Toronto 360 Makes Its Mark at Markham and Steeles

October 1, 2013

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By Stephanie Calvet

Toronto 360 is a bold new figure in the suburban landscape; the winner of a public art competition, the work was officially unveiled earlier this week. Standing tall on the car-centric boundary between Toronto and Markham, Toronto 360 serves as a literal and figurative gateway to the City of Toronto.

Baif Developments Ltd and M&R Holdings, developers of a new retail development called ‘Markham Steeles Crossing’, launched the competition in 2010, inviting artists to submit proposals for an installation to define the southwest corner of Markham Road and Steeles Avenue. The site has historically acted as an entryway to Toronto. Under the guidance of art consultant Catherine Williams, the installation had to “make a statement, something simple and graphic that can be read from a distance.” From there, the brief was generated: translate the short form for Toronto—T.O.—from a typographic expression to three-dimensional sculpture. Artists were invited to interpret it in any number of shapes, scale and materials and find a solution that encapsulates the city—in its varying complexities—in a robust and singular idea.

The winning design was a first-time collaboration between Dean Martin, Creative Director of Branding and Design at Cundari and installation artist Stephen Richards from Streamliner Design Fabrication. Martin developed the concept and design of the piece and Richards led the fabrication process.

Located on a hill, in an open courtyard area between two banks, the sculpture can be seen from numerous vantage points. Built from heavy steel plate with exposed structural elements it has a commanding presence. “From a distance the sculpture communicates with its outline and colour, but up close it shows its mass, structure and purpose,” says Richards.

Perched atop a 5-ft tall concrete base, the monolithic 16-foot steel structure is formed by giant lustrous red letters arranged in a tight circle, spelling out T-O-R-O-N- and completing itself. From both near and far, the message is not readily apparent. Much like the city, “it reveals itself slowly. It has no beginning and no end,” says Martin. “You have to figure it out.”

The fabrication of the 8000-pound sculpture was a challenge, taking nearly five months to complete. A detailed computer model was used to generate the patterns of each individual letter, which were then cut from large steel plates; not an easy task as all the sections were curved, many in multiple directions. Each part was manually formed, bent and rolled on 1940s era machines and then fit by hand and welded into place.

A dedication event took place on September 25th to mark the installation of Toronto 360. Special guest speakers included Councillor Chin Lee for Ward 41 Scarborough-Rouge River and Jane Perdue, the City of Toronto Public Art Coordinator, Urban Design Section and City Planning.

The developers complied with the City of Toronto’s Percent for Public Art Program, where one percent of the gross construction costs of significant new developments are contributed to public art. Based on practices around the world, the percentage is a target that enables public art to have impact on the site in relation to the bulk of the building budget. Public art has the power to enrich the public domain, by creating a landmark and contributing to the identity and character of an area. There are currently 13 ongoing public art projects in Toronto.

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