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Waterfront rink is about more than ice and parking Add to ...

A crisis of design has erupted in Toronto - it's getting loud and passionate and that's a good thing for serious city building. What's emerged from the public and a highly respected waterfront design review panel is that every building that gets built along the Toronto waterfront should be remarkable - as compelling as a lake, as beguiling as the natural flow of a river. A one-dimensional facility built at a massive scale is "an urban killer," says Toronto architect and panel chair Bruce Kuwabara. But that's what has been proposed by a City of Toronto public-private development at a prime site in the Toronto port lands. A sprawling complex of four hockey rinks and hundreds of parking spaces delivers badly needed ice for Toronto but, ultimately, it adds up to a drive-in, drive-out kind of urban use. It's a big-box suburban scenario that kicks apart the fine urban plan featuring smaller blocks that are key to a master plan developed over the years by competition-winning urban designers.

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Intelligent, far-reaching alternatives to the suburban-style scheme are needed immediately. Fuel for the imagination can be found at some of the world's most inspired rinks. In Seoul, Korea, an open-air ice rink graces the roof of a swimming pool and is lit in tones of purple and blue at night to become a highly visible landmark. In Helsinki, Finland, the Hartwall Areena features underground practice ice rinks carved out of the bedrock, which are available to young hockey players and figure skaters. In Sochi, Russia - site of the 2014 Winter Olympics - an indoor ski centre has been designed like an architectural land form with an ice hockey hall and spa.

Revenue always comes in a second ice rink. That's the wisdom of Joseph Mingolello, principal of Mingolello & Hayes Architects, who designed a pair of "stacked" NHL-sized rinks for Shelton, Conn. By stacking the rinks, Mr. Mingolello saved his client, a private developer, plenty on land costs. The rinks are part of an eight-acre recreation complex set next to the Housatonic River, which includes a driving range, a fitness centre, bowling and 13 separately ventilated locker rooms. During the summer, the upper ice rink is converted into a sports court. "It's been very successful," says Mr. Mingolello. "It's a very successful urban solution where you don't have a lot of property. In New York or Toronto where there's not much land, you need to look at it."

The problem with a heated debate is that some of the cold hard facts get lost along the way. Remember that in 2002, the federal government provided the then-fledgling Waterfront Toronto a cheque for $20-million and a mandate to build a recreation facility on the waterfront. Waterfront Toronto sat on the idea for seven years, at which time a deeply frustrated Mayor David Miller took on the project as a private-public development spearheaded by the City of Toronto.

The promise to the feds for a recreational facility needs to be kept, but the money needs to be wisely spent: not on a windowless big box but on an innovative, sustainable, urban complex that celebrates water. Ice rinks, to be sure, but also the possibility of reflecting pools and fountains outside in a public, community-gathering square.

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