Small Is Beautiful: Toronto’s 2016 Winter Stations Arrive on the Shore of Lake Ontario

An initiative cofounded by the Canadian firms RAW Design, Ferris + Associates and Curio, the annualWinter Stations Design Competition is an open-air art installation that strives to bring Toronto residents outside in the coldest months of the year. The competition called for architects, artists or designers to intervene on the existing lifeguard stands stationed along the shores of Lake Ontario and left unused through the winter months. Each resulting interpretation of the stand is an interactive experience for the visitor animating the shoreline with social interaction throughout the winter season.

The second edition of the competition was thematically centered around the phrase “Freeze/Thaw,” which produced four winning designs from a pool of 378 submissions. Three student-led designs — from programs at Ryerson, OCAD University and Laurentian University — complemented the exhibition, as did a brand-new beach community fireplace donated by Diamante Developments and designed by Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal. Aaron Hendershott of RAW Design, one of the organizers of Winter Stations, talked to Architizer about Toronto’s urban landscape and the impact of this unexpected initiative.

Fire Pit; photo by Khristel Stecher

Architizer: How would you define Toronto’s architecture and urban scene at the moment?

Aaron Hendershott: Toronto’s urban scene is becoming both international and hyper-local. On one hand, we are seeing exciting proposals from acclaimed international firms that will transform the city’s skyline. On the other hand, we are seeing [a] number of grassroots initiatives happening around the city that are generating excitement and provoking dialogue about urban issues. Torontonians are design savvy and engaged with architecture and urbanism probably more now than ever. Public art and architecture is a great vehicle for bringing these conversations to the forefront and allowing the public to take part in creative city building.

Flow; photo by Khristel Stecher

In what way does the Winter Stations exhibit contribute to Toronto’s public spaces and social activities?

We live in a big city of neighborhoods, and we hope that events like this motivate Torontonians to get outdoors and discover a part of the city that they wouldn’t normally visit, like the beach in the wintertime, which is a beautiful landscape. The most important aspect of Winter Stations is the social element. These are pieces that encourage spontaneous interaction but, beyond that, offer new types of community spaces: places to rub elbows and strike up conversation with strangers. The art is really an icebreaker for social interaction.

In the Belly of a Bear; photo by Khristel Stecher

In the Belly of a Bear was designed by three Calgary-based artists, Caitlind r.c Brown, Wayne Garrett and Lane Shordee. The visual contrast of the dark, charred wooden sphere in the bright seaside landscape is also a sensory invitation, as visitors are able to climb into a warm interior densely lined in thick fur.

Floating Ropes; photo by Ben Rahn / A-Frame Studio

Floating Ropes; photo by Khristel Stecher

Floating Ropes — conceived by Montreal-based architecture collective MUDO — is a cube lined with ropes that surround the lifeguard chair. Passersby can climb to take in the view.

Sauna; photos by Khristel Stecher

Embracing the thematic “Freeze/Thaw” imagery, Sauna is an immersive installation by United Kingdom-based practice Fox Fernley Landscape Office (FFLO), founded by Claire Furnley and James Fox. The timber structure and transparent walls encapsulate a heated environment where visitors can sit to warm up from the cold.

Flow; photo by Ben Rahn / A-Frame Studio

Flow; photos by Khristel Stecher

Two graduate students, Calvin Fung and Victor Huynh, combined their interdisciplinary skills to createFlow, a digitally fabricated kinetic sculpture made of 3D star-shaped modules and assembled with slot-fitting wood connections.

Aurora Borealis; photo by Ben Rahn / A-Frame Studio

Aurora Borealis; photo by Khristel Stecher

Designed by Chris Baziw, Ra’anaa Brown, Trevor D’Orazio, Andrew Harkness, Matthew Hunter, Danielle Kastelein and Architecture Director Terrance Galvin of Laurentian University, Aurora Borealis is a hovering sculpture made of sewn fabric, LED lights and a welded aluminum frame. The illuminated tubes respond to body heat from visitors and change color when they are touched.

Lithoform; photos by Khristel Stecher

Lithoform, Ryerson University’s contribution to the installations, was inspired by the natural forms of frost on the outer layer of earth. The fractured, polychromatic volume seems like a crystal of ice trapping the lifeguard stand at its heart. Ryerson’s team included Remi Carreiro, Aris Peci and Associate Professor Vincent Hui.

Steam Canoe; photos by Khristel Stecher

Echoing the shape of an upside-down canoe, the structure created by OCAD University’s team — Curtis Ho, Jungyun Lee, Monifa Onca Charles, Reila Park, Hamid Shahi, Lambert St-Cyr, Jaewon Kim and Assistant Professor Mark Tholen — is composed of wood panels and offers visitors a domed interior for shelter.

Fire Pit; photos by Khristel Stecher

A charred cedar finish makes the new community fireplace stand out on Lake Ontario’s blustery shores, offering visitors a place to be shielded from the winds and to warm up — against the sinuous wall of the pavilion.

Fire Pit; photos by Khristel Stecher

Following a successful launch on February 18th, 2016, the installations will continue to be on view until March 20th. The seven lifeguard stations included in the competition are located along Toronto’s east beaches, between Woodbine and Victoria Park Avenues.

You can also contribute to the sustainability of the Winter Stations initiative by donating to its crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.