Who is in charge of illuminating the city once the sun sets? How will light infrastructure improve our housing, mobility and culture? That is the question Toronto architecture firm RAW Design posed to the design and development industry through its latest summertime installation RAW X, which featured a series of colourful installations designed to provoke new ideas about how we can more permanently animate our city at night.
“Light plays on your emotions,” says RAW Design’s founder Roland Rom Colthoff when describing RAW X. “As Toronto moves toward becoming a 24-hour city, we need to manage our relationship to light after hours. By and large our public spaces are conceived as daytime. There is a tremendous opportunity to shape urban life after dark by focusing on light and colour.”
At the base of a new tower in Riverside developed by Streetcar Developments, RAW Design transformed an active construction site into a testing ground for activating the night. Guests were greeted by a series of interactive installations conjured to transform the anonymous concrete backdrop into an evening playground.
A laneway of lightboxes led guests into the site, where they were greeted by an array of spectacles. Colourfully lit foods, glowing orbs and illuminated furniture made out of bubble wrap were just some of the ideas on display. The space also housed an immersive light experience where guests were invited to walk through a dense curtain of pink nylon, arriving in the centre to find themselves in a private world. The firm’s work was projected onto the concrete walls to share new design concepts and stimulate discussion about city building.
Colthoff acknowledges that while Toronto is seeing more programming at night, from evening markets and outdoor movies to light fests and DJ nights, designers are still positioned to impose a more permanent impact on the city’s night life.
“The canvas of the city after dark is ripe with possibilities. By exploring ways to manipulate light and dark in urban centres we can influence how and where engagement occurs,” says Colthoff. “Light is a symbol of spectacle and freedom. People are drawn to it, and we should be exploring its potential. Even though Toronto has great nightlife, it’s still a relatively dark city.”
Created and curated by one of the founding members of Winter Stations, RAW Design’s annual industry parties engage developers, engineers, planners, city officials, designers, urbanists and artists through immersive environments designed to provoke new ideas about city nightlife.
For the last ten years, the venues have been as central to the story as their installations and have ranged to include everything from boxing rings to operating bakeries, storage lockers and parkade rooftops. In each iteration of the event, RAW Design transforms the space in an effort to tell a visual story about changes the city is experiencing in different neighbourhoods and in the built environment.
“Riverside is a microcosm for the entire city,” says Colthoff. “You used to have a clear distinction between established single-family residences on side streets, and more active uses along Queen. With new developments coming into the area those distinctions blur. Streetcar has contributed to the reinvigoration of the area at night, with the introduction of The Broadview Hotel, and they have also been leading the charge in terms of developing the east end.”
With nine previous iterations of events under their belt, RAW X marked the celebration of the firm’s ten years as an architecture practice. Recognized as the OAA’s Best Emerging Practice in 2009, RAW Design has grown to become one of Toronto’s preeminent designers of residential and commercial architecture. Notable projects include: Cube Lofts, 455 Dovercourt, Oblong Lake Cottage, the MINI Downtown dealership, Daniels City of Arts and 109 Oz. RAW Design is also a founding partner in Winter Stations and the designer of numerous award-winning installations, including Prismatica and Warming Nuzzles.