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Farewell to the TTC's 'bathroom' motif?


Posted: March 24, 2008, 6:53 PM by Rob Roberts

By Cameron Strandberg, National Post

Toronto’s subway system is poised for a complete makeover, as the Toronto Transit Commission votes Wednesday on doing away with the tile motif familiar for four decades in favour of ”unique station designs.”

“We have a public transit system that has the same design scheme as a public bathroom,” Councillor Joe Mihevc, a TTC commissioner, said today.

The TTC has already begun revamping some of its older stations, and Mr. Mihevc said next’s month’s unveiling of the refurbished Museum station is an example of what Wednesday’s vote will free the TTC to do on 63 of Toronto’s 69 subway stations. The $5-million Museum remake incorporates weight-bearing columns designed and inspired by the collections of the adjoining Royal Ontario Museum.

The TTC’s visual identity — which includes its own typeface — is hotly debated among transit activists and various Toronto city blogs, with many supportive of the traditional tile.

The TTC’s vote tomorrow follows discussion by the Toronto Preservation Board of granting heritage protection to the entire Bloor/Danforth line, and the Yonge/University line from St. George to Eglinton.

But TTC chair Adam Giambrone said the TTC’s tile patterns had more to do with 1950s budget cutbacks than with a grand vision.

“They used the same eight tiles over and over… It was a mistake.” He likens the subway in general to an old kitchen that even after a lengthy scrubbing session, “still looks old and just not fresh.”

“We need a modern subway system,” he stressed.

Joe Clark, a transit blogger and activist, noted three-quarters of Toronto’s subway stations are designed consistently. He writes on his blog that the stations on the Bloor-Danforth maintains a wall colour scheme where Yonge and Spadina have the same colours, then Sherbourne and Bathurst and continuing so all the way out to the far ends of the line, with wall colour being exchanged for tile patterns along the way.

Such distinctive organization would end if the TTC has its way Wednesday, he said.

“By 2040, we could wind up with every single station completely different to every other one,” he said. The outcome would be a confusing, disjointed system of stations that are at odds with each other and passengers and that will lead to many inefficiencies.

Mr. Clark highlights the Vitrolite tiles at Eglington station, with their high gloss white sheen, as an attractive part of Toronto’s minimal-modernist subway design scheme and something worth protecting.

He complained the TTC is engaging in a “backdoor” campaign to cut off recent efforts by the Toronto Preservation Board to declare Toronto’s subway stations heritage sites.

“They want the ability to do anything they want and ignore heritage concerns. For whatever reason, this whole diversification issue has become the bee in their bonnet.”

Mr. Giambrone said that even with Wednesday’s vote, the modernization of Toronto’s subway stations has been an ongoing process, and that the vote will merely expand on a process that has been ongoing for some time.

The original designs of four stations — High Park, Keele, Coxwell and Woodbine — will be preserved. As well, two other stations — Wellesley and Rosedale — have heritage status and won’t be changed.

Before Wednesday’s vote, Victoria Park, Pape, Dufferin and Bloor/Yonge stations had been approved for major TTC-funded renovations, while Osgoode, Museum and St. Patrick were also set to be renovated, but under a private donation partnership between the TTC and the Toronto Community Foundation.

Photo from David Topping’s TTC Photo Essay, 69 Stations.