A wonderfully curious piece in the landscape, The Oculus in South Humber Park is a fantastical space-age modernist pavilion built in 1959. Neglected for decades, The Oculus has been restored and reinvigorated by Giaimo and ACO Toronto, creating more meaningful connection for park users and the neighbourhood as a place for meeting and gathering. The project demonstrates that a lot of value can be found in our existing infrastructure, from both a cultural heritage perspective as well as an environmental and social sustainability one. It is one of five recipients of Park People’s 2019 Public Space Incubator (PSI) Grant, funded by the Balsam Foundation and Ken and Eti Greenberg, and received further funding from the Toronto Heritage Grant. The City of Toronto’s Parks, Recreation, and Forestry, as well as Heritage Planning, worked closely with ACO and Giaimo throughout this project.
Park People (Public Space Incubator Grant); City of Toronto (Owner)
South Humber Park, Etobicoke
ACO Toronto and Giaimo
ACO and Doublespace Photography
Ontario Heritage Lieutenant Governor Award for Excellence in Conservation, 2021;
ACO Heritage Awards, Public Education and Engagement for Brighter Days Ahead, 2021;
Dezeen Awards, Long-list, Installation Design Category, for Brighter Days Ahead, 2021;
CAHP, Award of Merit, Heritage, Education, Awareness & Scholarship for Brighter Days Ahead, 2021
The revitalization project transformed The Oculus into a welcoming community gathering place and space for arts and performances along the trail by restoring and cleaning the existing pavilion and implementing new flexible and contextual outdoor furniture. It also included a series of engaging and educational programming, from a temporary on-site exhibit and public art to walking tours and talks. This unique approach to conservation provided the community with ongoing occasions to visit the site, explore the space, and learn about Toronto’s built heritage.
Designed in 1958 by architect Alan Crossley and consulting engineer Laurence Cazaly, South Humber Park Pavilion AKA The Oculus is a fantastical space-age park shelter nestled in a meadow along the Humber River Recreational Trail in the City of Toronto’s South Humber Park.
While it stands out as a unique modernist structure in Toronto, The Oculus’ sculptural quality and use of concrete is part of a generation of ambitious and optimistic public pavilions built in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s that can be found scattered throughout the City’s parks system.
Over the last few decades, the pavilion has suffered significant neglect resulting in a deteriorating, vandalized, and underutilized public space. In July 2016, concerned community members rallied to save The Oculus from renovation plans that included partial-demolition. It was named a “Building at Risk” by ACO Toronto, and a successful online petition was launched. Since then, those plans were halted and instead City of Toronto’s Heritage Planning retained architecture firm Brown+Storey to prepare a South Humber Park Pavilion Heritage Evaluation Report.
ACO and Giaimo began investigating the potential of the structure and completed a Building Condition Assessment, determining that a light exterior restoration was achievable. Students at Ryerson University were engaged to further develop potential design interventions as part of the Department of Architectural Science’s Heritage Conservation course taught by Giaimo in 2019. The restoration was overseen by Giaimo and executed by Walton GC and Colonial Building Restoration in Summer 2021. It included cleaning of the building’s exterior, applying anti-graffiti coating, refurbishing the flagstone, and installing new seating.
Originally scheduled for 2020, the project was delayed due to COVID-19. While waiting for the restoration to start in Spring 2021, a new temporary public art installation called Brighter Days Ahead was revealed October 2020. Designed by Giaimo, the art installation covered the pavilion in rays of yellow, protecting the structure throughout the winter while symbolizing the spaces vibrant and radiating future.
Given the sculptural quality of the structure, the pavilion has unique acoustic qualities that create an outdoor echo effect when one enters the centre of the space, and as such there is exciting potential for music and performances to occur within the space.