The time had come to visit the new and much disputed Halifax Infirmary parking garage, built by the Province on a corner of the remaining Common. The parkade opened last winter but an early September, misty morning was my first opportunity to examine the finished product up close.
I always start discussions about this facility by pledging my love of convenient parking when visiting the hospitals. My beef is that the provincial government gave the impression that they were not interested in consulting with the public or the city about where this parkade should be located and what form it would take. They appeared to have no understanding of the significance of the lands that they wished to occupy and went out of their way to antagonize citizens and municipal officials. And they have been totally lackluster communicating about the project as it progressed.
The huge multistory car park is there now and I have nothing to gain by wishing for a better past. I visited with an open mind and to my surprise concluded this is probably the best looking parkade in Halifax (not a high bar) and that it is clad with one of the best, permanent public art projects in town. Also the landscape architecture around the building enriches the pedestrian experience and creates spaces that add value to the area. Let’s take a look.
Walking around the outside
The sidewalk and boulevard along Summer St. are generous and the existing mature street trees visually connect to the surviving parkland. The new planting beside the building is lush and varied. Virginia creeper is starting to scale the building and is intended to cover broad swaths. I was so engaged with what was happening at the street level that I did not really take in what was happening on the seven floors above. That’s sort of the definition of a good pedestrian experience.
The sidewalk along the north side of the parkade provides a new pedestrian link to Bell Road.
The plantings are deeper along this side, and there are new trees.
And to remind you of what this view used to look like.
And that view again when the 19th century conduit built to contain Freshwater Brook was uncovered…
I was amused to notice a drain more or less over where the old Freshwater Brook stone conduit had been located. I’m sure water issues have all been well engineered but for a while maybe avoid parking on the lowest level of the garage during big rain events. This was once a wetland and wetlands have long memories.
On brighter days there would be dramatic views of the Common, particularly on the north side where there is just a scrim of cables and stainless steel mesh.
On my visit only the bottom four levels were occupied. I could imagine the top level being used as the venue for the occasional event.
My understanding is that the structure of the parkade is standard precast concrete units, so nothing special. It is the landscaping and artwork that elevate the project.
Engineering details add interest to the utilitarian interior.
Users of the parkade will probably be most pleased with the enclosed pedway that bridges over Summer Street and connects to the hospital.
The bright interior of the pedway and high quality detailing made for a comfortable journey between buildings of a rainy day.
What really elevates the parkade is the art piece, entitled In Conversation, that covers the exterior. It was designed by local artist Andrea Tsang Jackson.
Giant panels of stainless steel mesh have been printed in designs related to some Nova Scotian textile traditions. Cascading down the sides of the building are images of stylized quilts, hooked rugs, beadwork and weaving. Tsang Jackson interviewed artists and specialists associated with communities that practiced these crafts, so the panels celebrate work produced by Black, Acadian, Gaelic Scot and Mi’kmaq artists.
Tsang Jackson recognized that working with designs from other cultures requires respect and caution. This is where the conversations for In Conversation began. I encourage you to look at her website for the project where she details her process, credits her muses and informants, and generally tells all the stories. The more I read the more impressed I was with the many layers of content and meaning in this work.
A couple of stories from the website made me particularly happy. A rather abstract design turned out to represent “the loop of woven cloth that is passed around the ridged table during a milling frolic. The repeated vertical lines of organic shapes are derived from the song pattern of leader and chorus, never repeating in exactly in the same way.” Movement and sound represented in a static design!
Another story, behind a particularly decorative panel design, was very personal to the artist. It interpreted textiles marketed by her grandfather in Hong Kong. “My relationship to textiles is one of art, but also one of entrepreneurship. My art practice is a business — there is no real way around it. Although my story is different than the family stories that came before me, it requires the same tenacity and work of running a business. These are family values that were passed down to me.”
Below on the left are textiles that represent the grandfather’s trade and to the right a fragment of the full-throated Gaelic milling frolic.
Andrea Tsang Jackson gets described as a quilt artist. Her bio also includes an MA in architecture from McGill and a Master of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, all of which helps explain why this installation is so thoughtful and accomplished.
I hope you don’t have a need to use the parkade soon but if you do, try to take a moment to appreciate your surroundings. Maybe it will give you something else to think about.
The parkade butts up against the north side of the Museum of Natural History. The museum used to be a pavilion in the middle of a park and now it is part of an urban streetscape. Quite a change.
The Province owns both buildings and some attractive changes have been made to the landscape in front of the museum. What used to be a section of lawn has been made into a “place” with planted borders on two sides, an undulating path and picnic tables.
I’ve had a thing or two to say about this parkade in the past. Here are some posts.