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Waterfront installations make for an art-warming eventLifeguard station installations invite Toronto to Winter Stations on the waterfront

Installations invite Toronto to Winter Stations on the waterfront
Toronto is a port city; more than 7,000 vessels, including dozens of oceangoing freighters, ply the harbour each year. Yet it’s unclear whether the city’s residents—apart from the Island dwellers—see themselves as waterfront people, even during the summer, and anyone who strolls the waterfront in midwinter is likely to find its bleak splendour almost deserted. But a new design competition is set to tempt people to explore the icy lakeshore.

“I bought a sailboat a number of years ago; my whole vision of how the city looks changed as a result of that,” says Rotterdam-born Roland Rom Colthoff, director of Toronto architectural firm Raw Design and one of the co-founders of the city’s new Winter Stations festival of waterfront art. “There are elements of natural beauty at this time of year. It’s something that people should come down and enjoy; it’s right on their doorstep.”

In the past, Raw Design has participated in a Winnipeg event called Warming Huts, an annual competition that invites international designers to create outdoor installations at the Forks. Recently the firm also lit up downtown Montreal with an installation called PRISMATICA for that city’s Luminothérapie , a curated winter festival.

“We thought that was a tremendous amount of fun,” says Rom Colthoff. “We teamed up with [landscape architect] Ted Merrick of Ferris + Associates; we thought we could organize an annual competition like Warming Huts and bring it to Toronto. Once Ted and I had come up with this notion, we pulled in [public art consultant] Justin Ridgeway because we also wanted to include the art community.”

Noticing that there are some 100 permanent lifeguard stations along Toronto’s shoreline, the team conceived of Winter Stations and invited ideas from around the world for installations on the theme of warmth. “The only competition rule was that their installation had to touch or be fastened into the lifeguard station at some point,” says Rom Colthoff.

Winter Stations isn’t funded through tax-supported cultural grants; instead, the creators approached their connections in the development industry. Streetcar Developments, Rockport Group and Urban Capital are among the real-estate developers to have contributed between $5,000 and $15,000 to provide $15,000 per installation for artists’ fees, contractors and materials.

Almost 200 international entries poured in, but just five will be installed on the eastern beaches between Woodbine and Victoria Park. By chance, two come from the UK, one from the US and one from Toronto. Ryerson University’s Department of Architectural Science held a charrette in its Department of Architectural Science to choose the fifth, funded through the university.

These five winners, to be presented between February 16 and March 20, embrace a wide range of materials and conceptions. The UK entries are Driftwood Throne by Daniel Madeiros of DM-Studio, a sculpture made from locally-sourced reclaimed lumber that incorporates seating and a staircase, and Sling Swing by Ed Butler, Dan Wiltshire and Frances McGeown of WMB Studio, which uses deckchair canvas to create hanging loop swings.

The Wing Back by Timothy Olson of New Hampshire is inspired by the cozy shape of a wingback chair, and encloses a practical fire pit. The Ryerson entry, Snow Cone by Lily Jeon and Diana Koncan, uses colourful acrylic leaves and panels on a geodesic dome frame to create a pinecone-shaped igloo that will be insulated by falling snow.

HotBox is the creation of Torontonians Nicholas Croft and Michaela MacLeod, who have previously collaborated on Pink Punch, an installation that wrapped trees in colourful rubber rope at the Jardins de Métis in rural Quebec and was adapted for a presentation at Scotiabank Nuit Blanche

“We began with an inspiration of the Canadian ice huts and just thinking of the experience of being out in the cold and near the water and being able to enter into somewhere warm and feel the comfort and the interiority,” says Croft. HotBox is literally a curtained box that will create a warm space that muffles sound while providing a window open to the sky.

“Michaela and I are both doing traditional architectural work, but these types of public art competitions are something that we’ve been applying for. There’s a lot of personal satisfaction in it,” Croft says.

Rom Colthoff foresees that Winter Stations will become a moveable feast that reappears in different waterfront areas across the GTA in coming years, perhaps with extra activities like a food truck festival. This year, he says. “We’re hoping we can bring people down to the beach at a time they wouldn’t normally do that.”

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