YOUR NEUTRAL APOSTROPHES SICKEN ME

Last Monday (2008.08.18), I attended the bidders’ (“proponents’ ”) meeting for the TTC contract to design six new stations for the Toronto–York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE; q.v.; RFP recipients). It was a full house of architects and their minions, with lots of silver rings on pinkies (not iron rings). A couple of people gave the impression of having flown into town just for this meeting. (How many Orientals with British accents work in architecture in Toronto? [In the foregoing sentence, I could not use the euphemism “Asian” and be understood.] That guy looked like someone from Zaha Hadid’s office, but I was not able to ask.)

There were six TTC reps at the head table: Mike Johnson, Kathy Wong, Jim Lee, Sheila Dahonick, and David Amm, who did most of the talking, and Donna Barba, contract administratrix, who did most of the rest of the talking.

Business

The room was very concerned indeed about the business end of the deal – not just the low budgets for the stations ($8 million to $15 million), but the terms of any joint ventures.

  1. You need at least one architect with 20 years’ experience on your team, but a second architect can have as little as five years’ experience. Does that rule out two senior architects? (No.)
  2. You can bid on two stations, but each team has to be completely separate. But if there’s a single page limit for each bidding company, doesn’t that mean each bid has half the available space? (No answer yet.)
  3. Can your company be a subcontractor to another company that wins the contract to design a station? What if you also have one of those contracts? (No answer yet.)
  4. Can you subcontract with one of the companies doing something like tunnel boring for this project? (No answer yet.)

TTC is speeding up the design process. Among other decisions, once the design is 30% complete, TTC could decide to hand the entire project over to a “design-build” contractor, who would take over completely. Not only do they build it, they “improve” the existing design. Architects loathe this on principle, but the big problem for the room is that just putting in a proposal costs them up to $50,000, and if the whole thing is handed over to someone else at 30%, the fees paid to that point do not even really cover that cost.

Some of these questions had to be answered that very day in order for some architects (one of them, at least) to decide whether or not to bother bidding. TTC promised an “addendum” answering outstanding questions only in a number of days or weeks.

Deadlines seem unnaturally short to most people in the room, especially considering the length of the project (well into the 2010s).

Starchitects

In another of Giambrone’s follies, he instructed the TTC to actively seek out “international” architects. All of the following were informed of the RFP:

  1. Ædas, London
  2. Alsop
  3. Tadao Ando (TTC’s notation under “Web”: “purposely does not have one…”)
  4. Ateliers Jean-Nouvel
  5. (Santiago) Calatrava Valls SA
  6. (Richard) Foster & Partners
  7. Gehry
  8. Grimshaw
  9. Zaha Hadid (bought the RFP)
  10. Kiss & Cathcart
  11. Makoto Sei Watanabe
  12. John McAslan
  13. MJP (bought the RFP)
  14. OMA (yes, that’s Rem Koolhaas)
  15. Renzo Piano
  16. Ian Ritchie
  17. Rogers Stirk Harbour
  18. Zwarts & Jansma

I’m sure you were suppressing a few scoffs as you read that list. Renzo Piano designing a Toronto subway station? I don’t think so.

One local architect in the room who had worked with Koolhaas warned that he wouldn’t agree to errors-and-omissions insurance, as that is not the practice in the Netherlands. (Response: “That may render their bid noncompliant.” He isn’t going to bid anyway, is he?) Another question quite politely evaded saying that the TTC doesn’t have the first clue what it means to deal with starchitects, and also did not quite state that the entire budget for a station just barely covers a starchitect’s fee.

In at least two questions, local architects made it clear they felt slighted and at a disadvantage in judging. Some others wondered if they could be the architect of record and have a starchitect as their second, which makes no sense to me at all.

Opening remarks

DAVID AMM: We’ve got people sitting in the front row [including me]. I don’t remember when I last saw that. [Shows ten-foot-long map.] It’s an 8.5 km subway line. Tunnel boring between stations starts first. Three stations have track crossovers, meaning the station has to be extended by several hundred metres. At Steeles West, it’s a very wide structure.

