Yesterday (2007.09.27), I attended a design charrette (“design workshop”) held at the Design Exchange, a perennially underwhelming and borderline pointless organization housed in a beautiful old building. The purpose was to mock up ideas for TTC subway entrances. I had previously covered this issue, saying, among other things, that it was a joke to offer A-list architects five grand each for a drawing. (As you’ll see, Zeidler Partnership and – inevitably – Diamond Schmitt did provide drawings and were presumably paid.)

Holding a charrette at the DX was always the idea. Though the TTC budgeted $10,000 for internal staff time, and for all I know paid the DX something, of course none of the participants was paid.

The original issue was to improve the appearance of downtown subway entrances. Shrill Scarborough city councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker did his usual squawking that things are worse in Scarborough and that “my peeps” (he always uses this phrase) have shitty subway entrances too. For some reason the TTC voted to expand the design exercise to include many neighbourhoods, vitiating the original purpose.

This is the design acumen of your hero Adam Giambrone at work. I wonder how many more mistakes it will take before you accept that he’s blowing this aspect of his portfolio.

Ultimately we were tasked with fixing up six station entrances – King and College from the original, plus Lawrence, Rosedale, Ellesmere, and, yes, the brand-new Bayview on the Sheppard line.

I arrived, found that a special luncheon had been arranged for me (appreciated), and chatted with whomever I could. I knew a few people from the TTC. One of the other architects there disliked me on sight and would, of course, later sit at my table, which was assigned to Lawrence station. He didn’t have a very good time, since at the outset he kept offering opinions and kept trying to limit our options, then later made the fatal mistake of admitting he wasn’t there to influence the design process. This resulted in my telling him to keep quiet.

Also at my table: Adam Kolodziej, an architect from Ryerson; urban planner Cameron Barker; Ron Denbo from Zero Footprint, who left almost immediately with a CrackBerry glued to his ear (or maybe just switched tables); Adrian Piccolo from TTC; Farwah Tapal, industrial designer (an RISD graduate – “How postmodern!”).

I’ll give you more of my impressions at the end.

See pictures (and Ian Trites’s presentation, mentioned below).

Sam Sannella

(The American [actually an Arkansan] who runs the DX – inevitably, an American running a Canadian “cultural” institution – opened the show. Mentions having talked to “Adam,” putting a mention of the need for better TTC design in the DX newsletter.) It’s your expertise we’re here to exploit.

(Has us go around the tables and introduce ourselves and tell everyone “something weird” about ourselves. I don’t think so. One guy hadn’t been on the TTC in 10 years, and he’s going to be very important later on. David Lawson from TTC mentions he’s overseeing Pape and Museum, so you know who to blame. The whole thing is a tad excruciating. Alex Bitterman, to be heard from later, has an amazingly gay voice and says he’s interested in translating the brand into the built environment.)

Alex Bitterman

(Is a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology and has a blog.)

BITTERMAN: We come from a broad and a diverse range of professional backgrounds. Today I’m going to talk about the constellation of branding and public transit and where that fits into branding in general and a trend from the last 15 years, contemporary place branding. Outside major urban centres, the overall image of public transit actually is pretty sore. Not so much in New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, but where I come from, parts of Pennsylvania, the Rust Belt, northern California. Old equipment, not-frequent-enough service. Public transit has been a desperate last choice for many people.

Branding is a modern and pervasive form of communication in our society every day; we see brands every day. (Runs a faux-humorous pop quiz.) Who made your car? (MAN: Audi.) Who makes your favourite kind of soda? (PAULA: Coke. SAM: I gave up soda, but I really love Dr. Pepper.) Has anybody in here used a razor in the last week? Who makes your razor? (MAN: Gillette.) Anybody use a Schick razor? Who makes the shirt you’re wearing right now? (CAMERON: A child in Turkey.) Actually, that’s the answer to all of these questions.

The answer to the question that starts with “who” is not “what company.” We have been conditioned to consider the brand before the labour or the design that goes into that brand. [He really only means design.] So we’re going to talk first about consumer commodity branding, then about place branding, and how this can apply to transit branding. When we think of the term “brand,” we think of branding consumer products. Brands have evolved to become our personal friends; branding is our contemporary cultural parlance. Brand creep has extended to each corner of our lives. We’re used to seeing brands on our clothing, our food to some extent, the cars we drive, the tools we use daily, the homes we purchase, the condos we choose, our vacations, and the experiences we have.

