UrbanToronto recently attended a special presentation on the upcoming Underpass Park as part of Urban Capital’s speaker series ‘River City: The Big Picture.’ The gathering, hosted by Urban Capital’s David Wex, featured an overview of the park by landscape architect Greg Smallenberg of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, as well as an introduction to the park’s specially-commissioned public art installation ‘Mirage’ by artist Paul Raff of Paul Raff Studio.

Text by Doug Convoy, Photos by Craig White, Illustrations courtesy of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg and Paul Raff Studio. 

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

Underpass Park, the most extensive park to be built beneath an underpass in Canada, is an innovative, two and a half acre mixed-use gathering place currently under construction below the Richmond-Adelaide ramps in the West Don Lands. Through various gestures, the park will transform incidental space surrounding the urban infrastructure and create a new sense of place for the community.

David Wex of Urban Capital in Toronto for Underpass Park David Wex, image by Craig White

Underpass Park designer, landscape architect Greg Smallenberg, Partner, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, Vancouver, BC

Greg Smallenberg of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg for Underpass ParkGreg Smallenberg, image by Craig White

‘Mirage’ creator, artist and architect Paul Raff, Founding Principal, Paul Raff Studio

Paul Raff of Paul Raff Studios for Underpass Park in TorontoPaul Raff, image by Craig White

Underpass Park's context within Toronto’s waterfront revitalization

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

Underpass Park's context within the West Don Lands

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

Underpass Park's context within Urban Capital’s River City (19, 20, 24) and TCHC affordable housing scheme(23) in the West Don Lands

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

Underpass Park will function as a hybrid public zone (western block), children's play area-urban room-flex space (central block), and sports-recreational zone (eastern block).

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

The large gap in the Richmond-Adelaide ramps will feature fifty to sixty Black Locust trees set in crushed granite.

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

The ground surface of Underpass Park will receive different paving treatments – Ipe wood, crushed granite, recycled rubber, saw cut concrete, and asphalt – to add interest and delineate various areas of activity.

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

Generous seating, plantings, and attractive surface treatments will transform incidental, ‘leftover’ space around the urban infrastructure into a dynamic community gathering place.

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

Five to six meters of clearance underneath the ramps creates an opportunity for an urban room – a place for interaction and sipping espresso served from containerised, solar-powered ‘move boxes.’

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

Innovative lighting will provide security and a sense of wonderment after nightfall. Extruded-concrete ribbon walls with integrated seating will mark out pathways through the park space.

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg

In creating Underpass Park’s public art piece ‘Mirage,’ artist and architect Paul Raff drew inspiration from the threshold quality of the underpass, its sculptural and monumental piers, and the sheer scale of the immediate urban condition to be transformed. From this, Raff embarked on an exploration of space and light reminiscent of land-art installations 'Displacement' (c.1969) by American artist Robert Smithson and 'Holy Land' (c.2006-2007) by French artist Kader Attia.

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Paul Raff Studio

Like the Smithson and Attia works, ‘Mirage’ uses mirrors to redefine space, redirect light, and reduce the distance between artwork and viewer.

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Paul Raff Studio

Large, honeycomb-shaped panels of mirror and stainless steel will be suspended four meters above the ground from the underside of the road deck. In this way, ‘Mirage’ will produce a constellation of reflections via natural and artificial light to engage the viewer at all hours, day and night.

Underpass Park in Toronto by Urban Capital, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, RaffImage courtesy of Paul Raff Studio