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Stations to receive artful make-overs

Some purists want TTC to preserve subway’s heritage

Ali Zafar, National Post Published: Saturday, March 08, 2008

The TTC is introducing art into its subway stations as part of an underground make-over that has public-art advocates cheering, even as preservationists fear the system’s visual identity is being lost.

“I think this is the best thing, this integration of art into the subway stops,” said Colette Laliberte, a professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). “Reinventing the subway line and incorporating art there, it’s like walking through a gallery on your way to work, it’s fantastic.”

This week, the TTC held an open house on its plans for the Pape station, the first station that will be revamped under the TTC’s $275-million station modernization program. It was launched last summer on the Bloor-Danforth line, and includes $25-million for “aesthetic changes” in the stations.

The $20.8-million Pape station revamp is anticipated to begin this fall, to be followed by the Dufferin station and then the Bloor-Yonge station, said Dave Grigg, project manager for the program.

“The intent is that basically the whole appearance needs to change,” Mr. Grigg said.

The program aims to improve finishings on the walls, floors and ceilings inside the subway stops, along with better lighting. On the outside, the focus will be on creating new station appearances and landscaping.

However, for Ms. Laliberte — who teaches a course on art in the public realm — more art on the subway line is most important. “When you think of the number of people who take the subway every day, some people are in there for hours going from Kipling to the other side of the city. So seeing the variety [of art] from one station to another is a moment of enrichment in your day to day life,” Ms. Laliberte said.

“We don’t have enough art in our life and this is bringing it to us in the subway,” she said. “It’s refreshing.”

After its renovation — set to be completed in 2010 — the Pape station will display approximately 80 digital photographs of the station by Kitchener artist Allan Harding MacKay.

Mr. MacKay said the $85,000 artwork will be displayed in a series of two-by four-foot photos, with the actual photo set alongside abstract versions.

“The images are first literal and then get made into a series where they get transformed, abstracted, swirled or highly textured. In other words, they move from being very recognizable images to more of an abstraction,” said Mr. MacKay, who also created the Veterans’ Memorial Wall at Queen’s Park.

Mr. MacKay said the works took six months to complete, and although the TTC commissioned the project, the idea behind the art was his own.

“I wanted to do something with the environment that stimulates the imagination of people, to let their own subjectivity develop meaning for them,” he said, adding he wanted passengers to view the Pape station and its surroundings through their own eyes.

The modernization program has raised some controversy with purists upset the subway line’s iconic visual identity — the system even has its own typeface — is being tampered with.

“There are a few stations that are in their original form and to renovate that you obviously lose some of that. The question is, is it significant or of value? Is that loss something that’s irreparable?” said Andrew Pruss, an architect with ERA Architects Inc.

City councillor Adam Vaughan, who is on the Toronto Preservation Board, said the TTC should take into consideration the historical value of the subway line before it tears it apart.

“The Bloor-Danforth line is a rhythm of colours that has a set pattern and it’s designed as a piece and it speaks to an era gone by,” Mr. Vaughan said.

“Before we start tampering with this and breaking it up, there’s some history there, and I think there needs to be a discussion held on how to preserve it and recognize it as heritage,” Mr. Vaughan added.

Mr. Grigg said heritage considerations ”are being reviewed,” and the TTC hopes it can renovate the stations without offending the preservationists. ”We plan to bring something on board,” he said.

Other stops to be renovated on the Bloor-Danforth line, which opened in 1966, include the Islington station, at a cost of $19.6-million, Kipling for $35.5-million and Victoria Park for $46.4-million. Construction is set to complete by 2010 and renovations on these stations will focus on restructuring, along with having easy accessibility.

Similar reconstructions along the University line, which opened in 1963, are a joint initiative between the TTC and Toronto Community Foundation.

In that initiative, St. Patrick and Osgoode stations will be renovated, each at a cost of $5-million. A date hasn’t been set as to when the construction will start.

An ongoing $5-million facelift for the Museum station will be completed on April 8.