Monday, May 21, 2012

Somerset Street Reconstruction Part 15: Finale - decorations and art

After a couple of months and 15 posts, we have come to the final part in the 15-part series documenting the reconstruction of Somerset Street West from the O-Train tracks, to Preston Street, and onward up into Chinatown to Booth Street.

This final post looks at the decorative and artistic elements of the reconstruction, including the four different street lamp designs, the public art component, and a few other artistic flourishes. This is over and above the previous posts that looked at the design of the sidewalks through Chinatown and the trees and bike racks.

The artistic theme is fitting, since the annual Chinatown Remixed art festival, which displays artwork in many establishments along Somerset Street from May 12 to June 12. I'll start off with some guerilla art that was installed on a street post sometime late last year. Flattened food and drink cans were attached to the post, effectively plating it in pop-art metal:

Getting back to the officially-sanctioned art, here are the old Chinatown lanterns that were installed 15-25 years ago with federal funding. At certain points, like in front of the Wah Shing store at Rochester here, these three-lantern posts were used:

All the lanterns between Booth and Preston will be replaced with the new design that debuted at the Chinatown Gateway Arch, minus the spotlights shown here on the ones surrounding the arch:

Unfortunately, this was the last section of Somerset/Wellington West to be reconstructed; the part between Booth and Bronson was done a number of years ago (for example, the Kent-to-Bronson section construction took place from June to October 1994). As such, there won't be a major reconstruction that will bring with it a revitalization of the surface appearance—and updated pedestrian light standards. The community and councillor are looking at ways to get the remaining Chinatown lanterns replaced.

The entire construction project from Spadina to Booth was made up of the third and fourth phases of the Wellington Street West reconstruction, project. These two phases cross only four streets, but involve four distinct zones that are inhabited by three different Business Improvement Associations (BIAs).

As shown in the diagram below from the public open house, the two blocks at the east end are occupied by the Chinatown BIA, next to it from Preston to the O-Train bridge is the Preston Street/Little Italy BIA, on the western two blocks is the Wellington West BIA in Kitchissippi Ward, and between the last two is the O-Train bridge, which the design committee agreed should stand on its own as a 'feature'. More on that in a bit.

The Little Italy section is fairly straightforward; it uses the same lampposts as were installed as part of the Preston Street reconstruction over the past few years.

The benches are fairly similar, though they used benches with wooden boards instead of metal backs and seats. I'm not sure how much takeup there will be for this one in front of 1010 Somerset, as it is on quite a bit of an angle:

Chinatown's benches and garbage bins will be made of metal with special designs machine-cut out of the panels. This display board at the open house shows a conceptual design; for example, I'm told the garbage cans won't have a dragon design.

Another special treat for Chinatown, championed by Eric Darwin, West Side Action blogger and former DCA president, is a series of granite inlays in the pavers at the major intersections (i.e. Booth and Rochester), with Zodiac designs etched out of them. They are being made by Centretown monument-maker George Brown & Sons. If you go to the store, which has been just south of Bronson and Gladstone for almost a century, you can see one of the inlays on display just inside the front doors. Most of the rest of the building is taken up by re-Cycles.

Over the bridge, rather than one neighbourhood or another fight over whose fixtures should be used, it was agreed that its own distinctive look be given, to provide a focal point. The tree planters will be installed later this year, but the futuristic wavy benches are there, aiming outward to watch the O-Train.

Other elements from the 'futuristic' design set were used, such as these posts. They might look like highly impractical bike racks, but they're actually bollards on either side of the bridge expansion joint:

When some work was done in 2009 on the bridge structure immediately over the O-Train tracks, new, wider sidewalk were installed with a red band, and a bike lane added. This prototypical design theme was continued for the rest of the bridge, as described in Part 9. At the time, the Hintonburg-style street lamps were used, but these have been replaced with the new cone-style ones for the bridge's 'distinctive' look. The lamps that had been installed on the bridge were re-used on the section of Somerset ewst of the bridge that was re-done as part of this phase of reconstruction.

As with all major infrastructure projects, one percent of the project budget is set aside for public art. At a public open house in October, artists whose submissions had passed the first round of screening were invited to present a maquette of their proposal for public input. There is a summary of the other proposals at West Side Action, but the winning entry was these coloured high-strength glass bulbs that will stick out from the necks of selected lampposts.

They are unlit, but there will be a few in the Chinatown section, with jalapeño-like bulbs in different colours (one colour per post), and over the bridge there will be a series of clear and brown flower-like items whose designs "bloom" as you get closer to Hintonburg (the colour comes from the sidewalk pavers used in Hintonburg).

Most of the finishing touches described here have yet to be installed, including the Chinatown lights, benches, and garbage cans. The sidewalk pavers are being installed currently, and the tree boxes over the bridge won't be installed until later this year.

But what we've got so far is pretty nice!

Thank you for following this 15-part journey documenting the reconstruction of Somerset Street West and its associated projects. There were many other great photos and topics that didn't fit into the series that I intend to draw from subsequently. For your convenience, here are the links to each of the parts:
  • Part 1: Introduction and overview
  • Part 2: West of Preston
  • Part 3: Wider sidewalks with unit pavers
  • Part 4: Under Chinatown (Booth to Preston)
  • Part 5: Aside — Rochester/Spruce sidewalk
  • Part 6: Poles & signals
  • Part 7: Trees & bike racks
  • Part 8: Bridge sidewalks A
  • Part 9: Bridge sidewalks B
  • Part 10: City Centre
  • Part 11: O-Train pathway — planning
  • Part 12: O-Train pathway — tunnel construction
  • Part 13: O-Train pathway — cantilevered boardwalk
  • Part 14: Bridge railings
  • Part 15: Finale - decorations and art
I did a similar series on the Bank Street reconstruction in 2009, though I wasn't involved in the planning part of that project.

Other multi-part series can be found under the label Tours.

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