5 Re-Imagined Landscapes by Claude Cormier

5 Re-Imagined Landscapes by Claude Cormier

We sat down with Montreal landscape architect Claude Cormier to look ahead at five public space projects that will transform three Ontario cities – Toronto, Ottawa and Kingston – for the better in the months to come.

The Montreal landscape architect behind such crowd-pleasers as Toronto’s Sugar Beach and the Canadian Museum of Civilization Plaza in Hull has a lot on the go – including major new projects like Ottawa’s National Holocaust Memorial and Toronto’s Berczy Park. Azure recently sat down with Claude Cormier to look ahead to five landscape projects that will transform our cities for the better in the months to come.

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1 Berczy Park, Toronto
This small yet beloved triangle of grass behind the iconic Flatiron Building in Old Town Toronto sits at a difficult juncture between residential, cultural and business zones – each with its own interest in the park’s transformation. With a little landscape jiu-jitsu, Cormier has come up with something to please everyone, beginning by extending the southern sidewalk deep into the park and paving it with a dynamic pattern of granite block to draw passing pedestrians into Berczy’s core.

The second major gesture is an update to the current and rather understated fountain; as dog-walkers form a significant contingent among the park’s fans, Cormier has proposed a two-tiered Victorian-style fountain in granite, complete with a dog watering trough, golden bone topper, and life-sized cast-iron dogs in 27 different breeds. “We would like to call it Barkzy Fountain,” says Cormier. The choice of which breeds to include drew passionate involvement from local residents, as you’d expect: “We heard, ‘Do you have a terrier? Do you have a dachshund?'” Cormier says. “And we added a little cat, because there’s cat people.”

Grassy areas have been set aside for children and off-leash dogs, while an elevated patio in the shadow of the Flatiron Building offers a place for those looking to sit in peace. The proposal is still moving through the approvals process, but is expected to be fully completed for the Pan-Am Games in 2015.

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2 Breakwater Park, Kingston, Ontario
Like Berczy, the Breakwater project is a revitalization of an existing green zone – “A cute little park,” as Cormier puts it. This linear green space, which runs along the northern tip of Lake Ontario, already includes mature trees, public art and stunning lake views. Cormier’s gentle interventions simply add what’s missing – better pathways, more public furniture, and improved access to the shoreline. “We’re just confirming it by creating a stronger relationship with the lake, by restoring the plantings and starting to bring in new ones, and trying to bring sand.”

To accomplish the latter, the scheme extends the park west to incorporate the grounds of a water treatment plant and pier, already popular destinations for swimmers and kite boarders. A mirrored footbridge adds a dash of visual interest to the pier, and the beach will provide terraced access to the water. “We’re not doing much – just editing what’s there.” The process is expected to finish in 2016.

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3 Garrison Point, Toronto
Toronto’s post-industrial zones have been gentrifying at breakneck speed, leaving only a few undeveloped zones remaining. Among the most prominent is the unromantically named Ordnance Triangle, a triangular site enclosed by major rail corridors on two sides, and soon to be the address of the Garrison Point condo development spearheaded by Hariri Pontarini Architects and bKL Architecture.

What might at first appear to be a major liability – the narrow, tapering cusp of the property sandwiched between recessed railway lines, which Cormier characterizes as “a totally difficult site!” – became the project’s strongest feature when he proposed turning the wedge of land into a treed park elevated eight metres above the rail yards, and oriented to the east to capture impeccable views. Plans for bridges over the tracks, previously scrapped, have been revived to ensure the park is well connected to the nearby Fort York and Niagara neighbourhoods.

Although plans are still in development, Cormier hopes that the tip of the park will one day hold a 50-metre public swimming pool with an infinity edge positioned to perfectly frame views of Toronto’s burgeoning skyline. The developers loved the idea, says Cormier, but “the City flipped.” Construction starts this fall, with a guarantee of a basic park.

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4 River City Phase 3, Toronto
For another Toronto condo development – Saucier + Perrotte‘s gold-accented River City 3 towers on the opposite side of the city, overlooking the Don River – Cormier was granted free reign over the rooftop terrace. His instinct to offer unbroken views overlooking the Don Valley could have been stymied by the very sensible requirement for a safety barrier (the terrace sits atop five storeys of luxury apartments), but Cormier’s plan to recreate the feeling of a park in the air, connected to the open spaces of the river valley, presented a solution. The rooftop’s lawn is raised into a low, flat hill, elevating sitters above the height of the barrier and giving them an uninterrupted view of the horizon. “When you’re in the middle of the garden, it gives us the ability to do an infinity edge. You just sit, and it’s all open. It’s like you’re in a field. But you’re in a city!”

This additional height also provided the opportunity to recess the lap pool, making the poolside terrace a perfect spot to sip a latte while watching the sunrise. No definite timeline has been announced, but the project is expected to be completed within the next few years.

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5 National Holocaust Memorial, Ottawa
The most monumental of Cormier’s current projects is the National Holocaust Memorial, a collaboration with architect Daniel Libeskind and photographer Edward Burtynsky, whose images of Holocaust locations are reproduced on the monument’s interior walls. Libeskind’s overarching concept is the form of a Star of David, warped and deconstructed to create multiple environments serving different functions.

Landscaping the site posed an interesting challenge: as the Holocaust occurred outside Canada’s borders, how could the team best represent this history while still reflecting a Canadian identity? Cormier proposed covering the exterior terrain and its alcoves with granite pebbles, ranging from small to large, and dotting it with low coniferous trees reflective of the northern Boreal forest that occupies the northern half of Canada. “It’s a resilient landscape where you have no soil, no weather, no conditions – but nature takes its place.” It’s a fittingly sombre backdrop, but one that can still engage visitors to the site when it opens in the fall of 2015, softening the hard lines of Libeskind’s architecture and presenting an image of hope.

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