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East Point Park Bird Sanctuary

Located in an already-populous and rapidly intensifying suburb in Canada’s largest city, East Point Park Bird Sanctuary is a uniquely valuable part of Toronto’s public realm: a surviving parcel of woodland and meadowland on a bluff high above Lake Ontario. Phase One improvements to this urban birders’ paradise include two small structures – the Viewing Pavilion and the Bird Blind – entry signage, and the new and rehabilitated paths connecting these elements. Designed to enhance the enjoyment of birding for visitors of all ages and levels of experience, these improvements are part of a citywide initiative to protect bird habitat and increase birding activity through public education and programming. To support the on-site programs that are part of this initiative, we worked with the City to incorporate interpretive signage, seating, and community notice boards that encourage visitors to learn about birds and simultaneously provide them with the tools and resources needed to safely and respectfully engage with the site’s active wildlife and surrounding ecology.

Challenges overcome on this project included creating construction access on a sensitive site, and routing the paths through the park to minimize tree destruction and bypass a filtration plant’s artificial pond for storm-water management. Working with the local Conservation Authority, we completed a tree evaluation and we timed construction around local birds’ nesting seasons.

Our studio’s landscape architects and architects collaborated closely to ensure that the pavilions frame optimal and varied views of East Point’s bird life and landscape, while quietly complementing the site. Folded into angular forms evocative of flight, the rust-toned, weathering steel planes of the pavilions merge into East Point’s landscape. Framed by interpretive signage and seating, the pavilions provide shelter from the elements. The walls and roofs of these elementally simple pavilions form distinctive profiles against the sky – just as the silhouette of a bird in flight is often enough information for an experienced birder to identify the species.

The Viewing Pavilion is split into inversely symmetrical halves that share a concrete podium. The shape and orientation of this structure provide expansive views of birds in flight above the lake, and mid-range pond views. Waterjet-cut through the pavilion’s walls are flocks of birds in flight above the names of species that frequent this significant migratory flyway stopover point. Reference panels integrated into the structure communicate additional information about the movement, migration, and classifications of local bird species.

Situated at the pond’s edge, the Bird Blind partially encloses visitors. Inspired by the play of sunlight and shadow in the surrounding poplar grove, the pattern waterjet-cut through the blind’s walls enables children and adults to observe water birds and shorebirds unobtrusively but at very close range.

A future Soundscape Pavilion (to be completed in Phase Two) will be a ‘listening sanctuary’: visitors sitting quietly within this enclosure will be able to savour the sounds of a forest alive with birdsong.

The hardscape palette, which also includes concrete and galvanized grating, was chosen for durability and minimal environmental impact.

The pavilions are positioned on a trail circuit designed to encourage maximum exploration of the park. The small size of the pavilions ensures that the vast majority of East Point’s mix of natural and naturalized landscape is devoted to wildlife.

The strength of this project lies in its simplicity, its evocation of flight, and its sensitivity to its context.

Entrant office name: Plant Architect Inc.
Role of the entrant in the project:
Landscape and Architectural Design
Website: www.branchplant.com
Other design firms involved: n/a
Project location: East Point Park, Scarborough, Ontario
Design year: 2010/2011
Year Built: 2015

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