Toronto's new subway stops are designed to make you feel 'a little bit of joy' on your commute

With Toronto set to open its first new subway stations in 15 years, the artists and designers responsible for the stops explain how they'll be unlike anything the city has seen before.

The 6 new stations on the Toronto-York Spadina extension feature distinctive architecture and artwork

'We learn a lot from cathedrals,' renowned British architect Will Alsop said of the Pioneer Village station, which rises much higher than necessary. (Toronto Transit Commission)

When transit riders walk into the new Highway 407 subway station for the first time on Sunday, they'll be greeted by sprawling panes of technicolour glass; the illusion of dripping paint and fresh brushstrokes across each of them.

One stop north, at Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, riders will descend to the subway platform under a ceiling of mirrors, with skylights dotted among the panels.

The stations are part of the Toronto Transit Commission's new six-stop Toronto-York Spadina extension, which is set to become the city's first subway expansion in 15 years.

But for the people who toiled over the design of the new stations, there's also hope they'll offer riders something more than just a faster commute.

The colourful glass of Finch West station gives way to a cavernous 'mysterious' platform underneath, its architect says. (Toronto Transit Commission)

'A little bit of joy'

"I have to assume that on one of those really cold, miserable January mornings ... there will be people down there travelling to a job that they'd probably rather not do," said Will Alsop, the renowned British architect who was part of a group responsible for the Pioneer Village and Finch West stations.

"What I want them to feel is a little bit of cheer, a little bit of joy," he added.

The interior of the main entrance at Pioneer Village station. (Toronto Transit Commission)

Alsop's two stations stand in stark contrast with one another — from the boxy, coloured glass of Finch West to the curved, towering metal exterior of Pioneer Village.

The distinctive features and artwork at each stop will be a major benefit to their communities, their designers said.

"These new stations each form a node, a civic landmark and identity for their neighbourhoods," said Paul Raff, the artist behind the mirrored ceiling at Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.

"[The ceiling] is punctuated by skylights in a seemingly irregular, random pattern," Raff said on CBC's Metro Morning. "But they are actually strategically placed to bounce natural light deep into the subway."

The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre station features a mirrored ceiling and skylights designed to reflect light into the subway platform. (Vaughan Metropolitan Centre station)

At an open house for the new stations earlier this fall, Raff watched future riders gaze up at the mirrors, taking long-range selfies in the reflection.

"It imbues the subway station with a kind of colour and shifting dynamic," he said.

David Pearl, the artist behind the Highway 407 station, wanted his stop to take on a similar energy, but used a different strategy to get there.

To create the impression of an artist's fresh canvas on the station's windows, Pearl took photographs of wet paintings and printed them onto the windows.

Photos of wet paint were used to create the windows of the Highway 407 station. (Toronto Transit Commission)

The result projects lively shadows into the station.

"The environment will be different depending on the time of day you come or go," Pearl said.

From sketch to finished product

The designers each lauded the TTC for its minimal interference in the design process, resulting in stations that looked very much like their original sketches.

"It takes courage to commit to do beautiful buildings, striking buildings and making the city a great place to live and work in and move around in," Pearl said.

The subway platform at the Highway 407 station. (Toronto Transit Commission)

If the public agrees, it will have come at a cost. The final bill for the six-stop extension is expected to come in at around $3.18 billion, split between the federal government, the province, the city of Toronto and York Region.

Pearl seems convinced the project has been worth it, in spite of the cost overruns and the delays that pushed the opening back three years..

"It's simpler not to bother. It takes courage to bother to do something great."

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story implied that Will Alsop was the only architect responsible for the designs of Pioneer Village and Finch West Stations. He was, in fact, part of a group that worked on the stations.
    Jan 09, 2018 1:51 PM ET

About the Author

Nick Boisvert

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nick Boisvert is a reporter and one-man band video journalist based in Toronto. He previously worked for the CBC in Vancouver, Windsor and Kitchener-Waterloo. When he’s not chasing politicians or driving to a crime scene, Nick enjoys cooking, comedy and following the NBA.