This landmark 820-ft-long (250m) landmark pedestrian bridge is one of the longest enclosed foot bridges in the world, traversing 6 railway lines and 14 lanes of traffic across Highway 401, the busiest highway in North America. The bridge connects the Town of Pickering, one of the fastest growing communities in Canada, to its busy GO Transit hub, part of a regional network of trains and buses servicing the Greater Toronto Area in Southern Ontario. Due to its location at the threshold between the Cities of Toronto and Pickering, the bridge serves a striking marker of entry into both cities and a symbol of innovation across the metropolitan region.
A sculptural perforated metal scrim acts as a glimmering shading device during the day and as a glowing line of coloured light over the highway at night made possible by programmable LED lighting, providing vibrant changing light patterns. Inspired by the perpetual dynamism of highway traffic and railway lines, the bridge’s streamlined curvilinear metal enclosure was digitally modelled and refined in 3D to capture the sense and vision of speed through surface modelling. Considerations were made to balance formal aesthetics with maximizing views for the pedestrians, minimizing possible distractions to drivers (from either material glare or pedestrians), functional openings for stairs, and material bending limitations of metal panels.
The design was developed using Building Information Modelling (BIM) for construction documentation and construction coordination. Coordinating with the engineering teams three-dimensionally through BIM allowed the design team to work efficiently to develop a structural support system for the formally complex metal scrim using standard construction components. The fully digital 3D design and documentation process allowed the metal scrim model data to inform the shape of steel framing, simplifying what would have otherwise been onerous structural design and fabrication process. Full BIM documentation of the cladding and structural systems also minimized onsite interferences, allowing sections of the bridge to be constructed offsite, then efficiently assembled onsite. The result is an example of the potential for architecture and thoughtful collaborative digital methodology to elevate the practice of infrastructure building.
The Pickering GO Bridge shows how thoughtful and inventive architecture was able to transform what might have been another instance of faceless suburban infrastructure into a dynamic urban gateway and enlivening presence on North American’s busiest highways. When the architectural team was invited to work on the project, the basis of the bridge was already engineered as a simple, mundane box truss bridge. Due to its location at the threshold between Toronto and Pickering – one of the fastest growing communities Canada – the client group – the City of Pickering and Metrolinx (the provincial transit authority) – wanted more than a utilitarian bridge, and to prioritize design excellence as an important criterion for this project, an admirable quality. Taking the dynamism of the busy highway and railway corridor as formal inspiration, the architectural team generated and tested the curve profile of the metal scrim at each bridge section to reach a pleasing form that would meet the function requirements, and within the physical parameter of standard standing seam metal panels. Parametric modelling allowed the team to test different formal possibilities – different ‘wave form’, different opening locations – within a tight design timeline. The result: a striking marker of entry into both the City of Toronto the suburban Durham Region. The bridge has become an important landmark for the City of Pickering, while serving its purpose to connect the neighbourhoods on both sides of the bridge and functioning as a transit hub; form has elevated function.
Teeple Architects was founded in 1989 in Toronto and has built a reputation for design leadership and technical excellence through a broad range of acclaimed institutional, commercial and residential projects. Its projects are conceptually and practically rooted in the unique aspirations of each client and have been recognized for responding creatively and effectively to the influences of site, climate, socio-cultural context, and budget. The firm’s work has been honoured with awards for design excellence and sustainability on the local, national and international levels, including six Governor General’s Medals for Architecture (Canada’s highest architectural honour) and a prestigious Holcim Award for sustainable innovation.