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May 2024

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JICS outdoor play area opens

Here’s a first look at the new PLANT-designed outdoor play area for the Laboratory School at the University of Toronto’s Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study (JICS). The school’s pedagogy emphasizes connections to nature, creative play, and what is known as “risky play”: opportunities for children to challenge themselves physically – to a degree appropriate to each individual’s age and abilities – thereby encouraging mental, emotional and physical development.

An accessible ramp was a key play area requirement. What we designed not only provides universal access to a heritage building, but also generates opportunities for several types of play. Close to the school, it encloses a ‘sensory garden’ where children can study plants with different scents, blooms, and leaf shapes up close. Along its outer edge are niches kids can tuck themselves into and stepped log clusters that they can climb to get up onto the ramp through gaps in its pickets.

A tricycle track with a tree-root-protecting wooden bridge loops around two main gathering areas: a log mound/winter slide zone and a story-time spot with a leaf-shaped canopy. There’s a sand pit with a water pump for messy play. The school’s students have loved the orange, rope-webbed play structure that zips through the yard ever since they could get their hands on it. Two curvy, colourfully shingled sheds, nicknamed the Onion and the Potato, provides storage space for pool noodles, big foam blocks, and other play props. Climbing-wall footholds on the Potato invite kids to gain an elevated perspective on the play area.

Richard Messina, the school’s principal, praised the play area’s performance in its first month of use. “Preliminary reports are showing that both the number of injuries and incidents of social conflict have gone down,” he said. “The kids have so many places to play, and they are so excited and challenging themselves.”

Chris Pommer named RAIC Fellow

PLANT founding partner Chris Pommer has been named a Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (FRAIC). He graduated from the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture in 1988 and in 1994 founded PLANT with two other graduates of the school, Lisa Rapoport and Mary Tremain.

Early in his career, Chris worked for four years with Bruce Mau Design; his expertise in graphic design and typography has been integral to PLANT’s focus on making the experience of visiting a site more meaningful by telling its stories through design. At the Pottery Road Bicycle and Pedestrian Crossing in Toronto, for example, Chris’s “stencilled” signage, laser-cut through the crossing’s girder-like barriers, memorably evokes the Don Valley’s industrial heritage.

As PLANT’s partner-in-charge on the Governor General’s Medal in Architecture-winning Nathan Phillips Square Revitalization at Toronto City Hall, Chris gained an encyclopedic understanding of Viljo Revell’s iconic civic space. Still this modernist landmark’s most passionate champion, Chris leads walking tours of the Square and is the senior advisor on the ongoing project to update security protocols and complete unrealized portions of the site.

Those of us who work with him would be hard-pressed to select the one thing we love most about him and his work, but his urbane sense of humour and his uncanny ability to solve virtually any technological problem with just a few keystrokes are somewhere in the top five. Congratulations, Chris!

Sweet Farm at 30

We recently revisited one of PLANT’s founding projects, Sweet Farm, which was built 30 years ago for our client’s private use. It’s great to see that all features of the plan are still there on this beautiful site in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, along with some new embellishments by the client: plywood paintings from painting parties in the woods. Even better, our client has collaborated with the Parc d’environnement naturel de Sutton to include most of Sweet Farm’s trails and features in their extensive public hiking trails network. On our walk we saw many families enjoying the woods and gorge just after a surprise April snowstorm.

Markham Garden revisited

It’s always tricky to decide when to have landscape projects professionally shot: much as we’d love to show them off right away, they always improve after they’ve had a year or two to grow in. And what a difference 10 years can make! McNeill Photography’s new pictures of Markham Garden One, a project PLANT completed in 2014, show how lush and layered this project is looking in 2024. Kudos to Jeff McNeill for having a wonderful eye, and to our friends at Oriole Landscaping for keeping this garden in beautifully groomed condition. Oriole, as it happens, was also the contractor on PLANT’s much more recent Alcina Garden: congratulations to them for winning four Landscape Ontario awards for that project earlier this year.

Bennington Heights Garden in National Post

PLANT’s Bennington Heights Garden filled the front page of the National Post’s Homes section in the Saturday, April 27 edition. Thanks to Martha Uniacke Breen for an an informative and beautifully written article and to Steven Evans for the glorious photography. Please have a look.

New projects @ branchplant.com

We’ve recently posted several new or updated projects to our website. Thistletown II, a major Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) townhouse renovation, has completed pilot-phase construction; we’ve also added our TCHC Duncanwoods, Yorkwoods, Brahms and Ardwick projects to the site. There’s also an updated supportive housing project, the Jean Tweed Centre’s Palmerston House. On the single-family home side of PLANT’s practice, our latest landscapes include May Street Ravine, Alcina Garden, and Bennington Heights Garden. And we’ve posted updated imagery for two post-secondary landscapes: University of Toronto Mississauga Welcome Centre and Algoma University’s Makwa Waakaa’igan Indigenous Centre of Cultural Excellence.

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