Completion: 2014. In service: Mid-2015. So that’s a pretty aggressive schedule. Design cycle of about a year and a half. Sheppard was two years, so we’re really trying to accelerate that.

Tunnel design will be going on at the same time, with lots of interfaces with construction and station design.

Construction staging: One set of borers starts at Steeles to Finch, meaning Finch West is still under construction when tunnelling starts. [Further details untranscribed.]

Station design: Bold approach to produce a stunning, state-of-the-art design. We’ve received direction from the TTC chair to look at the architectural aspect of these new stations. The Yonge-line stations are from the ’50s and ’60s and are functional but kind of boring. Sheppard was kind of interesting, with more open architecture. Looking for the next step up from that.

We advertised to some world-renowned architects. They may or may not be on your teams to provide that expertise [sic].

Will have guidelines for architects on award of the contract.

This time, [the winner will] submit 10%-complete design while we do the review, but just keep on designing. We’re willing to take the risk on that to keep the project moving.

How can we do this in 18 months? We went to Madrid [inevitably – it’s the new standard of comparison] and they showed us a huge stack of drawings, and those were completed in six months. So we’re three times as long. Good luck on this, folks!

Q&A

I did not transcribe all questions, especially not business-related ones. I arrived with 21 questions, of which I asked 18.

  1. Q. Is this engineer-led or architect-led? It’s very unclear, let me tell you.

    A. A lot of prominence given to structural. Leave it to you folks to work that out.

  2. Q. Do you have a sense of what starchitects cost? Have you accounted for that in the fee budget?

    A. Markup is for all positions. If there are concerns, send them in. If you think the upset limit [the absolute maximum] is insufficient, put that concern forward. [MAN: Gehry bills $1,200 an hour plus 15% for drawings.]

  3. Q. I’m actually a little offended you thought it necessary to get international architects involved. [MAN: Hear, hear.] They won’t be interested because of the [small] size of the project and the fact that it’s underground. It says you reserve the right, at 30%, to go straight to design-build. International architects typically want 40% of the fee just for the design side. If it goes to design-build, the international architect gets all the money; I probably lose money. International architects have tried working here and have been pretty annoyed at what doesn’t get done. [Gives example of De Havilland lands, where contracts are signed and drawings submitted, but nothing gets built.]

    A. The funders are pushing the design-build model. In October, we’ll decide whether to use design-build or design-bid-build. This is a first-off attempt at doing something this way at the TTC. We’re gonna rely on you who do this type of thing for a living to tell us [if we’re on the wrong track].

  4. Q. If you have an ambition to get an international architect, are you strict on the budget?

    A. We’ve been asked to try and get some interest from world-renowned architects. That comes at a cost. If [our budgets are too low], we need you to tell us [in part so they have documentation to take to funders to attest to the unworkability of the initial terms].

  5. Q. If the intent is not to have excellent or talented Canadian firms working on this, I need to know that now.

    A. Well, the Russian metro stations are known to be beautiful, with huge spaces and ornate arches, but we have to be realistic. [Later, before an unrelated question, I pointed out that the Russian subway was built by Stalin with slave labour, so that isn’t a fair comparison.] The reality is at TTC subway station is a box underground and a box above. There are real limits there. We knew we’d insult somebody. The short answer is no. The message is we’re looking for world-class designs from whoever can do that.

  6. Q. [Man tried to show the RFP to foreign partners, gave up.] You gave us pages with illegible black Xeroxed maps; I had to drive out there myself and look at the site.

  7. Q. Does every entry point have to be barrier-free? [They don’t know. This was one of my questions, too. Obviously the answer is yes, otherwise the stations are not barrier-free, but the trick is avoiding the completely unusable entrances at Sheppard. It’s a vexing design problem.]

