It’s a paradox that if buildings for transportation are designed properly and the trains run on time, users should not have to linger long enough in them to appreciate the architecture

INSPIRED Finch West’s platform level includes columns inspired by 6,000 year old Minorcan pillars

All images © Wade Zimmerman

while the airy interior has the same attrac- tive white concrete and brass handrail benches as the subway station, the roof is the star of the show. Seemingly floating above the building like a corten steel manta ray, it curves downwards at its centre to protect the fully glazed waiting area, and upwards through the protective overhangs on all sides. The Toronto weather is worse than the UK in winter (although typically hotter in summer) so protecting passengers waiting outside was essential. The massive 19 metre cantilever to the south east end, partly supported by red and blue steel posts and enlivened by one or two red enamelled steel triangles, achieves this in dramatic style. Alsop explains the “very simple” construction. “A series of internal columns support the trusses, which are quite deep in the middle.” The cantilever is achieved using additional trusses added on top of the roof – which are not visible from ground level. A sedum roof has been added although it covers a relatively small area; wild flowers preferred by Alsop were prohibited by the Canadian climate.

Each triangular panel of corten which makes up the cladding to the underside of the roof is bolted to the structure using rusted steel bolts. These were also Alsop’s second choice as brass was not feasible, but he compliments the clients on supporting his suggestions: “They just accepted what I was doing, there was no real push-back, they got it. I like to think they trusted me.”

Finch West

The other subway station Alsop has designed, the $165m Finch West two stops south from Pioneer Village, takes a diamet- rically different approach. Its form is something of a wry comment on how rail projects can require architects to ‘over- design’ to accommodate perceived future M&E needs.

The simple composition comprises a box WWW.ARCHITECTSDATAFILE.CO.UK

glazed in multi-coloured panels, on which sits a longer box, clad in black and white cement strips, with a viewing window taking up the entirety of the cantilevered entire north elevation. This upper form is principally to contain the plant, which in Pioneer Village had to be housed in a separate building. Will Alsop explains the design thinking: “I learned on the Jubilee Line that you need to build an awful lot of switchrooms, however there are also a lot that are empty, people say they need it then it turns out they don’t.” He adds: “I thought, I won’t make that mistake again, just make a big box that’s part of the architecture, and they can fill it up as much as they want.” Therefore, in future-proofing Finch West, he produced a top-heavy but interesting building that brightens up what is a pretty prosaic cross- roads site. He also engaged a friend, London-based artist Bruce MacLean to work with him on the project, particularly on sculptural forms within concrete elements around the station. Alsop worked closely with McLean, a long-term collaborator, to “develop a concept of public art being woven into the very fabric of the station, to provide a unified language of design,” says aLL Design. Blending sculptural art into the architecture would also provide an echo of the distant past, alongside the modern form of the station. Examples include the columns, inspired by 6,000 year-old Minorcan pillars which supported subterranean houses, and the structures supporting the power substation referencing Ancient Greek stone caryatid figures. Both stations include various sustainabil- ity-orientated features. These include minimal and energy-efficient HVAC, bicycle parking, green roofs minimising surface water run-off, and in the case of Finch West, a ‘cool roof’ painted with a special coating to reflect sunlight.


It’s a paradox that if buildings for trans- portation are designed properly and the trains run on time, users should not have to linger long enough in them to appreciate the architecture. This may be why highly considered and even inspiring design might not be seen as essential in such settings. However Will Alsop disagrees. “Ideally you shouldn’t spend much time there because the service is efficient,” he says, “but the time you do spend should lift the spirits. It’s a simple and obvious thing to say.” 


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