Behind the Project: Grasett Park
Grasett Park is a structural glass sculpture located in Toronto, Canada. Recently, we sat down with Senior Associate Brian Van Bussel to discuss Entuitive’s role on this striking addition to Toronto’s downtown streetscape.
Thanks for sitting down with us today, Brian. Can you tell us a bit about the project?
Grasett Park was commissioned by the Canada Ireland Foundation to commemorate the work that Dr. Grasett and the City’s other physicians, nurses, and caregivers, did with respect to newly arrived Irish immigrants in 1847. The project is located at the corner of Adelaide Street West and Widmer Street and is on the same spot as Toronto’s first purpose-built Emigrant Hospital. Dr. Grasett was the Medical Superintendent of the Hospital in June 1847.
Irish newcomers often arrived with typhus disease, then known as ‘ship fever’. Dr. Grasett’s innovation was to build fever sheds with cots and then to put cheesecloth around people’s beds to slow or halt the transmission of tyhpus. It’s very pertinent today, it’s similar to the quarantine measures and the masks we wear today to slow the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. To me, it seems like the whole idea of quarantine in Toronto was borne out by Dr. Grasett’s idea and the legacy of that response to typhus has helped us in responding to subsequent health emergencies and pandemics. Of course, now that legacy lives on with this monument.
Two architectural firms were hired – Denegri Bessai Studio and the Daniels Faculty of Architecture at the University of Toronto. The vision evolved over years, and I got involved in the middle of the project. I provided structural engineering consulting and was asked to help bring it to the finish line. The big piece for Entuitive is that the sculpture is structural glass.
The project was completed in July 2021 and a dedication ceremony was held. Dignitaries from the governments of Ireland and Canada, as well as provincial and municipal officials shared remarks and the designers took us behind the scenes of this impressive sculpture.
It’s a beautiful project and I’d definitely call it a showpiece! Can you tell us some of the biggest challenges you faced and how did you solve for them?
There was certainly the personal challenge of learning how to work with structural glass. Luckily, we have great people in the Toronto office and across the organization who are highly skilled with this material, and I was happy to have their support.
In general, too, structural glass is challenging to work with. It’s a material that we as an industry are still learning about, and the technology is constantly evolving. We took the best of the technology available at the time and designed them into the sculpture to realize the architect’s vision, which was challenging to realize because nothing like this had been done before with structural glass.
Bolstering the Concept
The difference between the initial concept and where we ended up is that we added steel to make it work. We added steel rods and reinforcing of steel to help share the load between the different glass panes. The glass panes are 9m tall and between a 2 light laminated piece of sheet glass to a 5.
Safe and Sound
There were many components to us signing off on it and making sure that it works, including testing that was done in Germany. We had to get it through the City of Toronto and satisfy them that it’s structurally safe.
How to construct it was also challenging. One prerequisite from the design was that there had to be movement. There are rods that go between the glass panels. The joint where each of these rods hooks into the glass has the ability to move, so that they’re not overstressing the glass. If a gust of wind blows by it, it will be safe.
There was a paper that was published and presented at Engineered Transparency a glass in architecture and structural engineering conference in Düsseldorf, Germany in 2018. The presentation was delivered by a former Entuitive employee who worked in the Calgary office and the paper was co-authored by David Thompson and I.
Sounds really complex and the complexity certainly shows through. What was your favourite part of the project?
For me personally, it was learning structural glass. It was great to learn the design of a new material and develop an understanding of how it works. We’re now applying those learnings to the new CN Tower pod level 2 redevelopment which is all structural glass and the new walk-on floor which will be more transparent.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share about the project?
There are some features of the project that reflect Dr. Grasett’s innovation and the sacrifices of he and other workers that weren’t part of Entuitive’s scope but that are certainly worth noting. One of these is the inlay in the glass that shows the draping netting that reflects Dr. Grasett’s innovation. On the ground, etched into the stone, is a diagram that provides more information and contextualizes the history of Dr. Grasett’s innovation. Similarly, Dr. Grasett’s name, along with others who treated and succumbed to typhus in 1847, are engraved on the granite benches within Grasett Park.
The biggest message I want to share is that Entuitive has the capability and the drive to move structural glass forward. We would like to make it an element that can be used not just in sculptures like this but in buildings and we are excited to continue learning and innovating with this material.
There are other examples like the glass bridge at the Ritz Carlton and the observation boxes on the Willis Tower in Chicago, both projects that David Thompson worked on before his time Entuitive.
Thanks for sitting down with us today, Brian, and sharing why structural glass is a great material! We learned a lot. If you would like to learn more about this project or structural glass, you can reach out to Brian here.