Fort York National Historic Site Vistor CentreEdit profile
Fort York, considered the birthplace of Toronto, is a National Historic Site. It represents the single most important cultural heritage link to British military and social history remaining in the City of Toronto. The Fort’s layered historical themes and associations with a rich archaeological past re-enforces the need for a sensitivity in design to both the existing above-ground cultural heritage resources and the below-ground archaeological resources. The larger challenge of this project is not only to present the above-ground cultural heritage resources and to preserve the below-ground archaeological resources but also to contribute in making the social, military and intangible histories of this site more present and palpable. An Architecture of Lines and Liquid Landscapes: The delicacy of Fort York as a defensive site suggests an architecture that is mostly about subtle lines. Existing lines such as the lines of fort walls and the lines of sharpened logs are the source of new lines in the project, lines of weathering-steel walls, lines of docks, bridges and light. On Garrison Common, the grassed defensive moat in front of the fort and the surprisingly low bermed rampart are both quiet and subtle. They are experienced as a liquid rolling of the land, a delicate ‘wave’ but one with severe consequences. Below the Common, the foreground of the fort, seen from Fort York Boulevard, is that of a rolling grassy escarpment capped by the long horizontal line at the top of the fort wall. That escarpment is presently cut off where the Gardiner Expressway intersects the site. Steel Escarpment: Caught in a maze of giant infrastructure, the Visitor Centre participates in the architecture of lines and liquid landscapes of Fort York. Below the Common, the Centre constructs an escarpment of weathering-steel, an extended wall to the site, one capable of joining with the scale of the Gardiner Freeway above to form wall and roof of an XL new urban space for Toronto. The Steel Escarpment re-establishes the original sense of a defensive site, stretching across the site to meet the grassed escarpment directly below the Fort. Liquid Landscape: In front of the escarpment is a landscape of liquid ‘foreshore’, a field of tall grasses and loose bushes that move with the wind. This landscape recalls Lake Ontario’s historical edge. It flows amongst a series of piers and bridges where people congregate, walk and enjoy the facilities of the Visitor Centre. Illuminated boat-like seating floats on the field of grasses providing intimate occasion. The Liquid Landscape is also a Cleansing Landscape. The run-off from the Gardiner is captured, channeled and cleaned by plants before being released as ground water. Both building and site are quiet so that they do not detract from the fort on the hill. Both gain presence by extent. They run horizontally addressing the scale of both landscape and giant infrastructure. Piers: The site hosts a set of new ‘piers’ in the liquid landscape: a large Parking Pier in the Old Railway Cut, a Bike Pier, an Entrance Pier and an Events and Community Pier. All piers are raised slightly over the plane of the landscape beneath. Urban Plaza: Between the Parking Pier and the Amoury, an Urban Plaza slopes slowly up from Fort York Boulevard. This hard surfaced space is both a place of reception and a signifier of identity, joining the Visitor Centre with the Armoury. A new entrance to the Armoury is established on the building’s northern façade, opposite the existing south entrance. The plaza can be closed for events, adding to the capacity of this site to host huge citywide group events. Armoury: While it is not clear what the future of the Armoury Building will be, it is clear that it offers a significant history and a beautiful interior space to the City of Toronto. This proposal assumes that the Armoury (no matter what its future reuse might be) and Fort York will form a synergistic site of history in Toronto. Together they act as a destination precinct, enhancing each other’s offerings and attracting wider audiences than either would attract individually. Solid Lake: At the line of the old lakeshore, a Solid Lake emits light and reflection. The ground here has rounded reflective glass, movement activated lighting and small mirrors embedded in it, both a surface of quiet delight and a re-enactment of the mesmerizing animation of water. Archaeological Site: At the point that the land disturbed by the construction of the Gardiner ends, the lower Fort York Archaeological Site begins. Access to this site is carefully controlled. Visitors walk only on raised boardwalks to view the activities of the dig. The fascination people have with the actual work of ‘uncovering’ history adds to an understanding and appreciation of the national and local historic significance of Fort York. Garrison Common: The south edge of the Common is redefined by the new escarpment of weathering-steel. Beyond this point, the flatness of the Common is re-established. Common and Cemetery are linked in grassed flatness so that the defensive trench of rippled lawn in front of Fort York, the quiet scale of the fort itself and the archeological cuts on the Common become more decisively present. Ghost Screen: Forming a backdrop to both urban and Common’s events, a large softly luminous screen receives ghosts. Projectors attached to the Gardiner construct large-scale images. These images will be suggestive only, shadow-like constructions: of watery landscapes, of dense flocks of migratory birds, of explosions, of hand to hand combat, of moonlight, cannons, fighting and death. Viewing Platform: The Ghost Screen is also a topography of ramps and stairs. On exiting the Centre, visitors can choose to ascend into the Ghost Screen to a Viewing Platform. At this height, an overview stretches between Fort York and the small cemetery to the west. The viewing platform is a prime location for watching reenactment events on the Common.