Public realm investment is 'good for business' says designer of Toronto's agora-inspired square

The architecture of the ancient Greeks has inspired the reinvention of Canada’s largest public square, the project’s design director has told CLAD.

Andrew Frontini, a design director at global architecture studio Perkins and Will, was speaking after the practice won Canada’s top architecture accolade, the Governor General Award, for their renovation of Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto.

Frontini said the concept of the project was inspired by the traditional Greek agora, or “gathering place”, in which a public space was designed to host a variety of social functions. The intention of the original architect, Vijlio Revell, when he created the square in 1965 was to create a theatre for the city surrounded by a forested perimeter.

“In ancient Greece, the agora was the primary space of exchange; whether it be cultural, economic or social,” said Frontini. “Our vision for the revitalisation began with opening up the square – removing an array of clutter that had accumulated in the plaza. This created room to support large scale celebrations and programming as well as the broadest range of spontaneous gatherings and interactions.”

Plant Architect, Adrian Blackwell Urban Projects and Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects worked on the recently-completed project since 2007.

They added a versatile stage structure under a glazed roof canopy; redesigned landscaping along the edges of the square and upper level roof terraces; planted four acres of green gardens on the podium roof of City Hall’ and added a Peace Garden – with a flowering tree grove, eternal flame, and reflecting pool – designed in partnership with the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The facilities host concerts, rallies, the city’s annual New Year's Eve Party and the Cavalcade of Lights Festival.

“Toronto has a great design culture, but the focus is often on individual buildings,” said Frontini. “That a public square won the Governor General Award is significant and shines a light on Toronto’s need for more robust public spaces to support the growing density of its downtown and the diversity of its public life.

“We sincerely hope that the award encourages municipalities and private developers to invest in the design of the public realm – it’s good for people so it’s good for business.”

Nathan Phillips Square  Toronto  Canada  Governor General Award  architecture  design  public realm  
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The architecture of the ancient Greeks has inspired the reinvention of Canada’s largest public square, the project’s design director has told CLAD. Andrew Frontini, a design director at global architecture studio Perkins and Will, was speaking after the practice won Canada’s top architecture accolade, the Governor General Award, for their renovation of Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. Frontini said the concept of the project was inspired by the traditional Greek
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A versatile stage structure under a glazed roof canopy sits at the heart of Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto / Perkins + Will
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