Mar 25, 2020

The lighting design for a park in downtown Toronto succeeds by disappearing

By Samantha Schwirck

As far as neighbors go, a prestigious museum and an historic park sound like a match made in heaven—unless one of the two isn’t pulling its weight. Such was the case for Grange Park in downtown Toronto, which had fallen into such disrepair that it took a $15-million rehabilitation project to bring it back into the community’s good graces.

Originally the front lawn of a private estate built in 1817, the 1.8-hectare (4.5-acre) park was gifted to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and converted into a public park operated by the City of Toronto in the early 1900s. Over the years, however, the neighborhood staple steadily declined, prompting local representatives to form the Grange Park Advisory Committee (GPAC) in 2008, which partnered with the City of Toronto and the museum to undertake its renovation.

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“The park had fallen into neglect and become a very unsafe place to venture,” explains lighting designer Katherine MacKay of WSP (Toronto), who worked with landscape architect PFS Studio (Vancouver) on the 15-month project. “The city wanted the design team to bring it back to a beautiful, safe, well-lit and accessible city park that could once again be enjoyed by local residents, visitors to the AGO and tourists. They wanted the park to become a destination point and a place to host concerts and art shows.”

Unveiled in the spring of 2018, the modernized Grange Park is anchored by a large, central lawn enclosed in a circular promenade and surrounded by meandering paths and gathering spaces. A sculptural water feature at the south end marks the new public entry, while the front of the AGO building defines the park’s northern edge. Additional upgrades include a display of the museum’s famed Henry Moore sculpture, Large Two Forms; a replenished grove of historic trees; a children’s play area and splash pad; and a dog park.

For the pathways and seating areas, 18-ft tall light columns and 42-in. matching bollards—both using 3000K LED sources with a CRI of 80—address everything from safety to environmental impact. “The lighting was selected for sustainability—low energy costs and longevity—as well as for its simplicity, modern appearance, and ability to be unobtrusive and disappear into the background,” MacKay says.

The location of existing trees informed fixture placement. “The park has a large volume of old trees that needed to be protected,” MacKay explains. “Working with the city’s arborist, we were extremely careful where the new light poles and bollards could be positioned so as not to harm the roots of the trees, while at the same time providing uniform and safe illumination along the pathways and event space of the circular green.”

Dark-sky compliance and the lighting’s effect on the surrounding community were also paramount. “The park is nestled adjacent to the AGO on one side and a dense residential neighborhood of houses, condominiums and a school on the other three sides, so we had to be highly mindful of glare and any stray uplighting that could potentially find its way through the windows of all these homes and school,” MacKay says. To that end, the bollard and pole fixtures contain spoon-shaped optical lenses positioned over the LED diodes, which direct light downwards to control glare and spill.

All of the park’s fixtures are dimmable via one control system that can be scheduled based on time of year as well as motion and daylight sensors. “The control system was selected to provide maximum flexibility and take advantage of daylight harvesting and energy savings,” MacKay says. “The lights are preset to 50% output and can be raised or dimmed from 100% down to 50% in three steps.”

Ensuring the renowned Henry Moore sculpture become one of the park’s highlights—a request made by the museum required an additional layer of control. “We specified three light columns, each with four individual LED heads,” MacKay says. “Each head is fully adjustable and rotatable and can be dimmed separately from each other. This enables the curators of the museum to angle the lighting and tweak the intensity falling onto the sculpture.”

The team deviated from the park-wide pole-and-bollard technique at the entrance as well, illuminating the sculptural water feature with in-ground IP68-rated LED uplights. “A donor wall was also added at the last minute, so we provided a minimalist solution of 2-in. wide in-ground adjustable LED uplighting strips located at the base of the wall to highlight the inscription,” MacKay adds.

Similarly, IP68-rated uplights illuminate the water feature and splash-pad component of the new interactive playground. “The children’s playground was an important aspect of the park, and it was important to have it well-lit for safety and visibility,” MacKay says. For that reason, additional dimmable LED columns and bollards in the area are aimed to avoid glare onto the playground equipment while still providing adequate light levels for nighttime activity.

The lighting design resulted in substantial energy savings for the park, with the site achieving 0.015 watts per sq ft. “Since the entire design consists of an LED solution, the city will also enjoy the longevity of a system with minimal maintenance requirements,” MacKay says. Of equal importance is enhanced visual comfort, which benefits locals, tourists and even pets who frequent the new space, MacKay adds: “Dog owners asked us to make sure their pets would not be exposed to glare and wanted the runs well lighted, so we installed dimmable light poles with rotatable optics and special lenses to diffuse glare, which are also tied to the lighting control system.”