Image of The Gateway installation at The Bentway Skate Trail

01.02.24 - Two Daniels Faculty alumni light up Toronto’s winter with Bentway installation The Gateway

Visitors to the Bentway Skate Trail in downtown Toronto have had added incentive to strap on their ice skates besides the thrill of gliding across frozen water this winter: A colourful procession of “woven” light arches, known as The Gateway, has illuminated the popular winter amenity since mid-December, bringing a facsimile of the northern lights to the underbelly of the Gardiner Expressway.

Chosen after a nationwide call for project submissions, the vibrant addition to the 220-metre-long, figure-eight-shaped Trail is the brainchild of two Daniels Faculty alumni: the multidisciplinary designers Yi Zhou (MLA 2013) and Carlos Portillo (MLA 2018).

Now based in San Francisco, Zhou (pictured below at left) is an associate landscape architect at Surfacedesign, Inc. and was previously a landscape architect at CCxA in Montreal. Portillo (pictured below at right) joined CCxA in 2018 and has worked on such projects as The Ring in Montreal and Love Park in Toronto.

The design partners were on hand when The Gateway’s lights—an interweaving of green, blue, violet and magenta—were first switched on on December 16. The nightly illumination will continue until February 19, when the Skate Trail closes for the season.

“…The Expressway’s large columns come alive as visitors move beneath them, the ethereal colours mixing, mingling and dancing overhead,” says the duo’s artistic statement.

“The Gateway evokes the movement and magic of the northern lights across the sky, which are most vibrant during the dark winter months. The many strands of [interlacing] jewel-toned cords…pay tribute to the diversity of vibrant cultures and peoples that make up Toronto.”

Like several of their previous artistic projects—Zhou’s immersive Language of Plants installation has toured several locations throughout Toronto and Portillo’s award-winning work Entwine was on display at the prestigious Jardins de Métis International Garden Festival from 2019 to 2021—The Gateway fuses “art, natural phenomena, the built environment and community encounters.”

Inspired by the installation, The Bentway Studio also hosted a pair of free public workshops in January—one on weaving and the other on astronomy and the northern lights.

In addition to the designers, members of the project team included the structural engineering firm Blackwell and the fabrication studio Steel & Oak Designs.

For more information on the Bentway Skate Trail, including hours of operation and equipment-rental prices, click here.

Banner image by Brandon Ferguson