Elegant, engaging, urban follies: Emergency Exit Buildings - Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension
The vision for the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension’s Emergency Exit Buildings (EEBs) was to design elegant, engaging, urban follies scattered across the landscape that belie their utilitarian function.
An Emergency Exit Building is the surface element of a stairway connected to - and positioned along - a subway route. It functions as an emergency access point for firefighters and emergency egress for passengers. Historically, these exit stairs reach the surface by way of a hatch on the sidewalk, as per the NYC and DC subway systems, or small, hidden bunker buildings, as per European cities. In Toronto, the Sheppard Line was the first subway line with exit stairs built to Code with exit buildings of brick and mortar.
For the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) there was a desire to elevate and amplify the design. The project, an 8.6-kilometre extension of the TTC’s Yonge-University Line, includes six new stations and six corresponding EEBs. The first notable departure from the standard design approach is that the TYSSE’s EEBs are curved like the hull of a boat. The entrance is a flat plane, to allow for ease of access and house the fire department connections, then curves to a vertical edge, encasing the top of the stairs while eliminating corners and hiding spots.
Though identical in shape and size, each building is imbued with its own unique material expression inspired by its surrounding character. At EEB 1 on Whitehorse Road, a mosaic pattern in gradation from dark to light mirrors the low-density mall structure and the sky above; at EEB 2 the industrial context is reflected in a pattern of polished metal shapes in different angles; at EEB 3, on a wide-open intersection (that now includes a car dealership) the billowing white marble imitates the fluffy clouds above; at EEB 4 on a field by the York University campus, the tall grasses inspired the use of yellow limestone in long, rectilinear shapes; at EEB 6, located on a hydro corridor (where there will be a future road), the triangle shape of the hydro tower is imitated in stone; and at EEB 7 (which used to be surrounded by commercial buildings but is now under construction) a folded and unfolded pattern plays-off the verticality of the surrounding buildings.
Whether situated at an industrial intersection, a mall parking lot, or an open field, each building has its own landscaping and rainwater drainage trough. The concrete troughs are both beautiful and environmentally sustainable as they direct rainwater runoff to neighbouring plants and trees.
The TYSSE’s Emergency Exit Buildings are a series of urban sculptures in textured masonry that are innovative in form, colour, and pattern providing a poetic beauty to an otherwise functional construction.
TTC – Toronto Transit Commission
Lead Architect: Charlie Hoang; Design Architects: Paul Raff, Christine Brennan, Peter Tong
Structural, M&E, and Civil Engineers: HATCH; Landscape: Scott Torrance
Material Supplier/Manufacturer: Masonry Contractor Limen Group
IBI Group is a global architecture, engineering, planning, transportation, and technology firm creating the intelligent systems, sustainable buildings, and efficient infrastructure of tomorrow. Founded in 1974 in Toronto, Canada, IBI provides professional consulting services around the world, including 60 offices in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.