Michael Van Valkenburgh’s new Toronto park is a stormwater treatment plant in disguise

Corktown Common Pavilion. (Courtesy ARUP)

Corktown Common Pavilion. (Courtesy ARUP)

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) has taken its talents up north to Canada with the new Corktown Common park in Toronto. The 18-acre public space—which is part of the burgeoning, 80-acre West Don Lands neighborhood—was created with Arup and developed by Waterfront Toronto, the government-funded corporation spearheading the revitalization of the city’s waterfront.

Looking out at the Toronto Skyline. (Courtesy Waterfront Toronto)

Looking out at the Toronto Skyline. (Courtesy Waterfront Toronto)

The Common has all the requisite features and amenities to attract Torontonians and their kids to what was, until recently, a brownfield site. Using Brooklyn Bridge Park and Hudson River Park as reference points, the reclaimed space has an array of natural plants, landscapes, ecosystems as well as lawns, athletic fields, picnic tables, play areas, and a pavilion that includes a community kitchen. That can all be seen at first glance, but the $27 million park was built as more than a play area—it was built to work.

Representatives from Arup told AN that the park is designed as a “cistern” that stores and treats stormwater to protect the surrounding neighborhood from flooding. This is done through natural elements like plantings, bioswales, a landscaped berm, and a living marsh. But the play areas do their part as well. Water used at the large splash pad, for example, is treated and then directed back through the marsh.

Relaxing on the lawn. (Courtesy Waterfront Toronto)

Relaxing on the lawn. (Courtesy Waterfront Toronto)

“An expansive urban prairie on the berm will respond to changing water levels and frame the more active areas of the park,” MVVA said in a statement on its website. “To the west, lawns, marshes, and woodlands will provide settings for walking, cycling, sledding, sports, sunbathing, and public art, with a multifunction pavilion at the center.”

This was all part of a vision to create a park that acts like a cistern, but doesn’t necessarily  look like one. This was the team’s challenge: mask all the tricks and tools that make the park sustainable within the park itself. “If a mechanical engineer does her job right everything she does should be invisible,” said Jennifer McArthur of Arup.

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