Commercial Architecture February 2018 - 46
windows & doors
Channel Glass Leads Visitors To Fort
ort York, located in downtown Toronto, is a 43-acre
national historic site nestled near the shoreline of Lake
Ontario. Since the early 1930s, it has remained rela-
tively undisturbed, despite being surrounded by exponential
urban growth. That changed with the recent completion of
The Fort York Visitor Center is a backlit
glass structure that provides
a captivating entrance to the historic site.
the Fort York Visitor Center with its advanced glass façade.
The building uses a thoughtful, contemporary design to bolster visitor appreciation for the heritage and character of the
fort and its surrounding area.
Architects undertaking new-construction projects in historic settings typically adopt one of four strategies:
invention with the same or a related style
The new visitor center is a contemporary structure that
adopts the abstract-reference design strategy. The linearity and
composition of the building is inspired by practical concerns
(site orientation and access) and symbolic factors such as the
original lake shoreline the fort was built to protect.
CHALLENGES & SOLUTIONS
Kearns Mancini Architects, Toronto (kmai.com), and Patkau
Architects, Vancouver, British Columbia (patkau.ca), faced
immense project challenges constructing a visitor center on
a site steeped in cultural and archaeological significance. Enhancing the appeal of the fort, while preserving its originality and historic foundation, posed a particular challenge. To
respect the sensitivity of the site, the architects envisioned a
long, linear building form, tucked underneath the massive
nearby Gardiner Expressway. Submerging the new structure
into the landscape would further align it with Fort York's topography and history.
According to Dan McNeil, project architect with Kearns
Mancini Architects, "The approach to the visitor center is underneath the Gardiner Expressway, which is a very large and
powerful singular architectural statement, forming an almost
cathedral space underneath. Rather than competing with this
grandiose structure, we conceptualized a subdued yet distinct
building, which metaphorically connects with the fortifications and historic tapestry of the fort. We also decided to construct a transitional zone within the proposed building, creating an ascending viewing platform."
THE CHANNEL-GLASS CHOICE
The original plan was to project battle-scene images on a
projection/display cladding surface. That approach was not
economically feasible, leading to the selection of Lamberts
channel glass manufactured by Bendheim Wall Systems Inc.,
Wayne, NJ (bendheim.com). The material was selected for its
structural capacity and light-diffusing properties and the resultant savings of more than $1 million.
McNeil remarked, "This illuminated structure seems to
Channel glass, used in the Fort York visitor center design, provides a sculptural quality and allows
back lighting that creates a soft glow. Photos: Riley Snelling, courtesy Bendheim
draw attention and activity to the site," especially in conjunction with Toronto's annual art festivities. An abstract form
rising from the landscape became the inspiration for the glass-
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