Tasked with designing an extension for the West Toronto Railpath, a walking and cycling path that runs alongside an active rail corridor in the city's west end, Louisa and Allison decided to start by studying the demographics of surrounding neighbourhoods. They discovered a preponderance of older residents and single-person households, but also some young families with children.
They decided that the best way of serving those diverse groups would be to turn the Railpath extension into a place where all of them could find ways to engage in healthy physical activity.
The core of Louisa and Allison's design is what they refer to as "the spine" — a long, continuous steel railing that bends and folds into different shapes as it travels along the Railpath corridor.
Louisa and Allison's site plan.
The spine isn't just a decorative element. It's also the basis of a system of design that unifies the entire Railpath extension. All of the public amenities included in Louisa and Allison's site plan are created by taking the spine and wrapping it into various different useful shapes. In other words, all of the extension's street furniture, play equipment, and exercise equipment is formed out of one continuous line of steel.
Here, for instance, is a sandbox, which Louisa and Allison created by wrapping the spine around itself in wide circles. The benches are also made from the spine; they're topped with white oak to provide a comfortable seating surface:
The spine can also be twisted into play structures:
Here's the spine as a basketball hoop (left) and an arm workout station (right):
Although all of these objects would be physically connected in a continuous line of steel tubing, they wouldn't be permanently joined together. Louisa and Allison designed a system of "peg and hole" connector joints that would allow the spine to be constructed in sections, enabling the Railpath's caretakers to remove and reinstall lengths of the steel tubing as needed.
A drawing showing Louisa and Allison's system for adding and removing elements of the spine.
"The concept of the spine had to do with the idea of connecting neighbourhoods all the way down the site," Allison says.
"We also thought it would contribute to the playfulness of our design, and act as a wayfinding device," Louisa adds.
Louisa and Allison's site plan places the majority of the Railpath extension's public amenities at the north end of the site, near Dundas Street West. A new community centre would face the street. To the south of the community centre, in the space between two sets of train tracks that converge on the site, would be a series of play and exercise areas, all outfitted with spine-based equipment.
A section drawing showing the relationship between Louisa and Allison's walkways and the rail corridor.
Louisa and Allison chose to outfit the site with native plantings that can tolerate the area's sandy soil, including native wildflowers like hairy beardtongue and gray-headed coneflower. "We didn't want to change the site if we didn't need to," Allison says. "So the planting was meant to reflect the current conditions."
An elevated walkway with entry points at Dundas Street and Sorauren Park carries pedestrians as far as Lansdowne Avenue, after which the Railpath continues southeast at street level, toward Dufferin Street.
Instructor: Behnaz Assadi