In Fall 2020 Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) and Giaimo revealed a new temporary public art installation, Brighter Days Ahead, at The Oculus Pavilion in Toronto as part of a revitalization initiative. Designed by Toronto architecture firm Giaimo, and sponsored by Creative Silhouettes Inc., Brighter Days Ahead is made of radiating yellow stripes that represent sun rays shining through the pavilion and also reference the vibrant future planned for this derelict modernist structure.
Located in the City of Toronto’s South Humber Park along the Humber River Recreational Trail, the art installation will be up for the next few months until the restoration of the pavilion takes place in 2021. Designed in 1958 by architect Alan Crossley and consulting engineer Laurence Cazaly, built in 1959, South Humber Park Pavilion AKA The Oculus is a fantastical space-age park shelter. While it stands out as a unique modernist structure in Toronto, The Oculus’ sculptural quality and use of concrete is part of a generation of ambitious and optimistic public pavilions built in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s that can be found scattered throughout the City’s parks system.
However, over the last few decades the pavilion has suffered significant neglect resulting in a deteriorating, underutilized public space. In July 2016, concerned community members rallied to save The Oculus from plans that included partial-demolition. It was named a “Building at Risk” by ACO Toronto, and a successful online petition was launched. In Summer 2019, The Oculus Revitalization project led by ACO and Giaimo was announced as one of five projects selected for Park People’s Public Space Incubator Grant (PSI), funded by the Balsam Foundation and Ken and Eti Greenberg.
The PSI program aims to encourage and support the next generation of creative public space projects by providing access to funding and professional networks. ACO and Giaimo are using the grant to transform The Oculus into a welcoming community gathering place along the trail by restoring and cleaning the existing pavilion as per its original modernist appearance, and also implementing new flexible and contextual outdoor furniture. The revitalization project also includes a series of engaging and educational programming and public art to provide the community with ongoing occasions to visit the site, explore the space, and learn about Toronto’s built heritage.
Given the sculptural quality of the structure, the pavilion has unique acoustic qualities that create an outdoor echo effect when one enters the centre of the space, and as such there is exciting potential for music and performances to occur within the space. The project has been further supported by HNR Properties, Friends of the Pan Am Path, and Creative Silhouettes Inc., and ACO and Giaimo are working closely with the City’s Parks, Forestry, and Recreation as well as Heritage Planning department. The restoration and programming was originally scheduled for 2020, but due to COVID-19 it has been postponed until 2021. While we wait for the restoration to start, Brighter Days Ahead gives visitors a unique opportunity to explore the pavilion and learn about the space.
The Oculus Heritage Status More details on The Oculus pavilion’s history and cultural value can be found in Brown+Storey’s South Humber Park Pavilion Heritage Evaluation Report. Since starting The Oculus Revitalization project, ACO and Giaimo have put together a Building Condition Assessment Report and applied for additional restoration funds through the 2020 Toronto heritage grant Program.
The grant has been approved by City Council, but the properties must be designated to receive funding. The City’s Heritage Planning department will be recommending designation of the pavilion under Part IV of the Ontario heritage Act and will bring a report forward to the Toronto Preservation Board and Council prior to the release of the grand funds anticipated for 2021.