(Long sentence using the word “allegiant” not transcribed.) This brand equity can be garnered not only through the things we buy, but also can be applied to services, systems, and places. Relates to purveyors, not producers. Contemporary brands foster relationship between consumer and purveyor. (Shows places and neighbourhoods being branded, critical roads and infrastructure, airlines, municipal trash.) Branding is a term that can be applied to activities carried out for centuries. (Shows a tag cloud and actually calls it that. Sponsorship, advertising, gentrification, development, civic pride, corporate citizenship, neighbourhood naming, marketing, public policy.)

Branding is becoming less about conveying quality and status and more about conveying uniqueness, viability, consistency. Branding is a cue for us to know what to expect. Not selfishness and greed, but security, expectation, reaction to fear and to loss.

Place branding emerged in the 1990s and is attributed to Simon Anholt [who did Toronto Branding Project 2005]: The application of a manufactured name to a place or setting. Place branding has changed over the last 25 years. Previously, place was defined by climate, landscape, indigenous plants, or, in southern California, lack thereof. But also more colloquially, civic identities (signs for neighbourhoods and important places), and these signs create a composite that is as unique to a place as a fingerprint. Place brands, unlike corporate, are broad, more democratic, divergent sometimes, and typically more inclusive. They include, to some degree, everyone at some level. The meaning changes over time, and in theory affords everyone a voice.

Place brands are complex constructs that derive meaning from an existing system that impacts the perception of place. Vehicles, traffic, roadways, public art, vernacular architecture and signature architecture, monuments, signature structures, cityscapes, skylines all define place. And the introduction of corporate-branding prompts into the urban environment can be used to help define place.

(Slide: “Pausepoint: Analysis.”) Corporate brands are communicated through logotype, colour palate (sic), and signature type. (Gives whole lifecycle of Crest.) Regardless of the brand, we can find a point in the lifecycle of the brand where, no matter how much we spend, the brand will start to lose recognition and market share. Corporate brands require a great deal of care and feeding. Most corporations can absorb that hit because they’re pulling in a constant profit. But in place branding, they’re more organic, collective, inclusive, and are a function of perception. How do we measure a market share and the relationship to an overall expenditure?

Not very easily. Is it possible that place brands change slowly over time? Can we capitalize on the power of corporate-style brands and combine the two ideas together? There are arguments for and against. Increases number of residents, tourism, community participation, “citizen buy-in.” Stabilizes property values. Improves perception of the place, quality of life. Creates regional commonality. But it’s also a waste of time, money, resources in an already-cash-strapped economy. Brands also breed competition, so they’re unsustainable when applied to a place. Control-oriented and inherently undemocratic. Brands corporatize public space.

But there is still a merging of traditional corporate branding and place branding, which I call contemporary place brands. It’s the merging of the two practice. (Shows Toronto Unlimited.) This is what a contemporary place brand looks like – logotype, colour, tagline. Is closer to a corporate brand.

Five elements of place branding: Logo, place name, refers to geographic areas, broadcast across collateral elements, and with controlled graphic standards [those items are as scattered here as in original slide]. Is contemporary place branding a good idea? We don’t know. We have only a few years (seven) of data to examine. But what happens when the place’s brand hits the point of diminishing returns? It will place that city/nation/state under financial strain to maintain that brand. Even though everyone’s doing it, it may not be the best idea.

But we do know that taking advantage of existing urban systems and infrastructure and promoting them independently will feed into an organic place brand that will provide a return on investment – for example, branding public transit. Dollar for dollar, the most proven and effective way to bolster a place brand. Also changes consumer impressions about public transit, car ownership, environmentally responsible behaviour, convenience of public transit.

(Another pop quiz with logotypes: London Underground, Boston T, San Francisco cable cars, MTA, el, streetcars, Philly buses, Santa Monica blue buses.) What we’re seeing in all of these there wasn’t a great prevalence of brand that was noticeable (except Santa Monica). What happened in Santa Monica? Dramatic surge of readership – up over 400%. Now part of the broader identity.

