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Greening while line dancing
by Anne Saint-Laurent, published 2014-04-02
Greening while line dancing

Launched in 2012 by Workshop Architecture in Toronto, the Green Line Vision competition is one in a series of rehabilitation operations organized in the last decade. In this instance, promoting the spirit of ideation, composite teams comprised of designers and citizens were freely invited to imagine the landscape of the hydro corridor spanning the city of Toronto, and to create a linear green space on the ground as a canvas for things to come.

The competitors were asked to imagine an innovative use of this five kilometer-long space, in order to reveal its potential. The organizers anticipated the implementation of a program consisting of a pedestrian and cyclist link between neighbourhoods abutting the Green Line, as well as a series of communal and sporting spaces (to be defined). Particular attention was to be given to sustainable development as well as the need to complete the project in stages. In this respect, multidisciplinary teams were formed in order to create balanced proposals in terms of urbanity, sustainability and logistics. In this two-part architecture competition, the first of which is presented in this update of the CCC, it was clearly stated that the submitted ideas would not immediately be realized but rather assembled into a catalogue of possibilities, aiding Torontonians in their reflections on the future of a large-scale urban space.

Of the 62 projects submitted to the "Vision" competition, some offered planning solutions, thus conforming to the demands of the competition, whereas others took a risk and envisioned proposals based on energy or profit, going far beyond the initial program. In almost all cases, however, teams never strayed from the development of a linear park. Surprisingly, most projects literally ignore the presence of the imposing power lines, without giving them a particular use. In this category are projects by Bradt, Wisniewski and Halladay, which proposes to weave nature into the city and preserve the site's ecosystem without addressing the power lines. Gabriel Wulf's winning proposal, an urban linear park with an abundance of vegetation, has no real critical stance with regard to the presence of this major infrastructure, as if he was designing a simple garden. The projects that attempted a dialogue with the "electric" and technological character of the site imagined new uses generally seeking to instill new atmosphere and character to the Green Line. This is illustrated in Justin Hui's proposal, entitled "Light Corridor", in which electricity is used to generate an urban experience through the installation of a lighting system, or in Duarte Aznar, Marin Trejo, Gomez Arana, Estudillo Robleda and Parra Roca's project, "The Green Light", in which projected light corridors are created to link different neighbourhoods of the city.

Contrary to the jury's choices, one was more likely to find meaningful and rich uses of the electrical infrastructure in proposals dealing with energy and financial solutions. The project proposed by Windmills Developments and Susan Spiegel Architects, "Power Play", attached windmills and photovoltaic panels to electric pylons in order to generate clean electricity which would be sold to finance the necessary maintenance of the Green Line urban park. This type of project is a business plan unto itself, which without proposing any specific territorial planning/landscape intervention, manages to integrate the landscape project into an economic one.

While awarding the first, second and third prizes, the jury confirmed the importance of multidiciplinarity within a team as mentioned in the program. It seems as though the jury long hesitated to grasp the freedom offered by the ideas competition. Should a planning solution with immediate use to Torontonians be prioritized, or a financial solution that makes use of the electric infrastructure, which would eventually enable a planning project to be successfully implemented?

The jury was unable to decide, thus designating three winners and proposing to compose their respective solutions into a hybrid project. In this respect, Gabriel Wulf's proposal provided the overall plan and management strategy, based on the involvement of the community in the development of community spaces the length of the Green Line. The project proposed by Windmills Developments and Susan Spiegel Architects provided a business plan, which would ensure the financial viability of the project, and finally the third place winner, Antti Auvinen, paradoxically provided the form of the project to build.

This is a strange outcome for such a rich ideas competition, testifying to the difficulty in leaving the necessary room for debate more than imagination. Did imposing multidisciplinary teams to competitors from the onset of the competition yield better-integrated solutions? It is impossible to say, but one thing is certain; opening the competition to competitors from different disciplines raised a multitude of issues, which highlights the fact that the proposals are always supposed to surpass the virtual line drawn by a competition program.
IMPORTANT NOTICE : Unless otherwise indicated, photographs of buildings and projects are from professional or institutional archives. All reproduction is prohibited unless authorized by the architects, designers, office managers, consortiums or archives centers concerned. The researchers of the Canada Research Chair in Architecture, Competitions and Mediations of Excellence are not held responsible for any omissions or inaccuracies, but appreciate all comments and pertinent information that will permit necessary modifications during future updates.