‘Fort York Visitor Center’ by Patkau Architects Inc.

A  jury has unanimously recommended the conceptual design submitted by Patkau Architects Inc., Vancouver, with Kearns Mancini Architects Inc., Toronto, for the new Visitor Center at Fort York National Historic Site.

Fort York National Historic Site is the birthplace of urban Toronto and the site of Canada’s largest collection of 1812-era military structures. The Visitor Center is key to the planned revitalization of the entire 17-hectare (43-acre) site, and is scheduled for completion in 2012 for the Bicentennial Commemoration of the War of 1812.

In the recommended design, the Visitor Center forms a new escarpment of weathering-steel, re-establishing the original sense of a defensive site. The jury noted that the success of the Patkau/Kearns Mancini collaborative design lies in the use of the steel-escarpment and a simple foreshore of grasses, which, when combined with the recently launched multi-media art installation Watertable, interpret the historic site condition of the original Lake Ontario shoreline bluff and provide a strong visual presence for the fort.

From a field of 31 architectural firms that originally expressed interest in the Visitor Center design, five teams were invited to make conceptual design proposals. In December 2009, four teams submitted designs. After being displayed at a public open house, the anonymous designs were reviewed by a jury, which included George F. Dark, Antonio Gomez-Palacio, Rick Haldenby, Rocco Maragna, Marianne McKenna, Charles Pachter and Anthony Tung. As part of their evaluation, the jury considered a summary of public comments gathered at the open house.

Submissions were received from Patkau Architects with Kearns Mancini Architects Inc. (identified as Design A); Raw Design with Gareth Hoskins Architects (Design B); du Toit Allsopp Hillier/du Toit Architects Limited (Design C); and Baird Sampson Neuert Architects (Design D). Additional information regarding the jury and the conceptual designs is available at http://www.toronto.ca/visitorcentre.

Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone (Councillor, Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina), Chair of the City of Toronto War of 1812 Bicentennial Steering Committee, praised the recommended conceptual design for creatively integrating the fort with the surrounding urban landscape.

He congratulated all the competition participants: Everyone was impressed with the high quality of all four designs, and I want to thank all of the design teams for putting so much time and effort into the process and into assisting us with one of our Citys most important historic sites.

The Visitor Center will be designed to meet or exceed the performance targets and guidelines contained within the City’s latest Green Development Standard.

The building of the Visitor Center will facilitate a much needed change in how Fort York is perceived as a public resource. Located outside the walls of the existing museum, but within the 17-hectare (43-acre) National Historic Site, the Visitor Center will reframe Fort York to include not only the seven-acre museum within the fort’s walls, but also the archaeological landscape/former Lake Ontario shoreline to the south, the Garrison Common/battlefield, military cemeteries located at Strachan Avenue and Victoria Memorial Square, the Fort York Armoury and Garrison Creek parkland being developed to the east. The Visitor Center will be the hub connecting visitors to the experience and content of the entire site as well as to the surrounding neighbourhoods and the city.

The final cost of the Visitor Center is estimated at $18 million.

Fort York Visitor Centre submissions: www.flickr.com.