(Shows L.A.) They decided to brand the Metro Rapid bus line, translating into an increase in ridership. They’re made to feel they’re part of a club, made out of choice, not necessity. You’ll notice on this vehicle there is no space for advertising. (Uses the space to brand the service itself, though only for pilot period.) All of the available space was used on the new service. Red colour was deployed consistently. Even graffiti (footsteps on sidewalk) was red. Nearly 4,000% ridership surge over four years. That’s dramatically unbelievable. Expanded to Rapid Orange, Rapid Yellow.

York Region Viva line. Expenditures (for branding) were reasonably significant. Outcomes similar to L.A.’s. Minimized on-vehicle advertising. Consistent use of signature Viva blue and logo.

(Claims US$100K for initial design outlay. Lost advertising over first year is $500K. Increased ridership is $600K.) Brings us back to the zero point, give or take $100,000 or $150,000. (Benefit to L.A. and region: $1.6 million.) Greater dollar-for-dollar return than any other type of branding or marketing currently in practice, not to mention psychographic variables like better impressions. Not typically easily quantifiable. The return compounds the positive perspective of transportation branding.

When deployed consistently, the return on investment can be significant. Can change public perceptions about transit and the mindset of a city.

Different from branding a soap or a city. Balance the controlled environment so it celebrates diversity and the unique qualities of a city. (Relatively unintelligible passages untranscribed.) Colloquial buy-in to transit identity. Hence we need a consistent deployment vs. flexible diversity that allows for this public ownership of the brand.

The term “branding” is problematic. While some people may get hooked up on the moniker, is this a viable system we can use and apply to public transit?

TTC presentation

BRIAN O’NEILL, TTC: We’re trying to promote our system within the city, promote the growth of ridership. Developed over the last 50 years. Started off as a large collection of street systems, like streetcars and buses. That visible system has slowly disappeared into the ground with the development of our subway system.

The development of the subway had a consistency and a standard that was applied to the identification at the platform levels (but not at ground level). 50 years on, how do we identify the subway system in terms of place within the city? What placeholders should be put in place? The system has been developed through developments swallowing up the subway stations or through maintainability issues to arrive at a very inconsistent representation of the subway at the street level. Pylon signs of many generations, use of the logo, which sometimes just disappeared. How can we best identify the system in presentation on the street, entrances, consistent elements to be introduced to facility design that would help sell the idea of brand or transit system per se?

The whole idea of being consistent through the transit system has great value. Investigate the ideas that can be applied to the sense of place that we might apply to subway stations themselves.

IAN TRITES, head of architectural design, TTC: This is going to be the practical part. I just want to run through the historical context. (Runs somewhat-less-ugly-than-usual PowerPoint, but it’s still using Arial.)

(Shows beautiful 1921 rendering of Eglinton.) Very rudimentary concrete structures very close to grade. Orange and yellow colours were transferred to subway. You don’t see an indication of signage here, wayfinding, that sort of thing. (Keeps calling this beautiful painting a rough rendering. Shows King drawing.) Fairly urban areas. Street has little portals as covered entry stairwells, never built, oddly enough. (Was going to be a parabolic arch, taken down to make more space.)

(Shows Yonge–Bloor streetcar entrance rendering.) Concrete, steel – basic, simple palette of materials. Simple signage, some advertising on a streetcar, direct connection down to subway. (Shows simple “portal” at Yonge and Bloor.) Just enough to get you off the street down underground to concourse level.

Platform identification: There was thought given to the colour and the material in the facilities. (Complaint that it looks like a washroom.) My response to that is it’s lasted 50 years. It’s very durable finishes and there’s no shame in that. Lots of moisture in the subway, and tiles resist it. Here we’re seeing the font at Union station, which was applied to all the stations of the line. Quite unique, and I think that was something that was used as a branding element at the time and is still found at many of the stations. (Shows illustration of early colour schemes that is obviously taken from a Web site.)

Very austere finishes, terrazzo, glass, steel. Very easy to clean, maintain. Vitrolite tile on the wall had its heyday in the 1930s was thought to give it a more refined appearance. Still some remnants in the system, but unfortunately didn’t last as well as it could have. (Shows Rosedale circular form to accommodate buses, glass, canopy, TTC emblem on pylon sign. Still uses parabolic-arch construction.)

(Shows rendering from St. George planning circa 1963.) (Shows Dufferin.) Substituted Vitrolite for structural glazed tile, a very durable material still in use today. (Red stripe along Old Mill exterior.)

