The History of MaRS

We’ve started researching the history of the MaRS building since we are currently considering installing our voices of innovators piece in the lobby.


Here’s some info from the MaRS website:

Long before MaRS acquired it, the Heritage Building was famously associated with excellence in innovation. Formerly the ‘College Wing’ of the Toronto General Hospital (TGH) from 1913 to 2002, it was both a brilliant architectural centrepiece and a contributor to some of the last century’s most significant medical breakthroughs: insulin, the artificial kidney and the pacemaker, among many others. But its research legacy runs deeper. The new hospital site on College and University was not built simply to update the Toronto General’s facilities. It also enabled a cutting-edge research collaboration with the University of Toronto, inciting the University’s first serious exploits in biomedical research. The health legacy represented by the Heritage Building lies not merely in the numerous innovations it has produced, but in the innovative institutional relationships that birthed them.

Since its official opening on June 18, 1913 and through most of the 20th century, the TGH College Wing stood at the centre of a dynamic discovery district not unlike the new “Discovery District” envisioned by MaRS. It was built upon strong linkages between the TGH, the University of Toronto (which included Connaught Laboratories until 1972), the Ontario Ministry of Health, the City of Toronto, the Hospital for Sick Children and other hospitals of the area, all of which are key partners in the MaRS initiative today.

Indeed, the monumental discoveries that arose in Toronto are in large part products of this history of cross-institutional collaboration. In the story of insulin’s discovery and refinement, this collaborative environment might have been the deciding factor. The innovation legacy represented by the Heritage Building thus represents not just a distinguished lineage of medical breakthroughs, but a progressive institutional approach to innovation that echoes today’s push for “convergence innovation.”

Voices of Innovators in the MaRS Lobby – Week 5

Facing South.

We are developing an interactive sound installation for the MaRS building north entrance that will explore the theme of innovation in community and potentially bring innovators together. The installation will consist of multiple voices collected through interviews with innovations, some or all of whom will come from MaRS centre residents themselves.

We are revisiting our original Wings of Desire concept in which a participant can either hear the voices of individuals or the harmonies and cacophony of the many depending on where they are standing.

Our installation will encourage participants to discover the meaning of the voices by moving through the circular space of the North Entrance Lobby of MaRS.

One potential arrangement of our installation in the lobby.

In the diagram above you see multiple voices coming from speakers along the edge of the circle. These voices meet in the middle creating a cacophony or confusion of voices. Nodal points (dotted lines) are points of harmony and intersection, perhaps where common themes are found in the voices of the speakers.

People entering the MaRS building may serendipitously encounter these voices as they move through the lobby. They may choose to linger and discover more of the sound nodes in the middle space or move to the edges and listen to individual voices.

Encouraging Collaboration: We may also offer a paper list of interviewees with contact information along with our artist statement.

Current Goals:
Create a sacred space in a public space
Encourage participation through discovery
Use silence, cacophony, harmony and singular voices as symbols for different states of a community
‘What is the meaning of the journey in a space?’ – We will investigate the history of the lobby and MaRS building. Why was the lobby designed this way in the current building? What other kinds of architecture share this structure. What kind of sound is made for this kind of space? i.e String Quartet (referencing David Byrne, Siobhan forwarded link)

Changes from Crit 3:
We are not using the labyrinth as a model.

Questions for Crit:
We need to refine our problem and audience. Should we be exploring the discover process in our installation or encouraging collaboration among MaRS tenants?

Work for Week 4 – Use Buddha Story as UR text with 8 sound nodes representing 8 stages of his life

Plan A, Wed June 9
Use Buddha Story as UR text with 8 sound nodes representing 8 stages of his life
Changes from Crit 3:
We are not using the labyrinth as a model.

We found an UR story that we could use as the abstract backbone for our installation. We chose the life of the Buddah. We were going to make poetic interpretative sound compositions for 8 sound nodes to correspond to 8 narrative points in this life story. We also considered how the Buddah discovered the technology of meditation, and how he created a community, Sangha, to practise this technology together.

Location: We discussed installing these 8 nodes in the MaRS centre, since the audience here is interested in innovation and community. We looked at potential locations along the main floor atrium of the building.

MaRS Atrium at night

Interactive Grammar: We were interested in the challenge of making a dramatic journey apparent from node to node using only sound. We were intending to build a feeling of dramatic rise and fall in tension when the participant traverses all the nodes in sequence. However we also wanted the nodes to work when participants encountered only one, or multiple nodes in a unintended order. We wanted participants to be able to either make up a story about what is happening, or project themselves as the story protagonist.

Form: The feedback we got from Ana was there may not be a good reason for people traversing this space to follow our suggested route and move from sound node to sound node. As well she was concerned that a linear path might be dull.

We then looked at the space considering strong visual cues that would link thematically to each particular node, and draw the curious participant to the sound node thus enticing them to make meaning from the juxtapositions. One example of a potential visual cue would be a giant pink Bohdi tree placed between the other trees beside the main floor windows. It would mark the location for the sound node when Siddhartha discovered how to become enlightened. We also realized the symbol of an apple falling on Newton’s head while sitting under a tree also has cultural resonance for innovators.

