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, it will be restored and reinvigorated, creating more meaningful connection for park users and the neighbourhood as a place for meeting and gathering. Giaimo are working with non-profit charitable organization Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) to revitalize The Oculus and bring new life to this special place. This project 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. The City of Toronto’s Parks, Recreation, and Forestry, as well as Heritage Planning, are working closely with ACO and Giaimo throughout this project.
Park People (Public Space Incubator Grant); City of Toronto (Owner)
South Humber Park, Toronto, Canada
The revitalization project aims to transform 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 includes a series of engaging and educational programming to provide the community with ongoing occasions to visit the site, explore the space, and learn about Toronto’s built heritage. This project was originally scheduled for 2020, but due to COVID-19 it has been postponed until 2021.
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.
Since starting this revitalization initiative in 2019, ACO and Giaimo have put together a Building Condition Assessment Report and applied for additional restoration funds through the 2020 Toronto Heritage Grant Program. The City’s Heritage Planning will be recommending designation of the pavilion under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act and will bring a report forward to the Toronto Preservation Board and Council prior to the release of the grant funds anticipated for 2021.
While we wait 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 covers 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.