Last week, the city of Toronto mourned the death of a prominent and beloved political figure, Jack Layton. The expression of that sorrow transformed Nathan Phillips Square, the vast, modernist, public plaza adjacent to City Hall into a civic ‘living room’ of grief. Rick Reineke of our office forwarded this image of the square (from the blog, which is the most powerful example of the importance of true civic space that I have seen in a long time:

The square, covered in expressions of grief that citizens wrote in chalk.(Photo Credit: Jackman Chiu)

Thousands came to the square to write memorials to Jack Layton, and when the rain washed the surface clean, others returned the following day to continue the remembrance. (Photo Credit: Jackman Chiu)

Photo Credit: Jackman Chiu

We have been very fortunate to contribute to the ongoing revitalization of this public space. Last summer, the green roof on the podium, from where the first image of this post was taken, revitalized an area that had been closed off to the public for a decade.

Green Roof At Nathan Phillips Square (Photo Credit: Liveroof)

The design ideas behind the revitalization of the square, which was undertaken by PLANT Architect, Adrian Blackwell, Shore Tilbe Irwin & Partners, and Hoerr Schaudt, are focused on revealing the original intent of architect Viljo Revell for the square as an open, flexible space. One aspect of this approach involved a controversial move, relocating the Peace Garden from where it was located – seen in the lower right in the photo above – to a more contemplative location along the side of the square.

Many of the concrete pavers people used as their canvas were not there before the Peace Garden was relocated. The result of that ‘editing’ process is particularly visible in the photo below, where the vastness of the square encompasses and reflects the vastness of the city’s grief.

Photo Credit: Jackman Chiu

When have you experienced public space as a place of communal expression? Can places that are not entirely public (Millennium Park comes to my mind) fulfill that need in the same way?

See more of the Jack Leyton memorial at Nathan Phillips Square on Jackman Chiu’s photostream on Flickr.

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