(Spadina line.) Philosophy changed. Integrated public art. No longer had to have the same structural configuration or finishes. (Shows Yorkdale neon tubes.) It’s actually no longer there in service. The lights would modulate with the train. I never saw it myself. It wasn’t maintainable. It was integrated into the architecture of the station, but it wasn’t maintainable from a TTC perspective. (Shows massive Wilson wall artwork.)

(Shows Spadina.) Not too many clues it’s a subway station. (Shows Lawrence West and calls it Lawrence.)

Felt Spadina line wasn’t effective because it’s hard to maintain, but Bloor was too monotone. Looked at other cities like Paris, with individual stations, and system-wide approach, with each station identical. Individual: More exciting to first-time user, higher maintenance, harder to control. System-wide: Cheaper, consistent, monotone and predictable. (Came up with standard-elements approach.)

(Shows Downsview.) One of the better examples of station architecture. But the standards required higher ceilings, column-free spaces. Material finishes and art controlled by architect and artist. Entrance, ironically enough, similar to rounded canopies we saw earlier. Inside, standard components, handrails, signage, but art on the walls. Clear spans, natural lighting. Quite a remarkable station, actually.

Entry pylon signs. (Shows Hillcrest, a flattened red and gold, two current ones.) Silhouettes still identifiable as TTC. Flattened out even further into a commercial sign frame. (Shows current.) We’ve actually started to add wayfinding to the pylon, which may or may not be a good thing.

Station identification: We do sometimes incorporate the red branding. We have a number of different types of connections.

(Shows street marker, i.e., bus stops.) People know that’s where they get their particular bus but that’s all it is – a pole.

Our current thinking at TTC: Our station modernization program. (Shows Vic Park, 1968.) Bus bays are deteriorating structurally. (Shows rendering of proposal.)

(Shows Diamond Schmitt rendering of Osgoode entrance, with angled illuminated canopy at SW corner.) Obviously addressed the entrance quite well here. Made an attempt here to add “Osgoode.” (Shows Zeider slide.) Much taller, much more dramatic. Limited palette of glass, stainless steel.

(Introduces our challenge for King, College, Lawrence, Rosedale, Ellesmere, Bayview.) Create a consistent standard that can be applied to future extensions and retrofitted. Just guiding principles, not actual designs. Just station entrances.


(Sam instructs us to designate an illustrator at each table. Interested in holistic, integrated ideas. Specifically mentions street furniture.) Don’t let that interfere with what you’re doing, but keep in mind the objective of the city is to take clutter away and create an integrated holistic environment. (She thought it was Zeidler who won the contract. Also mentioned that things really should be power-washable, and that she fell down the subway stairs while pregnant, obviously the worst possible case of falling down stairs. Hence safety was a major concern. I put up my hand and asked her to please give us design independence.)

Team 1: King

CATHY JONASSON: TTC has a good wordmark, reliable service within the frame of Toronto. It’s actually pretty beautiful. (Says the only Toronto logos she teaches in her classes are TTC, Maple Leafs.) Has morphed. Colour is the least strong element. Font is perhaps your strongest piece of it. But it has no presence. It’s inconsistent. It does not actually signal enough.

Where’s the tension? TTC’s placing of brand on streetcars, trains, signage, buildings. What needs to be reinforced? What needs to be juxtaposed against? A real Toronto brand and context in places you go into. Streetcars traverse the city, but in one place, like King and Yonge, we need to make particular how connectivity, safety, orientation to place resides in a place. A TTCness to the logo.

Interface to King and Yonge, the business centre of Toronto: Not the better way but the only way. Every president of a bank here should take the TTC. Want TTC as the right place, not the cool and hip place, because those do not last. Make BlackBerrys work in the system. Frame the culture of the audience you’re attracting.

MAN who hasn’t been on the system in 10 years begins disastrously erroneous and alienating presentation: We represent ourselves as a global city, so we can’t focus on TTC as an internationally recognized logo. Not easy to identify a subway station. Logo is not an internationally recognized symbol. A world-class city needs international symbols that don’t depend on language. [So they recommend a new “international” symbol for the subway, a downarrow in a circle!] You’d have to phase it in. [Vague meanderings untranscribed.]

