Proposal: Union station design competition

TTC’s portion of Union station is crowded and cramped and has looked temporary for years. A permanent design, at least at platform level, is needed. TTC staff cannot necessarily be trusted to get this right. It’s also time to attract some new blood.

Until at least 1983, Union station used Vitrolite and other tiles (cream with burgundy strapline) and station designations in the TTC typeface. Unlike the nice tidy Bloor line, the consistent appearance of the original 1954 subway – running from St. George to Eglinton – has been destroyed through neglect and intentional blighting. It might be pointless to try to restore Union to its original appearance. In any event, Union is arguably special.

Union will receive new public art in any renovation. (The RFP for public art attracted 48 respondents.) What it needs now is a new platform design. I propose that TTC hold a public design competition for the subway platform at Union station.


Bring new ideas into Toronto subway design. Keep starchitects and other usual suspects out of the process. Involve the public.

Just the platform level

Keep the task simple: Restrict the competition to track level at Union station. Other floors of the station, and streetcar bays, would be excluded.

Not a charrette

Don’t hold a workshop to develop ideas, whose creators would not be compensated and of which none would actually be implemented anyway. Hold a competition, name a winner, and make the designs real at Union.

Throw it open to everyone

There is now much greater appreciation of the Toronto subway and its design. Designers worldwide will take an interest.

Require the upholding of TTC heritage

The TTC typeface must be used for station designation and may be used elsewhere.

Designers might choose to use materials that are part of the existing TTC design vocabulary, including:

But any other materials deemed durable enough for the air pressures, cleaning requirements, and general wear and tear would be permitted. In fact, new materials are to be encouraged.

Make initial entry free and practicable

Submission of entries should be free, and should require simple and easily achievable materials, like drawings on paper, PDF illustrations at adequate resolution (with provided descriptions and text equivalents), and/or models.

Pay shortlisted designers to build models or provide more drawings

Shortlisted designers – preferably three; no more than five – would receive $1,500 up front to be used to construct scale models or to commission or otherwise produce higher-quality drawings and renderings. Designers could apply for reimbursement of further expenses up to $1,000 more.

Exhibit the drawings and solicit public opinion

...but leave the decision up to the judges. This isn’t a popularity contest.

Make prizes attractive

After handing a starchitect a half-million bucks without a tender for an unwanted makeover of a station in Egyptian drag, this is no time to be cheap. The winner should receive, among other items:

Designers retain all rights

Designers who don’t win the competition retain all rights to their work in perpetuity. TTC would receive a licence to exhibit shortlisted works for public comment. The winner would exclusively license his or her work to the TTC; TTC would not own the work.

Designers may be encouraged to donate documents to the Toronto Archives for posterity.

Jury composition

Possible timeline

Total: 77 days, or 2½ months.