May 26, 2021

Nearly two centuries later, this heritage site in Toronto has a lighting design worthy of its stature

By Paul Tarricone

Local history is finally front and center in Toronto where the building that once housed City Hall—and now anchors the St. Lawrence Market—has a new façade lighting system. To say the previous lighting was lacking is an understatement, notes Rafael Correa, a senior associate with Smith + Andersen, Toronto, which earned a 2020 IES Illumination Award of Merit for the project. “There were floodlights just to provide perimeter/safety lighting, but nothing to showcase the building.”

In total, the St. Lawrence Market is comprised of three main buildings: the South Market, the North Market and St. Lawrence Hall. Smith + Andersen’s design focused on the South Market, a building that served as the seat of government in Toronto from 1845-1899, before being renovated and integrated into the market. Today, the main and lower levels of the South Market house more than 120 specialty vendors, offering fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, grains, baked goods and dairy products. The second floor is home to the Market Gallery, an exhibition space for the City of Toronto’s Cultural Services.

With the market itself thriving, one thing still missing was exterior lighting that would pay homage to the structure’s storied past. “The heritage lighting maintains the historic look and feel of the marketplace by integrating fixtures directly into the façade,” says Correa.

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Not surprisingly, designing lighting for the old City Hall required plenty of input from the city. When asked whether Toronto presented a strict RFP and specific lighting guidelines or gave Smith + Andersen latitude to develop the concept, Correa says, “It was a bit of both. We were required to follow the ‘Heritage Lighting Master Plan for Old Town Toronto,’ which provided a good start for the design intent. However, this document was published in 2011, and when we began the design process in 2017, some of the solutions in the report were either outdated or no longer permitted by the city. This provided us with an opportunity to review and recommend variant effects and lighting solutions for the market. Given the building’s status as a designated heritage site, we applied a more cautious approach, providing a design with fixture locations that enhanced rather than overpowered the façade. In areas where the removal of old lighting fixtures was necessary, we advised on the coordination of the façade restoration.”

Correa adds that the lighting design team had a seat at the table “from the very beginning. Working collaboratively with key members and staff from the city during design meetings and presentations, and hearing their feedback directly, was essential to the success of the project. Right away, they provided invaluable information surrounding their concerns and expectations.”

Smith + Andersen’s design concept called for bringing forth the building’s brick texture to create a 3D effect. Previously “the façade read as a flattened surface at night, with glare spots caused by former sodium/metal halide fixtures. The brick texture was not apparent; this diminished the impact of the building when not experienced in full daylight,” Correa explains. “Our design included new fixture locations that would enhance the depth and texture of the facade, strategically determined in order to achieve the same 3D effect at night that visitors experience during the day.”

To keep attention on the brick, the LED luminaires were either “hidden within the building’s architectural features or encased within a metal shroud or box, each painted with matching RAL paint codes to camouflage the appearance of the encased fixture amongst the building finishes,” says Correa. Low-voltage wiring is concealed within brick and mortar repairs. “These design decisions are particularly evident during the day, as all modern exterior fixtures are invisible to thousands of daily passersby.”

A total of 16 fixtures types were used to create a “tight” lighting effect, while preventing light trespass into the surrounding downtown neighborhood. A key design element are blade lights (iGuzzini) that “cling” and are supported by arches and window frames. “The majority of the uplight from the blade light effect has such a tight beam spread that the associated light spill is captured by a nearby window frame or cornice, creating a light frame effect on each window,” says Correa. “Combined with the hidden grazing downlight fixtures [Philips Color Kinetics] located at the columns, this presents the building in a pleasant and comfortable way even at night.”

In addition, linear LEDs backlight the main signage. The iconic “St. Lawrence Market” sign was entirely rebuilt, allowing new LED fixtures to be located inside to enable easy access for maintenance.

The design team was also cognizant of the building’s relationship to the community at large. One question was the use of color-changing light, which “has a complicated relationship with heritage buildings,” says Correa. “For St. Lawrence Market, our approach was always on the subtler side, using warm, welcoming light [3000K] along the main façade and at the street level. However, the building clerestory—always perceived as a darker zone—provided a unique opportunity to programmatically connect St.

Lawrence Market with other landmarks in the city, such as the CN Tower and the City Hall ‘Toronto’ sign.” The approach, again, was more subtle, with white light illuminating the clerestory for the majority of the year, and colored light (Philips Color Kinetics) used only to celebrate special occasions; for example, red and white on Canada Day and rainbow during Pride Toronto. These effects match the lighting design scheme of other historical Toronto landmarks.

Finally, from afar at higher elevations, occupants in neighboring developments can see inside South Market to the newly installed interior pendants—an LED-base replica of the original carbon-arc pendants from the 1890s. “We were inspired by the original historical images of St. Lawrence Market from the Toronto Archives, which depicted these fixtures as aisle lighting. Once we were set on the impact and importance of this solution, we sourced a manufacturer, who happened to possess the original construction shop drawing patents.”

A little more from the past brought into the future.


Paul Tarricone

Paul Tarricone

Paul Tarricone has more 25 years of experience in association and business-to-business publishing, specializing in the engineering, design, construction and facilities management markets. Mr. Tarricone currently serves as Editor and Publisher of Lighting Design + Application,... More info »