Is Toronto ready to accept another Alsop design?

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Steeles West subway station

Artistic rendering of Will Alsop’s proposed design for the main entrance to the new Steeles West subway station to be built on the Spadina line


Steeles West subway station

Rendering of Will Alsop’s proposed design for city and regional transit bus bays at the new Steeles West subway station on the extended Spadina line


Icon or monstrosity?: When local media this week published illustrations of the bold, dramatic designs that prominent international architect Will Alsop has proposed for a new suburban subway station, the reaction from Toronto residents was swift — and scathing.

The renderings unleashed a torrent of derision in comments posted on media websites, with the majority of writers aggressively slamming the design, the architect, the projected cost of the station, and the city’s decision to extend the subway line to York Region in the first place. In posts on the Toronto Star and CBC news websites, for instance, fewer than a third said they liked the design, with some praising it as “fabulous,” “iconic,” “interesting,” “impressive,” “creative,” and “amazing.” A few  seemed indifferent, but about two-thirds of commentators considered it risible or highly objectionable in some way.

The station’s steep construction cost — an estimated $159 million — sparked considerable outrage, as did the political decision to extend the subway line north of the city instead of expanding much-needed service within its borders. “What a disgusting joke!” one person commented on the decision to spend millions building a subway stop to serve fewer than 3,800 commuters during the peak of morning rush hour — in 2031.

But most writers disparaged the design and ridiculed the architect. While one fan said the design “rocks,” many more picked up that theme and ran with it in the exact opposite direction, suggesting the structure looks like something from “The Flintstones” cartoon series. Others compared it to a castle or a children’s toy, while some said it reminded them of the ruins of bombed buildings in Sarajevo or Afghanistan or “the remnants of a building that you see in pictures of cities after nuclear war has destroyed civilization.” Words like “hideous,” “ugly,” “embarrassing,” “eyesore,” “cartoonish,” “junky” and “monstrous” peppered the comments.

Alsop came under considerable fire, too, with several writers suggesting he must have been high on drugs when he conceived the design, while another asked: “who the heck is the architect…obviously someone with no imagination.” Some said they think his subway design is just as bad, if not even worse, than his acclaimed Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) building on stilts next to the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Many believe the subway station design is impractical for Canadian winters, and predict the sweeping roof over the bus depot will either get blown away by strong winds, or collapse under heavy snow. Others said the TTC should save money by re-using the tried and true designs of existing subway stations, which they believe look better than Alsop’s.

Frankly, I think “ugly,” “hideous” and “eyesore” aptly describe most of our current stations, particularly those in the downtown core and along the Bloor-Danforth line. The majority of downtown stations are buried under streets and office buildings, accessed by nondescript entrances. The few that actually have an above-ground station presence are either completely unremarkable, just okay, or downright ugly in my humble opinion. Especially the Rosedale and Castle Frank stations, where a striking design like Alsop’s would have established a wonderful landmark on the urban landscape.

If city residents beyond the downtown core truly don’t want the design for the Steeles West station, I suggest the TTC use it to redevelop a downtown station instead, where it would probably be better appreciated. And since Alsop’s work has been compared to a castle, what better place for it than Castle Frank?

Below are several more artistic renderings of the Steeles West station that were published on the CBC news website, along with some of my photos of the exteriors of the Summerhill, Rosedale and Castle Frank subway stations, plus pics of Alsop’s iconic OCAD building.

 

Steeles West subway station

Illustration of the interior of the main entrance to the new subway station


Steeles West subway station

Illustration of the interior of the bus depot proposed for the Steeles West station


Steeles West subway station

Artistic rendering of the subway platform for the new Steeles West station


Summerhill subway station

The Summerhill subway station on the Yonge subway line


Rosedale subway station

The Rosedale subway station on the Yonge subway line


Rosedale subway station

The entrance to the Rosedale subway station on the Yonge subway line


Castle Frank subway station

The Castle Frank subway station on the Bloor-Danforth line


Castle Frank subway station

The entrance to the Castle Frank subway station


Castle Frank subway station

Bloor street view of the Castle Frank subway station exterior


Castle Frank subway station

The bus bays along Bloor Street at the Castle Frank subway station


Castle Frank subway station

Multi-million-dollar mansions a stone’s throw north of the Castle Frank station


OCAD building

The famous Will Alsop-designed OCAD building on McCaul Street


Will Alsop OCAD University

The OCAD University building viewed from Grange Park on November 7 2008


OCAD building

A view of Alsop’s OCAD building from inside the adjacent Art Gallery of Ontario

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