When Teresa Aversa, the founder of art consulting firm Art and Objects, last spoke with Surface, she mentioned her team was hard at work on three of the largest and most complex works she had ever undertaken. Now, almost a year later, she and new co-principal Rob Baytor have unveiled an extensive contemporary art program in step with local firm Design Agency’s overhaul of the 50-year-old Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel.
Art and Objects not only envisions art programs for their international client roster, but as a group of practicing creatives with an expansive network of studios, they often realize major commissions for clients too. Their work on the Sheraton property, one of the city’s most illustrious Brutalist landmarks, was extensive. In addition to curating the hotel’s art program from pieces by local artists, Aversa and Baytor led the team in creating three monumental sculptures inspired by the hotel’s distinctive place in the city’s history.
In the following interview, Aversa and Baytor share how they tapped the history of both Toronto and the hotel to inform a suspended sculpture of 400 flowers, a ceiling installation inspired by Lake Ontario, and a 3-D wall that, like the hotel’s facade, can look a bit different every single day.
Project Description: The three-phase transformation of the 42-story hotel was led by Toronto-based studio, Design Agency, and features a one-of-a-kind art program developed by our team, including a curated selection of artwork by some of Toronto’s most compelling contemporary artists. Our in-depth knowledge of material, construction, and fabrication techniques allowed us to design and produce a variety of works and bring to life custom art, accessories, and large-scale sculptures.
We created some of our largest and most ambitious pieces to date, including a four-story mobile featuring hundreds of hand-crafted Trillium flowers cascading over the escalator bay, and our largest public art sculpture, in the parking garage. This project is the culmination of years of experience and highlights the recent merger of our practices.
Project Blueprint: We wanted to capture the history and geography of Toronto, which is regarded as one of the world’s most culturally diverse and inclusive cities. During the late-19th and early-20th century, this site sat on the edge of what was called “the Ward”, Toronto’s First Arrival Neighborhood, a district bound by College, Yonge, University, and Queen Street. Like many such neighborhoods, it was considered an urban slum but it was a diverse and eclectic area, home to immigrants, and the city’s first Chinatown. This rich history and vibrant multiculturalism inspired the eclectic feel of the design elements.
We also wanted to nod to the vestiges of Brutalism inherent in the hotel’s architecture. This iconic building has an opposing expression on all facades, yet offers a surprisingly lush natural interior landscape that contrasts the beton brut (raw concrete) exterior. Metal structural details, meanwhile, reference the nature and strength of Toronto’s city grid. Cool lighter-toned wood paneling, geometric plays with materials, and highly crafted details within the furniture, fixtures, and equipment speak to the building’s geometry, tone, and visual weight.
Finally, we considered the city’s social fabric and its many parks and paths. Toronto has an intricate network of pedestrian-ways and an extensive urban park system. Paths connect the entire Financial District with a busy underground retail landscape, while the parks provide a retreat in the dense city center. There’s an ebb and flow of people, commerce, and seasons that govern both systems. They are separate yet intertwined in a mutually beneficial relationship with one another. The interweaving of natural and man-made systems creates a dynamic overlay of “slow” and “fast” spaces. Our art program took into consideration these temporal moments of interaction, overlay, intersection, and layering.
Project Takeaways: All three of these sculptures link back to celebrating the one-of-a-kind architecture of the Sheraton, and the movement and spirit of the city of Toronto.
Project Challenges: The mobile was challenging as it was constructed from top to bottom, which meant a complex scaffolding system had to be constructed above the building’s four-story escalator bay. The scaffolding was strategically lowered level by level as each layer of the installation progressed. Using a specific numbering system and map, our team installed more than 400 flowers in four different sizes and suspended them from aircraft cables to create an organic and ethereal composition.
Additionally, the scale of this project itself was larger than these three pieces. We also curated artwork for 20 areas throughout the hotel.