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Video: How Nathan Phillips Square got one Canada’s most prestigious design awards

How Andrew Frontini helped transform Nathan Phillips Square from a “cluttered” plaza to “a space of pure potential.”

An award-winning view.

Eduardo Lima/Metro

An award-winning view.

This week, the architects behind the revitalization of Nathan Phillips Square were awarded one of Canada’s most prestigious design awards: the Governor General’s Medal in Architecture.

Many of the changes made to the concrete pavilion were subtle, but Andrew Frontini, design principal at Perkins + Will, says they transformed Nathan Phillips Square from a “cluttered” plaza to “a space of pure potential.”

How Andrew Frontini helped transform Nathan Phillips Square from a “cluttered” plaza to “a space of pure potential.”

Metro asked Frontini to highlight the changes to the square and explain why Toronto’s most prominent public space is more architecturally significant than many people think.
 
1. City Hall
Frontini, who worked alongside a group of building and landscape architects to transform Nathan Phillips Square, called Viljo Revell’s 1965 design for City Hall a “masterwork” that “still feels futuristic today.” What many people may not know is that Revell designed new city hall as a “symbolic sculpture,” placing the council chambers in the centre – facing the public in a gesture of transparency – surrounded by towers housing municipal staff, who “support” the work of politicians, Frontini said.
 
2. ‘Opening up’ the square

The revitalization of Nathan Phillips Square began by clearing out an array of “clutter” that had accumulated in the space over the decades, Frontini said. Doing so allows the square to accommodate everything from daytime farmers markets to massive gatherings during events like Nuit Blanche and the Pan Am Games.
 
3. Theatre stage

The previous stage in the square was a collection of scaffolding that Frontini says was “literally rolled out” when it was needed. The new structure is permanent, and can serve as both a stage, but also a viewing area. Frontini calls it “the Spanish steps” of Toronto. Fun fact: the roof of the stage is built to support the weight of four elephants!
 
4. Snack bar and pavilion

Frontini called the concession stand and skate rental office “the hardest working little building” in the square. The previous building was a bit of a “bunker,” he said, whereas the new structure boasts a green roof and viewing area up top.
 
5. Peace garden

Created in partnership with Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the peace garden represents Toronto’s commitment to world peace and nuclear disarmament. For the revitalization, features of the garden, including water from a river in Nagasaki and an eternal flame featuring ashes from Hiroshima were relocated. The new design, Frontini says, is meant to evoke a pair of open hands.
 
6. Green roof

The podium roof of city hall was meant to be a parking lot for the mayor and city staff. However, in a sort of inversion, Frontini and the other architects involved in the revitalization turned the podium into Canada’s largest green roof installation. It provides green space for staff and nearby residents, helps reduce energy costs, and collects grey water for use in City Hall.