Nathan Phillips Square – Podium Green Roof

Designers: PLANT Architect Inc., STIP, Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, Adrian Blackwell | City: Toronto, ON | Project Type: Green Roof, Revitalization
Date Visited: 08.28.12
Location: 100 Queen Street West
Size: 35,000 sq. ft (3,250 sq. mtrs)
Cost: 2.3 million CDN
Official Opening Date: 2010

In 2010, Toronto City Hall transformed approximately 35,000 square feet of lifeless grey concrete into a lush, living green roof.

In addition to adding numerous environmental and economic benefits to Toronto’s skyline, the Nathan Phillips Square Podium Green Roof was also built to kick off the 2009 Toronto bylaw that made green roofs a requirement on new development–the first law of its kind in North America. Toronto’s flagship green roof is not only the city’s largest, publicly-accessible green roof, but also signifies the first phase of the revitalization project for Toronto’s largest public square.

In the 1960s, the Finnish architect Viljo Revell designed Toronto’s modernist city hall intending to make the podium roof a raised public plaza. This vision, however, was never fully realized during his lifetime and for subsequent decades, the podium roof was barricaded off as forgotten space.

Nearly half a century later, the city of Toronto was ready for a change. Following an international design competition for the revitalization of Nathan Phillips Square in 2007, the city selected the joint team of Perkins+Will, Hoerr Schaudt, and PLANT Architect Inc. as the winners from over 48 finalists.

From the design commentary by PLANT Architects:

“The new green roof consists of three formal conditions: a sedum mosaic, a paved courtyard that frames the curved chamber and a deck café that occupies the prow. The perimeter garden is treated as a field in purple, pink, yellow/orange and green sedums. This ground cover is planted in a prevegetated tray system with shade tolerant species concentrated in the shadows of the City Hall’s towers.”

The element of time was also cleverly alluded to in the design. A built, half-kilometer walk reveals the passage of time through shadow play. Shade structures reveal the movement of the sun; their shadows align with benches at specified hours from 10AM to 4PM. An all-season plant palette was carefully picked to show year-round interest and to reflect the beauty of Toronto’s four seasons.

Every Wednesday, the Nathan Philips Square down below holds a weekly farmer’s market with live music. The square itself is still undergoing construction–I saw a modern concession stand being built and a neighboring ice rink–but the square was packed with people for the market. It’s also a great place if you want to try Toronto’s signature burger, the Peameal Bacon Burger, made from slices of slow-cured, cornmeal-coated back bacon on a bun–it’s where I had mine!

I would have loved to see more trees on the green roof but compared to what the space was before–a cordoned off slab of concrete–the green roof is a huge improvement.

Above Renderings: Credit to PLANT Architects

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