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city space

A sylvan oasis has opened on the podium roof of Toronto City Hall. The views are fantastic, the plantings are lush and there's nary a dandelion in sight. The downtown public garden - a stunning overhaul of the long-abandoned podium roof - is so impressive in its landscape detail and magnetism that it warrants the drop command: Drop everything and go directly to it.

Drawing more than 10,000 people during the weekend's Doors Open festival, the public roof garden catapults Toronto into a category of cities hard at work to become among the greenest on the planet. And the vast space - almost equal to Nathan Phillips Square at ground level - provides a badly needed template of built credibility for the city's recently introduced green roof by-law, which mandates green roofs on new and retrofit construction.

The podium roof cost $2-million to landscape and is the first phase in the $42-million three-phase Nathan Phillips Square Revitalization at Toronto City Hall. The nasty stadium floodlights have been replaced by highly efficient, colour-coded LEDs sited discreetly in the foliage.

There are plenty of benches and sun shades constructed of hard-wearing Ipe wood with elegant, minimal light poles surrounding the council chambers. Three Kentucky coffee trees in a large circular planter will grow some 15 metres high to serve as a beacon of green against one of the curved concrete and Carrara marble towers.

Back in the 1960s, City Hall architect Viljo Revell imagined the podium roof to be a place of swanky civic gatherings, with the curving ramp providing the appropriate level of ceremony. But the reflecting pool located on the upper level was leaky and the podium level with its grey concrete pavers was soon overgrown with weeds.

The dramatic transformation, designed by competition-winning team of PLANT Architects in joint venture with Shore Tilbe Irwin & Partners with furniture designer Adrian Blackwell and Chicago-based landscape architect Peter Schaudt, features extensive, drought-hearty sedums intermixed with grasses and blossoming perennials. The shifting colour palette - yellow and orange at the south flank of the podium with pink and purple to the north, was inspired by Paul Klee's Polyphony (1932).

"If you don't take care of your main public space, where we come together to celebrate, to mourn, to protest, how can we expect people to take care of the rest of the world?" says Chris Pommer, a principal in PLANT and design partner for the revitalization project. "This landscape is designed to create stewards of the land."