York Quay

Harbourfront Centre, a unique arts institution that pioneered activity on the Toronto waterfront, has grown to become one of Canada’s most frequented destinations, attracting 12.5 million people annually, and the site of the city’s most diverse collection of cultural celebrations and arts events. The second phase of a three-part revitalization plan will transform the facility into a year-round animated urban enclave centrally located within an emerging comprehensive waterfront development.

MVVA’s design replaces an existing surface parking lot with a 300-car below-grade garage, simultaneously securing an improved revenue stream for the institution and opening up 3.5 acres that will be transformed into an urban plaza that can accommodate outdoor events and festivals, a waterfront square linked to Toronto’s esplanade on the shore of Lake Ontario, and a development parcel for retail and cultural buildings that will serve as the foundation for future Harbourfront Centre expansion.

The parking facility, a collaborative design by MVVA, Beyer Blinder Belle, and Jamie Carpenter Design Associates, aims to upend the traditional experience of the underground garage. Rather than being a limbo space separating the moment of arrival on site with the moment of entrance into public space, the garage will serve as the beginning of a choreographed entry onto the plaza, with daylight, fresh air and weather, and landscape incorporated into the narrative of movement into and out of the underground facility. The plaza’s unique two-tone paving scheme, inspired by the ice floes that accumulate in Toronto Harbour, makes the ground plane a focal point of visual interest on the site, framing the buildings on the site’s edges, smoothing out its idiosyncratic boundaries, and playing with visitors’ sense of scale.