For nearly 200 years, Queens Square has been the heart of downtown Cambridge. This urban plaza forms a key linkage in the open space system of the city, joining the Cambridge Main Street Bridge to the east and Memorial Park to the west. Together, these three spaces form a crucial part of the identity of the city, and act as landmarks for locals and visitors. Queens Square not only has great iconic and heritage value, but it also plays an important role in the civic life of Cambridge, hosting Canada Day and Remembrance Day events that bring people together. However, over time the space had grown less welcoming, with cracked paving and aged utility sheds that were periodically flooded, affecting the function of the Square’s centerpiece, Gore Centennial Fountain.
Restoring the site was a priority for the City of Cambridge, especially as Queens Square is one of the key public spaces near the Grand River. This made it a target of the Back to the Rivers Plan, an initiative that strives to enhance connection the waterfront, encourage civic participation and improve quality of life for residents and visitors to Cambridge.
The main goal of the project was to respect the original design, while improving the functionality and aesthetics of the site. Our vision was to create purposeful linkages between people and the cultural landscape. In addition to repairing the concrete fountain and replacing surfacing and structures, the design team worked to increase accessibility and circulation by improving site grading and layout.
The main challenge through the design process and into the construction phase was working within the limited confines of the site, and working around various existing elements that could not be altered. Consideration of the existing trees was especially important; the design team had balance the need to create more space for pedestrians, re-grading for accessibility, and the need to protect the trees’ root zones. The existing fountain also remained in place, with only minor repairs done to ensure that it remained water-tight.
Seat walls around the existing planting beds were re-shaped to create more open space for gathering, and dated benches were replaced, while other features like light standards and waste receptacles were refurbished. Existing heritage features like the Russian Gun, a Crimean War-era cannon donated to the City in 1864, and the Gore Centennial fountain dedication plaque, were lined up with the existing Geodetic Survey of Canada benchmark, enhancing the Square’s strong east-west visual axis. Bands of exposed-aggregate concrete are used define walkways and seating areas, while echoing the fountain’s angular design.
The restored Queens Square is welcoming a new generation of Cambridge residents and visitors, offering a unique place meet, relax, learn about heritage, interact with water, or enjoy a civic event.
Team: Brad Smith, Sarah Lynn Saari (Landscape Architect), MTE (Civil Engineer), Hardscape Concrete (Contractor)
Project location: 25 Queens Square, Cambridge, ON
Design year: May 2017
Year Built: August 2017