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Conversation Piece: Face to Face/Tête à Tête by PLANT Architect Inc.

Conversation Piece: Face to Face/Tête à Tête by PLANT Architect Inc.

Face to Face/Tête à Tête by PLANT Architect Inc. Ph. Steven Evans Photography

The City of Toronto initiated the Transit Pilot to test out whether a street redesign and a more streetcars-fewer-cars approach to traffic management along 2.6 kilometers of King Street in the center of the city. As the winning proposal designed by PLANT Architect Inc. eliminated curb-lane parking along the pilot blocks, it provided an opportunity to improve place-making through the creation of curb-lane parklet. The project proposes a welcoming place and an efficient use of space on a busy downtown street.

Ph. Steven Evans Photography

The challenge was to create a magnetic public realm space that would feel safe and inviting—even though it would be only two meters wide and situated next to the road. PLANT’s inspiration was a big family dinner party, with people packed in tightly around a long table with several animated conversations all taking place at once. This concept transformed the narrowness of the curb lane from a liability to an asset: the parklet’s dimensions promote intimacy and intensify conversation within the bustle of King Street.

Two long, narrow, boomerang-shaped tables zigzag through Face/Tête à Tête and are flanked by continuous benches wrapped in plants. In vivid blue and orange, the installation’s name projects dynamically over all surfaces, bench, planters, zigzagging tables, and deck. The contrasting colors ensure that the curb-lane parklet is clearly visible to pedestrians and drivers and make it look inviting even on a cold, grey, bare-branched day. Plants were chosen for their color, continuous blooms, fragrance, and protective buffering.

Although envisioned as a conversation catalyst, Face to Face/Tête à Tête is also a welcoming spot for individuals to use as a touchdown workplace, to pause and check emails, or to simply sit and watch passersby. It effectively connects walkers, sitters, and transit users in an expanded public realm. While most sidewalk furniture does not allow for a choice of orientation, Face to Face/Tête à Tête enables people to choose a seat with a view of the sidewalk or street. The varying width of its zigzagging tables allows friends to sit close together while strangers can choose to sit further away.

Ph. Steven Evans Photography

Built off site, Face to Face/Tête à Tête was craned in and installed in a single day and has been in continuous use since its spring 2018 installation. For most of the 20th century, urban main streets were planned to allow for the operation of many different systems, including vehicular traffic, bicycle traffic, pedestrian flow, and entry/egress to buildings, infrastructure, and services such as snow clearing. These systems were long perceived as essentially separate from one another, but it is increasingly apparent that they are integrated, and that there are crossover opportunities worth exploring. Turning curb-lane parking spaces into parklets tests the capacity for extending the pedestrian realm beyond the sidewalk and into the roadway—this type of incursion is part of the movement to take back the street for the people.

DATE: 2018 / LOCATION: Toronto, Ontario, Canada / SIZE: 2m x 13.4 m / PROGRAM: Urban instalation / STATUS: Built / DESIGN: PLANT Architect Inc. / TEAM: Lisa Rapoport, Lisa Dietrich, Christopher Pommer, Mary Tremain, Patricia Joong, Isabel Ochoa, Vanessa Sokic, Leela Keshav, René Fan, Eric Klaver / CONSTRUCTION: Oriole Landscape / CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS: Extera, pressure treated lumber, and traffic paint / PLANTS: Yucca (Yucca filafera ‘Golden Sword’); Siberian Iris (Iris sibiria ‘Ceasar’s Brother’); Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbekia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’); Lavendar (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’) / CLIENT: City of Toronto / PHOTOS: Steven Evans Photography

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