September 25, 2017

Spotlight: Steve Paynter from Gensler talks design here at Yonge + St. Clair

We recently sat down with Steven Paynter, Design Manager at Gensler here in Toronto. Paynter and his team were responsible for the Ravine Bench which is the newest addition to the urban landscape here at Yonge + St. Clair.

Hey Steven, for those who may not be familiar, tell us more about Gensler.

Gensler is the world’s largest design company. With over 40 offices around the world Gensler not only focuses on Architecture and Interior Design, but also product design, brand development and expert consulting services. It’s often said that Gensler has designed everything from the label on a wine bottle to the second tallest building in the world. Gensler first set up its Toronto office with a single person 6 years ago and we’ve since grown to over 80 people.

What is your interpretation or view of the Yonge + St. Clair neighbourhood?

Despite a great location, incredible residential options and a thriving community, the area’s architecture, retail and night life has been left to languish. Now really is St. Clair’s time as developers, landlords and the residents have pulled together to create something special. At Gensler we’ve tried to find the most meaningful features in the neighbourhood and combine them with the best opportunities to create something new and special.

Can you tell us a bit more about the ‘Ravine Bench’ that was designed for Yonge + St. Clair and how it came to be?

The bench started as a simple hand rail, but we thought it could be something more. When designing the new façade of the St. Clair Centre we wanted to create a more active and comfortable street life, but also had to deal with some difficult level changes between the interior of the stores and the side walk. For example, TD Bank’s storefront is 4ft above the ground and that meant having to add the ramp and stairs that you can see on site now.

The bench developed from this rail into something more intricate. The real design breakthrough came when we started looking at the wider neighbourhood and saw the opportunity to do something important here that can link to the south side of the intersection. These two areas on the east side of Yonge are the only places at St. Clair that are wide enough to do something meaningful to the streetscape, so it became an important area of focus.

The design itself is reflective of the ravines that cut through St. Clair. It is a combination of solid stone, plants and the abstracted levels and cuts that break the landscape here. We went through several iterations, but the ravine just felt right and fit so well with the building while also adding some softness and nature to the corner.

What are your thoughts on public space and its importance here in the City of Toronto?

Public space is something that Toronto really hasn’t got right yet, but we are getting there. A combination of narrow sidewalks, above-ground tree planters and a strange obsession with planting things right under power cables has meant that most of our sidewalks do little other than move pedestrians. Though there are some great examples, we still lack places to sit and watch the world go by or places to sit and wait for friends. I would like to see new developments start to add more pocket parks and public furniture. I’d also like to eventually see more generous sidewalks throughout the city; this is something we should all focus on over the next few decades as we reduce our reliance on cars.

Any other thoughts on design and public space as it pertains to Yonge + St. Clair specifically?

This year will see a lot of public space upgrades at St. Clair. The Ravine Bench is the first to be completed, but we are also replacing the sidewalk around the St. Clair Centre, and doing similar work at a couple of other locations as well. Last year we worked with Slate to develop an overall vision for the neighbourhood that allowed you to see green space from every vantage point in the area. With this in mind we currently have a new pedestrian laneway under construction between St. Clair and Delisle Park, between 30 and 40 St. Clair W. We also have another bench under construction at 21 St. Clair E. which will provide a sheltered seating area near the TTC station. This one is an important pedestrian friendly move at a location where the streetcar tracks obliterate the sidewalk.

Any ideas of where you see the Yonge + St. Clair neighbourhood in 5 years?

This is a great question. What I’d like to see is a mix of upgrades to the existing infrastructure and great new developments, all of which will build a place that feels like a great walkable neighbourhood. We will know we’ve succeeded in this vision when you go to St. Clair at any time of day and the public spaces, stores and restaurants are all bubbling with life.

Thanks, Steven!

The new Ravine Bench by Gensler can be viewed outside of 2 St. Clair E