You have two purposes at a station: Enter and go somewhere else, or arrive and know where you are. Station needs to be bright and visible but protected from the elements. Install a stock ticker to identify the station with the community. Message: The TTC has upgraded, modernized, so it’s attractive to me, so I’ll ride it. (Use glass walls and roof, “red branding.”) [Then shows and vaguely describes a kind of information kiosk – he had to be supplied with the term – that would stand outside the station and give some unspecified information. And Pattison could sell ads on it, he specifically says. “Astral!” somebody corrects from the audience.]

Team 2: College

BITTERMAN (loudly): Heritage of identity was strong. Use the keystone, but update and clean up the shield into a keystone that’s 3D. Not a 2D graphic placed in a frame – a 3D icon to find the entrance to a station. Existing red is strong and recognizable. Include a line (of red) with the name of the station. Below the red keystone, icons for accessibility, services like bus transfers. That becomes the icon you look for.

The red line almost seems to be organically emerging – a connecting element getting us from Place A to Place B.

“Red zone”: An active image. Ridership is passive. Engage the rider. City, at a macro level, uses red zones; at a micro level, use it as first step into station. Use LEDs to lead people down to the red line. Paint a red line on the sidewalk. [They also handle the difficult-to-see SE corner entrance by just painting that segment of the signband red.] (Wash the station in red light.)

Consistency with standard keystone, but articulation can change by station. (Red banister at NE corner.)

Guidelines: Separate the brand as communication from the form it takes. Clean, clear, active. Personal but system-wide. Shape it with keystone. Light it. Integrate it: Delineate streetcar, bus, subway; when people tell you to “take the TTC,” it’s too vague and confusing.

Team 3: Lawrence

This was us. We did a lot of arguing. I suppose you’d expect that with me at the table. The gay urban planner accused me of not listening at one point, though I was able to repeat what he said verbatim. The mad-scientist architect and I got along well. He had krazy ideas, like adding a time component to the station experience through music. The air pressure from the station could blow a conch (clearly his favourite word that day).

Another idea of his: The subway is a friendly monster with periscope- or scuba-gear-like protrusions popping up to the surface. I really enjoyed this “Octopus’s Garden”–like image.

I explained that I came in with an explicit historical-preservationist agenda. Preserve what makes the TTC the Toronto Transit Commission at all cost – the type, the tiles, the original lozenge. I was also the only one familiar with the station (all entrances). The industrial designer had a typically rigorous approach to the whole thing; she also suggested that the lozenge become a huge element of the station instead of just sitting on a pole.

I was big on using natural materials, but nobody else was. The architect wanted to reduce the inhumanity and brutalism of the place using gestural or kinetic forms, like curved brass. We eventually settled on copper, which would age well.

We had managed to agree on all major points. But then the DX representative at the table, who, as it turned out, was the Southern-belle/alpha-male head of the DX, Ms Sam Sannella, decided to pull out some tracing paper (too often called just “trace”) and draw some fabric sails on top of the wrong photo of Lawrence station. As if fabric is gonna last at a subway station. They have this in Antarctica! she insisted. Well, this is kind of a deathbed conversion, I explained to everyone. I don’t think the table has really decided this is what we want to do.

Sannella also ignored a light standard, and after I pointed it out to her just decided to knock it down, maybe replacing it with what they’ve got in Houston. The American South is always appropriate for a sovereign nation that gets cold in the winter.

She barrelled right along. Only later did it dawn on me that the DX reps at every table should keep their goddamned mouths shut, just as the TTC reps should. This is our design process, not theirs.

After he vaguely proposed one, I had to explain to the gay urban planner what a roundabout was and that one of those could not really be used at the intersection of two major streets of four lanes of traffic each. I played the engineer card and asked him how far back he was going to reduce traffic by one or more lanes. At this point, we had completely lost the plot. The architect had long since wandered off to produce some drawings (by far the loveliest of the day).

I typed some notes. The plan was for me to deliver those notes, then have other team members explain what they did and what we were thinking of. After being told three times that I had to wait for everybody to return to the table before running the notes by them, something I knew wouldn’t happen till the whistle blew, I found everyone at their divergent locations in the room and OKed my presentation with them. (Why the hell were we scattered all over the room? Symbolic?)

Notes as written:

Our proposal has two main parts: A general design language for all stations and specific designs just for Lawrence.

