To comment scroll to the bottom of the entry. Your e-mail address and URL are optional fields.

2006 05 29
Fostering Orphans - 2
By Mason White

As Toronto saturates itself in mail-order condominiums and star-studded new signature cultural buildings, the city turns its back on the carpet of the city – its street level. Pockets of the city remain neglected as they default to the exurbanism of big box stores and their parking lots. The orphan spaces initiative asked design teams to look at this issue of neglected urbanism. What started off as a specific response to one site became a set of protocols for interventions in orphan spaces across Toronto.


An Orphan Space Primer

1. Eye Level
Designing in orphan spaces demands detective work, or a way of looking at the city from eye level in search of sites.

2. Design = Strategy
Design for orphan spaces is more a matter of clarifying design strategy, rather than imposing an image or totalizing system. Community and identity do not necessarily beg the image of traditional main street.

3. Design ≠ Brand
An orphan space is not a tabula rasa. Orphan spaces seek to amplify an identity that is latent, rather than the imposition of a transplanted or branded identity.


4. Incremental
Orphan spaces could benefit more from an anti-masterplan, with ideas for demarking public space to allow for the incremental accretion of urban life. In orphan spaces, a toolkit of devices is more likely to produce a coherent site-specific urban space over time.

5. Infrastructural Landscape
Orphan spaces suggest a vision of urban design in which infrastructure is the hero, and landscape its sidekick.


6. Typology
In Orphan Spaces, traditional urban typologies don’t compute. Taking this as a problem involving the car, public transit, pedestrians, businesses big and small, and adjoining residential areas, the need to innovate becomes clear. All bets are off… orphan spaces are an opportunity for developing new typologies of public space and the street.

7. Ambiguity
Public space typically lacks an overlap of informal and formal use, programmed and unprogrammed events. Ambiguity is an asset. Public space should adapt to temporal shifts rather than impose a rigid figure.

8. Soft Catalyst
Landscape can be more than urban parsley. It can be the catalyst for program.


9. Saturation
Programming an orphan space should reject the tendency to arrange filler urban elements, such as a bench, a tree, a lightpost, like a buffet. Instead, orphan spaces could saturate a space with a single element – grass mounds, or picnic surfaces, or game graphics – in order to script new uses for these spaces.


10. Hybrid
Successful public space frequently requires a hybrid or symbiotic relationship between public and private entities, in which ownership and use remain somewhat ambiguous to the visitor.

11. Design = Phasing
Phasing is an essential design tool to initiate the transitional development of an orphan space. The pause between phases is a design act that requires considered choreography.

12. Negotiation
Adopting an orphan space necessitates parenting through negotiation.


Cliffside Village became a test ground for these observations. Our scheme offers an incremental intervention that facilitates access and connectivity – using the idea of a marina “slip” as inspiration. A “slip” is a melding of a crosswalk with a pocket park. The use of slips allows a slowing of traffic, encourages pedestrian acces, and the making of place each with a distinct identity. The slip is a composite of infrastructure, landscape and program implementable in phases of various scales.

Design Team: Lola Sheppard + Mason White (Lateral Architecture), Chris Hardwicke (http://www.ssfandco.com>Sweeny Sterling Finlayson & Co), Fung Lee (PMA Landscape Architects), Hon Lu (http://www.tedco.ca/>TEDCO) & Daniel Rabin.

[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 05/29 at 11:10 AM

<< Back to main

Archive Search

Related Links
Toronto Stories by
Toronto Links
Your Opinions

Other Blogs
News Sources