Yesterday marked a watershed moment in the revitalization of one of the country’s busiest transportation hubs, as the new Union Station Food Court designed by Toronto-based architecture studio PARTISANS, in collaboration with Dialog and GH+A, will be unveiled to the public.
Led by NORR and FGMDA, the revitalization of Union Station is a story of historic collaboration and cooperation to achieve one of the most complex, multi-phase civic infrastructure retrofit projects the city has ever seen. Offering 10 new food retailers with seating and capacity for over 600 people, the Union Food Court is part of a highly anticipated new level at Union Station that opens approximately 25,000 square feet of new space at the station.
When Osmington hired PARTISANS in 2013, the nascent studio was tasked with helping the client answer the following question: how does one turn the most trafficked transportation hub in the nation into a destination? Our team helped articulate an integrated cultural, commercial, and architectural argument for how to leverage Union’s identity as a major transit hub and transform it into “a fluid stage for Toronto’s most ambitious culinary, cultural, design, and retail offerings.”
“We were looking for a creative design team that was going to deliver something unique,” explains Lawrence Zucker, CEO & President, Osmington. “We did not want Union to be an extension of the current financial core PATH typology and PARTISANS shared our vision. Back then, PARTISANS was a very young firm, but Alex [Josephson] and Pooya [Baktash] and their whole team of professionals exhibited a passion and worth ethic that was unprecedented. What seemed like a risk five years ago has proven to be prescient.”
As the design architects for the renovation and interior fit-out of the new Union Food Court on the new lower level of the Station beneath the GO York Concourse (the team also worked on the Fresh Market and common areas, which are expected to follow), PARTISANS was required to troubleshoot how a heritage building, with all of its unique assets and challenges, could be redesigned to accommodate diverse retail and programmatic elements.
A key feature of the Union Food Court are the 210 cloud-like structures suspended above the seating area. These sculptural units were the response to a critical question: How does one open up and distinguish an otherwise compressed public space by turning infrastructure into art? The PODS (Pressurized Ocular Diffuser System) were conceived as an economical and artful means of integrating building systems—HVAC, lighting, and sprinklers—to regain ceiling heigh, optimize maintenance, and create a memorable aesthetic experience for the millions of patrons streaming through Union Station each year.
Made from glass fibre reinforced gypsum (GFRC), the PODS were successfully tested by building performance engineers RWDI, who verified their aerodynamic viability and pressure-vessel design and simulated their layout using computational fluid dynamic modelling. They were subsequently mass-manufactured and finished offsite in order to ensure easy and efficient installation in the Food Court.
Just as the biomorphic PODS turn the utilitarian into the sculptural, PARTISANS’ furniture design for the Food Court draws inspiration from the functional geometries and industrial materials used to build railroads. The choice of solid cast aluminum for the high tables and waste receptacles honours a robust tradition of industrial design, yet introduces an elegant twist. Inspired by movement, the furniture feature softer curves and fluid, ribbon-like shapes.
Accessible through the GO York Concourse and the York West Teamway, the Union Station Food Court is the first area of the lower retail level to open as part of the Union Station Revitalization Project. The Fresh Market and the Bay retail zones are expected to follow.