We came up with a few goals:

  • Emphasize three dimensions, and if possible four dimensions, since taking the subway involves 3D space experienced in time.
  • Absolutely preserve the unique TTC graphical identity. That includes the unique TTC typeface, the three-dimensional lozenge pylon sign, the maroon colours. At station level, preserve the existing appearance, including tiles and typography. All of those are features no other transit system has. They’re what makes the TTC the Toronto Transit Commission.
  • Since the subway is a kinetic experience, incorporate sound into the site. One way is to use the air pressure caused by arriving trains to annunciate musical tones through a conch or a horn, which could be incorporated into the lozenge-style pylon sign.

We’re trying to tame the brutalism of the existing buildings. We’re doing that through gestural forms like sails made of copper or brass, two durable materials that age well.

I delivered something very close to the foregoing in no time at all. The architect gave a minute’s presentation. And that was it. Nobody else said anything. Sorry, but I felt like I was left high and dry.

Our drawings ultimately showed two different kinds of copper sails, one of which completely blocked the sidewalk and connected to the station in geometrically impossible places. A giant conch was installed at the streetcorner, and the precious TTC lozenge was reduced to a little stick-on ornament on the side of one of the otherwise-unchanged station walls. The mad-scientist architect had previously dismissed the initial drawings for a “modernized” Pape station thus: If you stick the logo onto the side of a glass cube, all you’re doing is paying scant homage to the past. And that’s just what we did in our drawing.

Yeah, nice working with you, too.

I would say Sam Sannella’s approach is not appropriate to her new country. She will, however, go on to great things. If yesterday was any indication, she’ll do that by bulldozing her way into them.

Team 4: Bayview

(The other architect, with muttonchops by the yard, presented this one.) In the suburbs, you have to take a quantum leap in scale. The streets are 36m wide. So how do you make a station visible from 120′ away?

The stripe that everyone likes makes a difference in perceptibility. The Hillcrest ID of a logo on a post looks a bit goofy. Black and white with red stripes work well. We could ask Zeidler or Diamond Schmitt to work in a red stripe. Modify the logo to be the crown of the signage. [How do you make any object postmodern? Stick a pyramid on top.]

Then the pylon had to be bigger. Competes with large billboards (right behind it). Same family, same language, but things work differently downtown and in the suburbs.

Principles: TTC stations can be works of art or they can integrate good public art. Yorkdale [long since deactivated by intentional TTC neglect]. You could develop the notion that there is a TTC art collection that people could travel around and see on a Sunday. The red band. Design competitions [ugh]. Bigger pylons for scale. Keep but simplify the logo, which is a bit goofy [yes, he said it twice].

Red: Do not write “TTC” or even “subway.” Could add real-time train status, etc., as other systems do. Pylons could do more by doing less TTC stuff; leave that to the station.

Team 5: Rosedale

(The engineer who teaches design in engineering got up and gave a too-long presentation.) It’s set quite far back from the street with lots of trees. This would be an obvious corner (to place a sign); it would tell you you’re right beside a station. But it’s in a very busy area. Everything is a straight line in form.

Wayfinding would say: “Come here and look for the next step (in the process).” Turn right and see a station nestled in trees. Be able to see from the post sign exactly where the entrance is.

Guiding principles: Red, yes. Stripe, yes. Logo seems to vanish into the environment. Picture the London Underground system; give us something round to look for. [In other words, defy the TTC’s own identity and substitute a better city’s.] Possibly made of shapes that do not occur in the environment [the lozenge has shapes that do, he says], as by using 45° angles, circles. It’s also too busy.

The silhouette (of the lozenge), though, is a good idea. Then you don’t even really need illumination. Needs 3D. Can have a passive solar panel, but if it’s overilluminated, danger of becoming a beacon. Could use a cap that projects light downward instead. Use LEDs.

Solution has to scale from eye level to high up. Must fit into standard units. Minimum and maximum height criteria. Standing under the doorway of the station, the sign is too high. [Wouldn’t you have been led there already? How do you not know what station you’re in?]

Team 6: Ellesmere

(The toughest station – heck, maybe De Baeremaeker was right – and the most casual presentation. I’d hire these kids.)

MAN: Most bleak and depressing station in the system. It’s at Ellesmere and York Mills, and none of us has ever been there.

It’s the second-least-used station. Surrounded by train tracks, industry. Ellesmere sits over the station tracks. The only pedestrian connection is up some stairs to the base of a bridge. It’s a 250m walk.