  8. Q. from a frustrated Jim Strasman: What about maintenance? We did Yorkdale and Eglinton West and we had tremendous artworks in there, the illuminated rainbows and so on, but your guys refused to maintain them and they had to be removed. [He also wondered why there isn’t a requirement for bidders to have transit experience.]

My questions

  1. Q. If you’re looking for architecturally significant designs, are we going to have the same constraints as the Sheppard line – bare concrete train walls? [I gave the room the story of Downsview’s looking so nice that Mike Harris’s government reduced the Sheppard-line budget.]

    A. Can’t answer that today. Someone might come along later and reduce our budget, yes.

  2. Q. We’re told to disregard platform-edge doors, but won’t they have a huge impact on the architecture of every station? Suddenly there won’t be an unobstructed view from the platform to the train wall, there will need to be interfaces at floor and maybe the ceiling, and the edge doors might be covered with advertising.

    A. Yes, it has a lot of implications for a lot of things. We’ll have to make a decision at some cutoff point.

  3. Q. Why is there such a huge surface parking lot at Steeles West? How do we remediate the landscape-architecture effects of so much concrete?

    A. We’re still finalizing the layout. It will be in a design brief. No fixed answer to that now.

  4. Q. At Sheppard West there’s going to be a neighbouring GO station “designed by others.” Wouldn’t it be a good idea to coordinate the architecture of the two buildings? At Finch West, we’re warned that we might have to design the new firehall [after they move the existing one – yes, it really says that]. Or are we going to get a GO Transit–style wooden shed alongside our distinctive architecture?

    A. They go on their own schedule. We may run into some coordination delays there.

  5. Why is there bike parking only at Sheppard West, Steeles West, 407, and Vaughan? Isn’t this an oversight? Isn’t the intent to be intermodal and provide for bike facilities at every station?

    A. [Looks taken aback] Can’t answer that. I don’t remember what it says about bikes.

  6. Q. How do we provide a design approach without knowledge of the public art involved? Doesn’t that limit the art to flush-mount wall decorations or wall finishes?

    A. It’s an issue. The City of Toronto wants more input into public art. They may want a competition, but we don’t know if that would be just for the six stations or beyond that. They may want a lot more input into public art here.

  7. Q. At York University, how are we to make any kind of aboveground architectural statement when all entrances are to be in existing buildings? (And make them barrier-free, since we need elevator shafts?

    A. In general, you deal with the overall form of the building, then decoration of walls and ceilings, artwork. It will be restricted to what you can do underground. Making entrances and stations really attractive to passengers is our goal here.

  8. Q. How can proponents submit two station designs when we are instructed to mock up Finch West station only?

    A. [You submit two designs for Finch.]

  9. Q. The requirements kind of gloss over the problem that bedevils every TTC station after 40 years or so: Water leaks. What measures are we to take to ensure that these new stations don’t become as leaky as King or St. George by the year 2050?

    A. It’s part of the design exercise, because I guess most stations do leak.

  10. Q. If Steeles West truly is to become the terminus of the Jane LRT line, won’t that have a huge impact on the architectural design? Or are we to act the way TTC is acting with the renovation of Pape station – LRT lines are coming right at us but we are to do nothing architecturally to prepare for them?

    A. There are things evolving every day with the TTC. It’s really hard to freeze a point in time. We capture information at a point in time, then use it or discard it. We’ll reach a point where those decisions have to be made. Planning teams are looking at it; it has been discussed conceptually.

Two I didn’t get to ask, but which I submitted in writing later:

  1. Q. Doesn’t the location of Sheppard West station on Downsview Park lands mean parkland will be developed for this station? The map shows two parcels of land for “future development.” Doesn’t this station expose the winning proponent to at least six years of ongoing public opprobrium for its role in reducing city greenspace?

  2. Q. Won’t the Vaughan Corporate Centre site simply be renamed to Vaughan? It’s unimaginable that Yonge-line subway trains would list those three words as their destination.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.08.21 12:44. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2008/08/21/tyssebid1/

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