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U of T landscape architecture students Gregory Bunker, Jessica Wagner and Daniel Garcia Marquez hold their winning design
Gregory Bunker, Jessica Wagner and Daniel Garcia Marquez. Photo Courtesy of Ontario Tire Stewardship

Design on the Fly

A team of U of T students have won a 24-hour challenge to redesign the front entrance of Toronto's central Y

A team of master’s students from the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design have won a province-wide competition to revamp part of a popular downtown Toronto facility using recycled tires.

Earlier this month, landscape architecture students Jessica Wagner, Gregory Bunker and David Garcia Gonzalez emerged victorious in the Ontario Tire Stewardship Student Design Challenge – a 24-hour contest in which students were asked to reimagine the front entrance and forecourt of Toronto’s Central YMCA, which draws about 3,000 visitors daily. The U of T group beat out eight teams from universities and colleges across Ontario.

Constructed in 1985, the YMCA building has undergone extensive internal renovations since then, but retained its original 4,000-square-foot concrete-and-stone forecourt. Working under significant pressure due to the time limit, the team first outlined the main features of their new design and then spent the night drawing. “Not sleeping helped,” said Bunker.

Based on data from a YMCA member survey, they honed in on how the forecourt was being used. “The site had become an ad hoc bike parking lot, with rows of racks that left little space for much else,” said Bunker. “We included a designated bike area to improve use of space.” They also expanded the plaza’s ramp to make the building more accessible, and created gathering spaces with benches and a canopied light for a more welcoming atmosphere. In keeping with the Y’s colour scheme, the team used blocks of red, blue and yellow to define zones of activity, such as bike parking and socializing. They used tire-derived products to transform a huge blank surface facing Yonge St. into a rock-climbing wall.

“The title of our design is Inside Out,” Bunker explained. “The current entrance is pretty bland, and doesn’t reflect all the programs and activities that are happening inside. We wanted to bring the energy and vibrancy that’s happening inside, outside.”

Each team’s proposal was judged on feasibility, ideas, and how well it addressed the YMCA’s needs. A YMCA executive was impressed how the U of T team reflected the organization’s mission. “It’s beautiful,” said Alex Versluis, vice-president, property management. “It recognizes the space and opens it up to all user groups. It astounds me how well they understood the Y.”

The students will be involved throughout the construction process, which will begin in the spring for a mid-summer unveiling. A professional landscape architect, Elise Shelley, a professor at the Daniels Faculty, will oversee the project’s implementation.

Click below to see the U of T team’s winning concept

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