Revitalizing O’Keefe Lane with Team Multiplied Ground

A multilayered platform with artwork and light fixtures encompass Team Multiplied Ground’s winning design for the Reimagining O’Keefe Lane Design Competition.

The team consists of fourth-year urban and regional planning students Paolo Brindley-Pantalone, Adam Harrison, Arash Oturkar, and Michael Uttley, who wanted to create an inviting atmosphere for everyone — not just Ryerson students — to enjoy. By creating more intrigue and more interest in the space, it creates more traffic, which inherently brings more safety and more eyes on the space,” said Harrison. “When you do that, the space self-animates.”

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The design competition was part of Ryerson’s initiative to revitalize O’Keefe Lane. There were nine entries submitted to the contest. A jury, which consisted of representatives from Ryerson, Covenant House Toronto, and Downtown Yonge Business Improvement Area, selected the final design. The winning team was also awarded $2,000.

Currently, O’Keefe Lane is an underused space. The lane runs east of Yonge between Shuter and Gerrard streets. It is often littered with trash from the dumpsters it houses. One of the challenges the team faced in creating the design was finding a way to change public perception of the lane. “It’s obviously not an inviting space right now to pedestrians,” said Uttley. “[Having] art and the green walls certainly would do a lot for the laneway, but even simply repaving it … would be a good start.”  

To make the space usable, the team segregated the garbage collection to one space in their design. The added layer of the floating courtyard will also provide a different point of access to the lane. It will connect to the Student Learning Centre and overlook the lane. One of their visions for the courtyard is to use it as a concert space with the musicians playing on top. “[The courtyard] is a landmark. People would come here just to check it out, too, along with the rest of the laneway,” said Oturkar.      

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Public use of laneways is something the Yonge Downtown BIA has been trying to implement for years. As part of their public strategy, they want to see laneways used as markets, cafes, or art and music installations. They also host many community cleanups for the laneways. Mark Garner, executive director of the Downtown Yonge BIA said he’s happy Ryerson has decided to invest more in their laneways.

“With intensification and development, more people living in the area or more Ryerson students coming in, laneways need to be treated differently,” said Garner. “It’s not just back of house. It’s not just for services. They should be useable for the public realm.”

There is no set date for when Team Multiplied Ground’s design will be implemented. Monica Jako, director of strategic planning in the faculty of arts, said it will be a phased approach that will be discussed internally.

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In the meantime, a mural is being done in the lane by artist Peru Dyer Jalea. In an email, Jalea said the mural will be a colourful design featuring words that evoke Ryerson’s principles and ideals. Jacko said the mural represents the change coming to O’Keefe Lane.

“I’m looking forward to our students and our staff and our faculty utilizing that space, walking through it, and enjoying the place that it is,” said Jako.

Images courtesy of Team Multiplied Ground