A freeway underpass transformed into an active year-round public park, is a grassroots example of creative innovation producing recreation spaces that improve neighbourhoods and develop communities.
Funded by a combination of private and public monies, The Bentway is a project unprecedented in many ways. Private citizens and philanthropists Judy and Wilmot Matthews joined forces with the City of Toronto to reimagine the expressway as “a new model of shared public space activated by year-round programming”.
Thanks to the works of urbanist Ken Greenberg and landscape architecture firm PUBLIC WORK, The Bentway’s design and programming are rooted in its site – in its built environment and the layered histories and potential futures of the area. Consulting with the community and potential user groups helped build the profile of the space and inform the design eventually produced by PUBLIC WORK.
According to the architects, the “starting point for the design was the Gardiner’s series of supportive concrete columns called bents, that can either function together or on their own to offer spaces for a diverse range of programming and events – from passive, contemplative spaces to creative hubs and marketplaces. The expressway provides a canopy at varying heights from intimate to a majestic 15m high, with the bents offering structural support for clamps, cables, power and lighting – which are designed to meet both the requirements of large performance groups and the needs of fringe productions. On the ground, the project knits together public and private land, treats stormwater and repurposes displaced soil to establish a new topography.”
An open-air amphitheatre, complete with restrooms, a green room and 250-seat capacity bleachers, serve as the gateway into The Bentway. Performances are staged here or on the adjoining lawn. An additional event space can be found on the cedar wharf in front of the Fort York Visitor Centre, next to the liquid landscape of indigenous grasses that will be watered by storm runoff from the roadway above through a sustainable drainage system. A 220m skate trail also becomes a path with a kids’ splash pad in the summer.
In the next phase, a wooden bridge suspended from the underside of the Gardiner will provide a warm and organic contrast to the industrial aesthetic and a safe route across Fort York Boulevard. From the bridge visitors will be able to look down onto Fort York, thereby broadening both the accessibility and awareness of the historic site. The novel design of the bridge, constructed from cross-laminated timber and glulam, harnesses the excess structural capacity of the existing concrete bents of the Gardiner to suspend the bridge from the existing structure.
The management, operation and programming of the space is conducted by not-for-profit organisation The Bentway Conservancy.
Images © Nic Lehoux via ArchDaily