On Yonge Street

ABSTRACT     Yonge Street is a unique urban resource for the City of Toronto. It acts as the central nervous system uniting local, suburban and out-of-town populations with both surface and underground networks. It has transformed to adapt to fluctuating cultural, social climates and urban development projects. Many fragments can be found both within this major thoroughfare’s physical streetscape and in the hearts of many Torontonians. The largely generic street fabric found in the stretch between Queen and Bloor may lack in architectural integrity, but offers a spectrum of establishments that exhibit the diversity found in Toronto. The tension between these assorted venues is what gives the street both value and complexity despite their individual architectural modesty. It is a casual place in the city that speaks to the everyday citizen. It’s eclectic and sometimes tawdry charm raises mixed reviews by locals and often confuses city bureaucrats. Many development strategies have been initiated in order to give the street a homogenized image and a public face However, it is in its informal candidness where its value rests. This thesis claims that Yonge Street is a democratic urban platform built upon complex layers. The diverse, overlapping and kinetic happenings felt on the street are both its strength and weakness. The rich experience is difficult to articulate using traditional urban design analysis. This thesis offers a new version of portraiture that seeks to illustrate the spirit of Yonge Street. Using unconventional mapping methods and visualisations, it will render qualities often difficult to express. Five portraits of Yonge Street are presented, inspired by five buildings: the Yonge-Bloor Subway Station, Sam the Record Man, Zanzibar Tavern, the Yonge Street Mission and Yonge-Dundas Square. Each describes one of Yonge Street’s many faces using a collection of subjective mapping exercises to portray a different character present on the street. Urban developments that add to Yonge Street, or allow it to evolve as an eclectic social condenser can only be created when the existing phenomena embedded in its fabric is understood. In order to provoke a new interpretation of Yonge Street, the thesis synthesizes the findings of these mappings into a collection of street art proposals. The interventions presented act as agents directed towards a new engagement and understanding of Yonge Street, framing it as an irreplaceable resource for the citizens of Toronto.

Full thesis can be found here, below are some examples from the work. 

A Headline Story
Media held varied attitudes towards Yonge Street over the years. Often correlating, and perhaps provoking, the many redevelopments of the commercial strip; chronicling these attitudes unveils how the street evolved to its present day condition. A HEADLINE STORY is a piece which chronicles Toronto Star headlines relating to Yonge Street, dating back to 1960. The Toronto Star newspaper was chosen for two reasons. For one, it is fair to say that The Toronto Star could be coined as the ‘people’s paper’ and would have a more democratic standpoint. Secondly, in relation to other Toronto newspapers, having an address on Yonge Street gives The Toronto Star a more personal affiliation with the subject matter. By cataloguing the relevant headlines, the exercise paints a picture of the streets evolution by expressing media coverage of the pinnacle moments that led to its economic rise, fall and revitalization.


Behind Closed Doors

These photographs  were taken with a 600mm Polaroid Instamatic camera. They document  the inside of Zanzibar Tavern, on a Sunday morning between the hours of 9:00 am and 11:00 am. The photographs offer a reading of the tavern through the perspective staff members, who on that early Sunday morning, were preparing for another regular day of business.


Intro to Yonge Street
The map provides a general understanding of the diverse activities found on Yonge Street. It visualises the street based on the variety of merchandise and services available to its users; each icon representing one business. The goods and services available cater to a broad spectrum of user groups, but were organized into general categories, that were then located onto a scaled street map. The combined image shows the informal distribution of the variety of businesses found on the street.


Publicly Private Space
This three part mapping exercise outlines the public spaces of  Yonge Street that can be occupied as private zones by street-involved demographics. Over the course of one week, personal artefacts left behind were catalogued in order to quantify which zones could more
appropriately be identified as highly trafficked private locations. For the sake of offering a qualitative analysis of the occupation the investigation also samples the variety of textures found in Yonge Street’s rear corridor. The samples were taken from the specific private locations outlined in the previous mapping exercise. The mapping conveys a tactile analysis
of the street and building fabric within these zones. Photographic texture details accompanied by relief samples, taken using trace paper and a 6B graphite stick, were collected and catalogued in order render a more personalized and tactile understanding of Yonge Street, as experienced by user groups that inhabits these areas.


Signage vs. Space
Being a commercial thoroughfare, signage has always played an integral role in the fabric of Yonge Street. The relationship between signage and the architecture it supported evolved as the climate changed and grew to be more consumer-focused. The following investigation is a  map which records all the signage found presently on Yonge Street, and arranges it based on address and relative size.  The exercise illustrates the relationship signage has to the commercial public artery.


The Strip
Yonge Street, although a throughway, has always been a destination. During the musical revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s, Yonge street was the centre of Canadian music and culture. The Yorkville village just north of Yonge and Bloor Streets was the breeding ground of world renowned folk singers such as Joni Mitchell, Neil Yonge and Gordon Lightfoot. The downtown strip flourished into a place frequented by independent artists, musicians and youth; it was the place to be. Anything you needed, you could find somewhere in the entrancing filigree of neon lights that coated the street façades. With each store front playing a contributing role to the street’s dynamic atmosphere. Arranged on the strip was a unique collection of independently run businesses, each with an iconic
street face. THE STRIP investigates this phenomenon by cataloguing and arranging sequentially by address, a selection of street façades present in 1970s, that have since been built over.


Off Yonge
This is a photo essay which narrates an experience exclusive to the back of houses and alleyways of Yonge Street. Taken over the course of two days spent walking the backstreets running from Bloor Street to the Waterfront, the photos trace both the texture palette and threshold conditions into Yonge Street’s rear corridor.




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