Earthscape, alongside project collaborators, was honoured at the 2019 City of Toronto Urban Design Awards. The Grange Park Revitalization received an Award of Excellence for Large Places and/or Neighbourhood Designs.
“At a time when urban greenspace is at an all-time premium, the revitalization of Grange Park is a welcome redesign that feels at once fresh and timeless, and does a lot with relatively little space for its program. Generous paths balance open sight lines with sheltered nooks and “rooms,” with welcome shade from a carefully maintained mature tree canopy.
The jury noted that the paths loop around a central lawn that doubles as green infrastructure to soak and slow stormwater while providing much-needed open public space for gathering, playing, celebrating and sitting. The enclosed dog run in the wooded southern section provides a safe and separated solution for fourlegged friends, while the playground offers fountains, climbers and adventure in an understated but creative corner. The jury was impressed with the park’s quiet confidence and capable program, offset against the gravitas of the Art Gallery of Ontario, a stately backdrop for this people’s park for the 21st century.”
Situated in downtown Toronto, Grange Park sits south of the Art Gallery of Ontario and west of the iconic table-top building of the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). In homage to these iconic neighbours, the prime consultant responsible for the redesign, PFS Studio, imagined an art-themed destination playground.
In 2008, an advisory committee of local residents, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the City of Toronto and local organizations formed with the goal of renovating Grange Park. This much-needed rejuvenation included the expansion of the playground, green space improvement, new water features and seating areas. An ambitious undertaking, supporting groups included the City of Toronto, the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Grange Park Advisory Committee.
The playground was conceptualized as an artist’s studio. A frenzy of work resulted in a spilled paint can, a squished paint tube, and tossed crumpled paper. A painter’s palette and conté charcoal pencils add to the scene. Because this called for custom pieces, Earthscape was contracted to engineer the detailed designs and build the equipment. The larger-than-life art tools are the focal point of the play space that opened in 2017.
Wood was the preferred construction material for these sculptures because it allowed complete customization, immeasurable creativity and intentional design. The texture of handcrafted wood invites human touch; because of its heat coefficient, it never gets too warm, nor too cold, regardless of the outdoor temperature. Historically, urban playgrounds were intended to replicate the experience of play in nature, thus wood is an intuitive choice.
Playable Art Pieces
The conté tower consists of two platforms suspended by square posts intended to represent blue, green and yellow conté charcoal pencils. The entire tower leans at a dynamic angle and attaches to an adjacent platform by a net bridge.
The wood cladding of the paint tube was intentionally and abstractly aligned to represent the facets of a squished tube of paint. The one-inch gap between boards allows for visibility, air circulation and moisture evaporation. The coloured perforated metal panels add visual interest, distinctive texture and affords visibility for parents and caregivers.
In another area of the playground, the connection of three irregularly-sized polyhedrons create cubbies for climbing, hiding, balancing and sliding. In effect, these represent balls of crumpled paper – the unwanted sketches that missed the waste paper basket. The variety of angles create unique interior spaces; rope chaos creates playful challenges inside the sculpture. Some of the dodecahedron sides are open; others are cladded with perforated metal panels or wood slats.
The tipped paint can is segmented to allow for multiple climbing, swinging and hanging play opportunities. For instance, handholds cut into part of the exterior cladding and metal connecting bars allow kids to climb or hang suspended inside.
This larger-than-life playground perfectly complements its artistic neighbours, the AGO and OCAD buildings, while igniting the imaginations of children and adults alike. Consequently, Grange Park demonstrates the value of intentional playground design as a valuable community asset.