WOMAN: People don’t know where to go to catch the bus. So let’s install a huge statue, a beacon of light or a water fixture. The cylinder is unique to us. Could install bike racks.

MAN: To create a more comfortable walking environment, using lighting, different sidewalk paving. Hard to propose a solution when it’s in such a nondescript area. So we did a station pylon. Current one is hard to see, especially from far away, and it’s flat. Here a large cylinder makes it stand out; it’s a place of its own: “Meet me under the pole.” Sign at door itself should say what services are available, not the sign visible from 200′ away.


We were all given one voting decal each, and Team 2 was the winner. I didn’t like any of them, including ours, and I didn’t vote for any. In retrospect, I should have supported Ellesmere.

I was also the only working member at the table with TTC knowledge. I came ready-made with a custom set of photographs of good and bad subway entrances (including Dupont). I brought the original TTC commission documents. I did try to prepare.

It took me a while to realize I am an excellent judge at design competitions but a lousy participant. First, I’m not a designer (though I was billed as such in the program). Second, if everyone at the table is shouting and excited, I shout louder and get too excited. I do not start out shouting and being excited.

With a clock ticking down, if I’m presented with a complete non-starter of an idea (fabric sails, a roundabout), I’m sorry, but I don’t have time to be nice. This is all supposed to be “fun,” but there is going to be a winner and I don’t see why we can’t be it. Besides, by that point we’d already agreed on what we were doing.

I know for a fact that two of my tablemates couldn’t wait to get the hell away from me by the time the day was done, though the mad-scientist architect enjoyed it. I already know I was the least popular. But as ever, had I not been there, it would have gone unrecorded. (I expect some glandhanding “notes” from the DX, surely delivered in a PDF, that claim a good time was had by all.)

After everything was over, I went right up to Team 1 and read them the riot act about their complete sellout, literal and figurative, of everything the TTC stands for. They want to use some half-assed “international subway symbol” that they should have known Montreal already uses. (That’s “in a different country.” There! That makes it international.) We already have our own distinctive symbol; add the word SUBWAY to it and Bob’s your uncle. Yes, non-English-speaking people have to learn the word “subway.” Or learn to recognize a symbol of the city they’re actually in. I’m sorry, but that is hardly an onerous task. You aren’t entering an international subway station.

I was incensed at their Jerry Kramer–style proposal to install useless and unwanted advertising billboards. The überqueen who hadn’t taken the subway in a decade attempted to defend it as a revenue-neutral solution, but I explained this was already a billion-dollar corporation. I have all the survey results from station-domination ad campaigns and I know for a fact there is no hunger whatsoever for more advertising.

For Chrissakes, what town do they think they live in? Or what town do they wish they lived in? Can I suggest they get on a plane and move there? If you can make the TTC “international,” “world-class,” and transcendent of language, you’ll make it anywhere. And that anywhere would look just like everywhere else.

These people did nothing but take a dump on the existing unique iconography of the TTC, and they had the gall to unironically use the term “world-class city.” Team 1: Unanimously not the winner.

While I did have a nice conversation with TTC people afterward, and some dude came up and said he recognized me from my postings on TTC signage, I left the place feeling like shit, which did not change until after I’d had something to eat and had had a good 20 minutes of venting to my esteemed colleague.

Why was this event held at all? To driftnet for ideas on the cheap, obviously. But: Why?

Why wasn’t it properly publicized? You had to hear about it through the grapevine, or somehow stumble upon a well-hidden PDF. I’m not saying I wanted the thing overrun with Spacers™, but could we have fewer kids fresh out of school, maybe? (I did have a nice chat with a senior designer at a firm I don’t very much like. But he had to leave early.) Were not enough real designers willing to work for free? Maybe that explains all the academics. It doesn’t explain why I fell for it yet again. Will I ever learn?

I did try to make friends with the obvious lesbian there (I asked), but she wasn’t wild about it, I don’t think. I get the impression she’s competent.

Incidentally, the two cantilevered canopy designs for Osgoode station designed by those A-list architects look like glass-and-steel panels sieg-heiling over a subway station. Or a lid about to smash you into a pancake. The Toronto subway is not made of glass and steel. Again, I don’t think so.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.09.27 13:44. 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:

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None. I quit.

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