We also looked the architecture and traffic patterns of the inner lobby for problems and solutions. We noticed the flat area above the food court staircase is ‘dead’ or unoccupied, but that the open stairs to the south – which you can view from the dead space – are very active. We considered handing small speakers over the edge as a hanging garden of sound, or a fishing pond of sound replete with glittering fish and dangling fishing lines, and how we could pique the curiosity of stair climbers to make a U turn at the top of the stairs and explore the dead space if we gave them a reason, such as to figure out who is holding the fishing lines they see dangling over the edge, or to see who is controlling the sound effects they are hearing.

On Thurs and Fri all of us were involved in three separate FutureLab projects as part of Netchange week. We all noted having a clearly defined problem to solve and audience to solve it for made making decisions in a group much simpler.

David made the following notes about the correlations between the Buddah story and the discovery process of the innovator

Buddah’s eight steps:

1.Happy Childhood
2.The suffering in the world
3.The call
4.The voyage
5.The execution
6.Hard work
7.Finding the cure
8.Returning to build a community around his innovation

The Innovator’s Story:

1.Beginnings, much the same as other happy childhoods
2.Realizing the problem
3.Deciding to act on the problem
4.Leaving the nest
6.Hard work
8.Working with others to implement and move further into new discoveries.

What the two stories have in common:

The Problem: Suffering
The Call: To fix the problem
The Struggle: Learning, training, apprenticing, ideation, collaborating, inventing, executing
The Solution: The innovative tech: from meditating to the human genome, it’s all the same.

Audience: The proposed audience is innovators in the MaRS Centre.

Visiting Toronto’s Downtown Labyrinth

Chartres Pattern of Labyrinth

As part of our investigation into how sacred spaces function in the public realm we visited and walked the outdoor labyrinth in Trinity Square, between the Eaton centre and Trinity church (Thanks for telling us about it Dave Wolfenden).

A labyrinth is not a maze, it’s an ancient design intended to create a meditative, open or reflective state in the walker.  We found the length of the segments made us feel like hurrying up and slowing down. How close or far we were from the centre made us relaxed or frustrated.

We stood in the middle together and listened to the sounds of the city, the artificial waterfall, the roar of air conditioners, a helicopter chopping, the clang of metal being dropped on a construction site.

When we came out we sat on a nearby park bench and observed one man praying outside the labyrinth. He created a private space within a public space. Other people sat on the edges of the labyrinth on little grass mounds. One man listened to his ipod, two young women talked to each other.

It turns out there are many passionate labyrinth makers and walkers in Toronto. The Labyrinth Community Network who are behind this Trinty Park labyrinth.

In our modern, often chaotic culture and times the opportunity to step into an oasis of calm is rare. Labyrinths provide such an opportunity. Toronto Public Labyrinth is situated in the heart of Toronto’s bustling metropolis.

The group spearheaded the creation of Toronto Public Labyrinth at Trinity Square Park which officially opened September 14, 2005. LCN worked in collaboration with the City of Toronto and The Church of the Holy Trinity on this labyrinth and its predecessor, the grass labyrinth, installed in July 2000.

There is also the Toronto City of Labyrinths project, whose stated objective is:

Toronto City of Labyrinths is a Project to create a labyrinth within walking distance of every Torontonian inside the city limits of Toronto Ontario Canada.

Labyrinths are placed in public spaces and public events such as neighbourhood street parties and major city festivals like Pedestrian Sundays.

We reflected on other kinds of art and ritual that can create silence and encourage a reflective state of mind in public spaces, Butoh dance for instance. Liz forwarded these links to Shibusa Shirazu Orchestra who don’t create silence but do have butoh dancers in the mix and apparently inspire strong feelings in their audiences.

And here is a segment from a 1960s film all about observing people in a public New York square. We’ll be doing more of this kind of observation as we build our prototypes.

Project Description – Week 2

1. Mantras and latest project description

Design Mantra: Creating spaces for self-reflection and the reinvigouration of our dreams.
Statement of Excitement: Creating an oasis in the heart of the city where wishes come to play.
Mission Statement: We are a design team that creates spaces for private reflection and rest in the middle of busy public places.
Possible name: Reflecting Pool

Description:A circular wishing well (fountain/pool) surrounded by a low seating area where weary travellers and shoppers can sit, meet each other and listen to the background sound of voices whispering, ‘I wish, I wish’.

Participants can make a spoken wish then throw a coin in the well. If they do their wish will be echoed back, followed by the wishes left by earlier visitors. This collage of human wishing and wanting plays for an interval before returning to the, “I wish, I wish” mantra.

An angel statue outside the well offer pennies in its outstretched hands.

2. WOZ concept To be presented.

3. Audience and Location
We are making this wish well for people in busy public spaces such as

  • transportation hubs
  • hospitals
  • shopping centres

We’re considering 3 corresponding locations for our installation such as:

  • Union Station
  • St. Michael’s Hospital
  • Eaton Centre

We’re looking for feedback on:

  • Which locations might work best
  • Contacts at these locations
  • What we should be creating for our InterAccess soft launch considering our intention is to install our well eventually in a busy public (non-gallery) space.

4. Advice we want from crit team:

  1. Are there similar projects to this Reflecting/Wishing Well?
  2. How could we make the wish recording and coin throwing experience seamless and intuitive?
  3. How can we invite participants to make a wish (voice invitation? text?)
  4. How can we use audio techniques, such as white noise or noise cancellation, to make our space a haven of quiet calm?
  5. What issues should we be aware of when working with water and electricity?
  6. What do you think of using water in the pool/well an additional interface – i.e. fingers trailing in water active some audio?