Studio Brief: This cross-disciplinary, upper-level master’s design studio asked students how rivers and ravines could be repositioned as living and dynamic systems within a city. Focusing on Toronto’s two main waterways, the studio built on city government work already in process to propose new and innovative ideas for developing stronger connections between the rivers and the urban core.

Investigation: The Don River and the Humber River weave through the heart of downtown Toronto, but they’re often regarded as separate from the urban life of the city. Associate professor of landscape architecture Alissa North has studied rivers for years, and she argues these two in particular are more than just visual assets. The city government has developed a draft strategy for how to address the rivers and the surrounding ravines. Students worked with the city to build on that plan and develop design ideas for implementing it.

Through mapping, hydrogeological studies, and digital and physical modeling, the students analyzed the rivers as systems, and considered the environmental, social, infrastructural, and economic roles the two waterways could play in broader civic life.

Students were divided into three groups: One focused on interventions that could happen within the rivers themselves and along their edges, another concentrated on the variable flood plains of the rivers and the steeper slopes of the ravines, and the third explored the urban-scale interactions of city and river, looking for opportunities of symbiosis. Their concluding projects—which some of the students developed into masters theses—propose methods to catalyze the transformation of the ravines.

Though largely landscape focused, the studio was open to students from both architecture and urban design—part of an effort to expose students across departments to new ways of designing. “It’s less about the discipline and more about how students can think at all scales,” North says.

In awarding the Sloan Prize for investigations into sustainability and water conservation, the jury applauded the studio’s focus on both formal and urban solutions. “There’s a clarity and real sophistication of production,” juror V. Mitch McEwen said.

Student Work:

The Rivers
Andrew Hooke’s analysis at the level of the rivers examines how sediment and seed dispersal can, over time, help to change and reinvigorate the landscape. Built interventions such as benches, lookout points, and bridges help to engage area residents with nature. His proposal includes dotting the river itself with vertical rods containing seeds from a variety of native species that can be dispersed by the flowing water, augmenting the natural landscape and repopulating local flora over the seasons.

Plan of Built Interventions in the River, shown before and after plant proliferation
Andrew Hooke Plan of Built Interventions in the River, shown before and after plant proliferation
Andrew Hooke
Andrew Hooke

The Ravines
Kangning Zhao’s investigation of the ravines in and around Toronto led to a proposal that uses landscape as infrastructure to help redirect water flow and manage flooding. In order to encourage area residents to engage with the natural landscape of the ravine, the project incorporated pathways, benches, meadows, and bike trails. Sculptural interventions will double as wayfinding devices to help people navigate their way around. A planting strategy encourages the growth and spread of native flora.

Kangning Zhao
Kangning Zhao
Kangning Zhao

The City
Projects focused on the city level explored how to foster links between the natural ravines and the urban context of Toronto. Hannah Soules looked into how stormwater runoff can be reclaimed in a greenway in the downtown core, bringing both native plantings and public programming to the neighborhood. Farmers markets and cafés help activate the streetscape and encourage the connections to water. The canal in Soules’ plan can shift uses depending on the season—from a landscaped waterway in the summer to an ice skating rink in winter.

Hannah Soules
Hannah Soules
Hannah Soules

Studio Credits
Course: Toronto Ravine Re-Create
School: University of Toronto, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design
Level: M.Arch., without preprofessional degree (year three), Master in Landscape Architecture (year three), Master in Urban Design (year two)
Duration: Fall 2016 semester
Instructor: Alissa North (associate professor)
Students: Andrew Hooke, Rachel Salmela, Tianjiao Yan, Zhoufan Wan, Yuan Zhuang, Anna Varga-Papp, Stephen Brophy, Asuka Kono, Leonard Flot, Kangning Zhao, Kamila Grigo, Christina Boyer, Hannah Soules, Xinyu Hao (submitted projects) Collaborators: The City of Toronto; Evergreen Brick Works; the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority