence neighbourhood and the Church-Yonge Corridor, there was a significant disconnect in the community with few programming opportunities for children, despite the demographic increase of children aged 0-4 years old.
Their design reconnects people with space, creates programming for children, and addresses the state of disrepair found in St. James Park’s infrastructure and adjacent street furniture. Using cube seating, bike racks, LED lights and interactive educational panels, young scholars could explore geography, math, and science through the real-world experience of getting to know the park. Reflective surfaces bring the beauty of the park out into the street and bright colours work to increase a sense of security and visibility.
Team Caravanserais sought to present tactile proof that would encourage users to rethink space as a valuable resource. By reimagining the real estate taken up by one medium-sized sedan, they turned the shape of a car used for movement into a place where users could rest or recover.
People sitting in cars often find themselves staring at the back of someone’s head. Using a wooden frame featuring seating, the space of an average car was used to force users to face and therefore interact with each other. User-activated generators were used as a celebration of alternative modes of transportation and could be operated via bicycle pedal or a hand crank. Sustainability and self sufficiency is at the forefront of this design as the LED lights are powered by the users’ input.
Kaitlyn Hundt reflects on the transition from ideation to fabrication, “we’ve gone through multiple more charrettes—which has been a lesson unto itself in how to maximize feasibility while we try to stay true to the essence of the initial design.” And on the legacy the team is creating she adds, “ultimately an interactive spot […] lets us all take a minute to think about what we want for the future of Toronto’s invaluable spaces.”
2018 Honourable Mentions
King Street is perceived primarily as a transit corridor and its many daily users risk missing out on the magic the surrounding communities have to offer because of the lack of invitations to “stop and smell the flowers”. Rather than remain dominated by the confines of a thoroughfare, this design brought people out of the right-of-way rush and into the world beyond the sidewalk where transformation, growth, and life can be found.
To create a sense of connection, increase engagement and develop respect for a dynamic city streetscape, Serenity designed interactive seating in the form of four flowers at varying heights with mobile petals that sat on springs. The flower itself could be rotated (or pressure activated) which would trigger the ringing of bells reminiscent of the St. James Cathedral bells. The flowers were modelled from Black Eyed Susans which are native to southern Ontario and found within the park, further extending the educational experience and promoting connection with the public realm’s natural environment.
There was once a time when you couldn’t pass by a park without being compelled to stop and play. Somewhere along this business of growing up, that seems to happen less, and more emphasis is spent getting somewhere rather than being somewhere. A lot of attention gets put on being in the downtown core, but every neighbourhood has a public node that holds meaning and a sense of place.
Using timber fastened to a wooden platform, painted with yellow, red, and blue paints and a reflective spray on one of 4 sides, Interject designed a maze that users can make their way through. Because each side is a different colour and each wooden pillar is a different height, the installation changes drastically as people pass by, go through or walk around it. This reminds users the value of play, and creates a sense of place that users learn to identify more frequently because their brain has been trained to take notice.
ShapeLab was supported by:
Danielle Culp, President, Ryerson Planning Graduate Student Association
Daniel Fusca, Stakeholder Engagement Lead, Office of the Chief Planner
Dr. Zhixi Cecillia Zhuang, Associate Professor, School of Urban and Regional Planning
Monica Jako, Director Community Engagement & Social Innovation, University Relations
Jean-Paul Boudreau, Special Advisor & Executive Lead, Office of Social Innovation
Tyson Fogel, Communications & Special Projects, Social Innovation
Jessica Machado, Social Innovation Assistant, Social Innovations
Charles Lau, Architect, DIALOG
Cameron Ritchie, Structural Engineer, DIALOG
Gavin Bailey, Associate Director of Planning & Development, Fotenn Planning + Design
Matt Reid, Manager of Planning Design, Fotenn Planning + Design
Colin Wolfe, Community Planner, City Planning
Elyse Parker, Director Public Realm Section, Transportation Services
Svetlana Lavrentieva, Senior Urban Designer, City Planning
Vincent Hui, Associate Chair & Professor, Department of Architecture
Christopher De Sousa, Director & Professor, School of Urban & Regional Planning
Lily Jeon, Technical Coordinator, Design Fabrication Zone
Darcie Watson, Director, Design Fabrication Zone
Claire Nelischer, Project Manager, City Building Institute
Graham Haines, Research Manager, City Building Institute
Tarek Sadek, Director of the Entrepreneurship Education Program, Center for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship