UofT Scarborough Campus Trail
An interview with Markus Hillar, Project Manager at Schollen & Company Inc. and Sarah Gardiner from Zaneen.
Connecting the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus with the Highland Creek trail system is a winding accessible trail link that weaves through the ravine for beautiful and calming views of the forest.
Zaneen was specified by Schollen & Company Inc. to illuminate the new trail link project, with the challenge of providing a fixture that could be installed into the handrail with the trim flush with the rounded surface. The result was the successful installation of our product Eyes Handrail, a recessed exterior lighting solution that perfectly fits into the handrail to provide full illumination of the pathway. Keep reading to learn more about this dynamic project!
Sarah Gardiner: What was the project timeline and is there an important/unique significance to the space?
Markus Hillar: The duration of the project from concept to implementation was 3 years. The primary achievement of the trail is the creation of a vital, non-vehicular connection from the University campus to the Highland Creek Valley corridor, enabling people of all abilities to traverse the steep ravine slope in an equitable manner, enabling an immersive experience of nature. This connection facilitates active and passive transportation and a key link to the University’s Pan Am athletic facilities, located in the valley, as well as connects the University to hundreds of kilometers of trails throughout the City of Toronto’s ravine system including a link to the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail.
SG: What was the project vision?
MH: The University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC) Valley Land Trail creates a vital connection from the University’s Campus into the Highland Creek Valley corridor. The primary goal of the project was to construct a state-or-the-art, fully-accessible trail descending over 20m in elevation into an Environmentally Significant Area within the City of Toronto’s natural ravine system. The 600m long serpentine trail was designed with cantilevered boardwalks to enable people of all abilities an immersive and engaging experience in the forest canopy, affording unique educational opportunities and a glimpse of the diverse local ecology and geology of the ravine.
SG: How did the project develop in terms of design from the initial concept?
MH: The initial design was conceived as an accessible utilitarian access path from the campus to the valley. Throughout the design process a commitment of the client to design excellence evolved and the shape of the path and its dramatic features emerged. This included large accessible cantilevered boardwalks that enable people of all ages and abilities access to immerse in the tree canopy of the surrounding natural area. The lighting feature enables people to safely enjoy the space late into the evening after the sun has gone down.
SG: Why did you specify Zaneen?
MH: The “Eyes Handrail” product offered a unique solution to what we were trying to achieve as designers. Using the product, we were able to discreetly tuck the lights into the handrail away from view, illuminating the trail in the late evenings and providing a dramatic effect. It is a feature that has stood out on the project.
SG: What lighting challenges did you run into from the time of specification to installation?
MH: The design was looking at a solar operated system. However, it became clear that the valley setting surrounded by large trees and the project’s western exposure would not lend itself to enough solar access to power a solar lighting system. We therefore worked with the client to develop a unique lighting system to illuminate the whole path as it winds into the valley, which resulted in the utilization of the Zaneen “Eyes Handrail” product.
SG: What was your favorite part about this project?
MH: The level of involvement and commitment from the campus community, stakeholders and approval agencies was astounding. The process of designing the trail involved UTSC faculty, students, members of the community and staff from the City of Toronto Urban Forestry Division and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. The stakeholder group included the chair of the UTSC Accessibility Committee and an Indigenous elder who informed the initial vision and provided input throughout the design and construction processes. UTSC faculty, management staff, campus police and representatives from various departments, including environmental studies and biology, were consulted throughout the design process.
Restoration plantings were implemented by student volunteers as a component of the construction process. Over 100 students that are involved with the Regenesis Community Environmental Organization (RCEO) participated in campus community-driven volunteer events. RCEO continues to be involved with the planting, restoration and harvesting initiatives associated with the project including an edible garden component. The collaborative and inclusive design process was in and of itself a valuable learning experience for all parties involved. In addition, the trail provides an educational space for students and faculty to gather, to teach and learn of the natural ecology and geology of the ravine corridor.
SG: Any additional comments?
MH: Zaneen’s lighting integrated tidily into the handrail of the trail is an elegant, yet an important functional aspect of the trail enabling users to safely access sporting facilities in the valley late into the evening.
This project was honored with a City of Toronto Urban Design Award of Excellence (September 2021), a Society of College and University Planners Merit Award (2020) and was shortlisted for a 2020 Landezine International Landscape Award.
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