Revitalizing The Eaton Centre
By Karl Petschke exclusive to torontopath.com
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In case you couldn’t guess by the scaffolding, Toronto’s most popular shopping location and hang-out spot is beginning the process of getting some serious renovations. Representing the first major changes made to the inside of the iconic Eaton Centre since its inception in 1977, this is a project that promises to provide the shopping mecca with much more than just a new look. Drawing on over three decades of suggestions and feedback, the renovation aims not only to bring visitors a more enjoyable experience, but also to redefine and modernize the centre’s already unique atmosphere, and, just as importantly, introduce a new focus on sustainability. Scheduled for completion some time in 2012, the transformation will touch every corner of Toronto’s largest shopping centre, although the most substantial changes are reserved for the food courts in the north and south ends of the mall. Areas throughout Eaton Centre will be revitalized with clean new lines, and a more contemporary style. One example of a change that reflects a more modern perspective will take place in the elevators. Although the fashion of the time was to leave mechanical components of the construction exposed, the system of gears that propels the elevators have been collecting dust since the early 70’s, and will at last be concealed within a smart stainless steel casing. Another widespread change that will take effect is a new, revamped type of railing. With the current metal railings being decades old, and requiring near constant maintenance, a new approach seems like an easy and cost-effective way to give the whole of the mall a more sophisticated look. Replacing the bland metal bars will be sleek glass barriers topped with a stainless steel handrail. All in all, these new handrails will be replacing about 3,500 feet of the existing railings with their smooth, simple elegance. Now everyone just needs to make sure to take it easy on the finger prints. Another aspect of the refurbishment, which will also serve both to update the look of the space and to alleviate the need for continual maintenance and repair, are the floors. Though the current tiles have remained relatively intact over the past 33 years, despite the building’s huge amount of traffic, the need to replace portions of the tiling has left some areas of the floor mottled and, to some, unsightly. The new tiles are being shipped in from Italy, and will cover almost 300,000 square feet of retail space, or about a 6th of the entire mall. In keeping with the rest of the changes, the new floor designs are meant to give the area a fresh and contemporary new energy, but also complement the existing features, such as the building’s fountain, which, by popular demand, will remain undisturbed. The fountain is not the only thing that planners have been asked to be left untouched, however. Designers and organizers are also well aware that the Eaton Centre’s iconic geese are not to be tampered with, after an incident in the early 80’s when the flock was decorated for Christmas, leading to an outpouring of disapproval from the public, not to mention their creator. Instead, the geese will be illuminated by an array of new lights, which are to be installed. The birds are not the only ones to be getting this treatment, however, as new lights will be installed throughout the shopping centre, doing away with the dimness that seems to cling to the corners in some areas. But not all these lights will be installed simply with practicality in mind. In the north end of the shopping centre, plans have been drawn up for a huge, dynamic light structure, which will add as much flashiness as fun to an area of the mall that already has some big changes in store.
Hands down, the most extensive transformation that will occur over the next two years will be in the north end of the building, in what is now one of the two food courts. These changes, which are already underway, and expected to be completed over the course of the next 16 months, will reflect not only a change of priorities in the centre’s approach to dining, but also a dramatic shift in the attitudes of visitors and merchants alike. Basically, the fast-food feel will soon become a thing of the past. The cramped, rushed, cafeteria vibe is no longer enough for the city’s stylish shoppers, leisurely teens, or even its ever-busy movers and shakers. Replacing it will be a much more sophisticated, contemporary set of restaurants and dining areas. Think less food court and, as Wayne Barwise, Senior Vice President of Office Development for Cadillac Fairview puts it, "more of an urban food market". The change is a welcome one too, promising not only to make for a more comfortable, social environment (both in the main eating area in the north, and the sprawling Richtree market poised to expand throughout the south), but also to much improve on the quality and selection of the food itself. And you won’t just have to take their word for it – or even mine for that matter – because each restaurant will feature a kitchen that has been brought out into the open and is entirely visible to the public. In addition, seating will no longer be anchored to the floor and the mountains of paper and Styrofoam that used to accumulate in (or around) the food court garbage bins will be replaced with real dishes and cutlery. It’s the small changes like this that will entirely redefine eating in the city’s most traveled shopping centre. But more than simply classing up dining in the Eaton Centre, this renovation will introduce a new focus on sustainability, which is incorporated into every facet of the transformation. The simple fact that disposable bags, cups and cutlery are being replaced with reusable dishes shows the huge impact even small changes in practices and policies can have. Even the equipment that will be used to clean the dishes is saving energy and resources, about 50% of the water and electricity used by conventional equipment of comparable size. And this is far from the biggest “green” initiative that is to be launched. An innovative pulping machine will also be introduced, which will process food scraps and other waste, creating compostable refuse that will decompose naturally, which designers suggest could offset the amount of waste sent to landfills by up to 90%. Combine this with the widespread installation of new low-energy lighting, and the incorporation of more environmentally conscious materials and procedures in the construction and remodeling process, and it begins to become increasingly apparent that TEC’s commitment to sustainability is anything but empty jargon. Though The Eaton Centre has been a beloved part of our city for decades, there’s no question that revitalization was an order. Because, as we all know, the times, they are a-changin’. And if you take the time to look, we are too. So, although there is something to be said for celebrating the past, and showing our appreciation for a place that has shaped the identity of Toronto since the day its doors opened, there’s no reason to be afraid of some change. Because it’s already happening, all around us, even within us. So why not pay tribute to who we are today? Why not make a monument to this very moment? It might seem like something small, some new restaurants to eat at, some lights and handrails and tiles. But it’s proof that we have the potential to move forward, not only as individuals, not even just as Torontonians, but together, as a whole. And who knows, if the people at the Eaton Centre can make sense of the thousands of voices they hear laughing or yelling or whispering each day, if they can draw inspiration from the countless footsteps that echo through the corridors, just imagine what tomorrow could bring, and what changes could be in store for our world, and our city, and ourselves.
Last updated on 12/18/2012 2:26:55 PM