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One big idea

Putting some colour into GTA's grey face Add to ...

Wanting to counter the grey, pallid face of Toronto, Robert Wigington and Christopher Dew recently formed 66 Ideas Inc., a think tank that churns out colourful, creative possibilities of transformation for the city's concrete behemoths and its lacklustre streets.

One of their targets is the intersection of Bloor and Yonge where, using video projection or paint, they'd like to convert the hulking façade of the Bay/Marriott complex into a monumental interpretation of a Hudson Bay blanket.

They also believe a Toronto version of the London Eye Ferris wheel could be a great draw for tourists, and they'd like to close Yonge Street for a day to create the world's longest chalk drawing involving school kids, artists and all Torontonians.

Mr. Wigington, whose previous career was as a sought-after food photographer, and Mr. Dew, a documentary-film director who produced The Littlest Hobo, are both 68. The goal of their new career is simple and audacious: creating ideas to make Toronto and other cities more joyful, interesting places to experience. They have energy to burn: Mr. Wigington recently biked from Vancouver to Toronto. Two years ago, Mr. Dew climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

The Globe's architecture critic, Lisa Rochon, spoke with Mr. Wigington about his big idea.

You're a food photographer and your partner comes out of a career in television and film. Why make the leap into the revitalization of Toronto's public realm?

I've always been interested in the city and how it could be so much better. I grew up in the U.K. and spent a lot of time in London. You travel, you see things, you get ideas. I'm a huge fan of architect Will Alsop and his sense of colour. Architects generally seem to be so afraid of colour and yet colour can be so rejuvenating. You can use paint, or we're starting to get very interested in permanent night-time illuminations of buildings. On Bloor Street, there's so much concrete. The Holt Renfrew building lends itself to video projections as it's primarily concrete. It's a wonderful projection screen. We invited Lucette de Rugy, the French projection artist whose light interpretations have transformed buildings in Vienna, Salzburg and Lyon, and walked her around Toronto for two days. She was very excited about what might be projected on Union Station or on the buildings at John Street during the Toronto International Film Festival. We have made a proposal to Luminato, which they liked.

What bothers you about Toronto?

In Chicago, there's wonderful public art, particularly the pieces in Millennium Park: Cloud Gate (known as the bean) by Anish Kapoor, or the wonderful Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa. What's interesting about those two is that Toronto has works by both of those artists and I would defy anyone to tell me where those pieces are. (Mr. Plensa's is the cursive script at the top of the big, red wall where you pick up your luggage at Pearson. The Anish Kapoor is the mountainscape hidden behind an underground entrance pavilion.) In Toronto, we have the 1-per-cent public art program, which is an absolutely wonderful idea. Los Angeles puts that money into one big fund and has done some really great things with it. What we have in Toronto is not big enough or strong enough to be arresting. We could take all that money and do something really fabulous.

Did you pitch your mural idea to The Bay?

We're presidents of 66 Ideas Inc., so we called up the president of The Bay, Bonnie Brooks. We spoke to her assistant and then met with one of the vice-presidents. They were going to give us half an hour and, in the end, we stayed for an hour. The guy said, "My God, I had no idea what you were going to show us. I thought it was going to be a rack for underwear. I don't know what to do with this. I've never seen anything like this. I'm sort of blown away."

Not interested in retiring?

Neither of us feels like retiring. We're just moving on. What retirement really does is that you can take a much broader view of things, which is very liberating.

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