#TurnOnTheHearn is one of the boldest and most ambitious visions for Toronto yet. It might also be one of the largest architectural installations in the world. The Hearn
itself will be an event.
Rendering of the front lobby of the Hearn at Luminato Festival. Courtesy of PARTISANS and Norm Li.
When PARTISANS was approached to help Luminato Festival achieve a singular and largely unparalleled vision — convert one of the world’s largest decommissioned power stations into a cultural venue — we were overjoyed. Last year’s Unsound Toronto
performance at the Hearn was one of the most jaw-dropping shows this city has ever seen. We understand this incredible opportunity — repurposing the iconic yet anachronistic coal plant to celebrate the energy of art — as a way of hacking Toronto’s 20th-century past to project its 21st-century future as a global generator of art and culture.
Rendering of Luminato Festival's Turbine Hall at the Hearn. Courtesy of PARTISANS and Norm Li.
From an architectural perspective, Luminato’s #TurnOnTheHearn project is unlike most others, not least because of the building’s enormous scale, but precisely because the requirement is a temporary build. Architecture is normally obsessed with the fantasy of permanence — legacy and performance as functions of brick and mortar. The generating station is a defining feature of Toronto’s cityscape; yet, its legacy has become unmoored from its original purpose. The Hearn is a striking monument to obsolescence, a bygone era of industry and coal. So how do you reactivate its industrial heritage to inspire a completely new way of seeing the familiar? The challenge — and the opportunity — is to create an extraordinary temporary experience that will nevertheless leave a lasting mark on people’s imaginations. Permanence is a state of mind.
Rendering of Luminato Festival's Music Stage at the Hearn. Courtesy of PARTISANS and Norm Li.
To deliver on such a grandiose promise, we first had to grapple with less glamorous questions. How do you design a fully operational and accessible festival venue for patrons, artists and crew that can be erected and torn down in a matter of weeks? The answer: love the logistics. Dozens of shipping containers are needed to get equipment in and out of the Hearn. We thought: why not turn this practical requirement into an extraordinary design element? Not only do the containers celebrate and enhance the raw industrial beauty of the Hearn, they also allow us to play architectural Jenga. On one hand, they are building blocks that maximize flexible and inventive design solutions; on the other, they behave as sculptures that carve out distinct spaces and sightlines to create intimacy and functionality in a soaring 400,000 square-foot space.
Rendering of Luminato Festival's 1,200 seat Hearn Theatre. Courtesy of PARTISANS and Norm Li.
At PARTISANS, we believe beauty emerges when design misbehaves. Ultimately, the Hearn must misbehave; it must become something it is not and perform a story it was never conceived to tell. It must inspire moments of exhilaration and awe, and engender meaningful experiences that will outlive its temporary incarnation to forge a different kind of permanence — the kind that becomes indelibly etched in Toronto’s collective memory.
#TurnOnTheHearn is a pivotal city-building moment in Toronto’s history. It is precisely the kind of ambitious civic dream PARTISANS couldn’t be more excited to help make come true.
PARTISANS is a young and intrepid architecture studio whose work across all scales is rooted in deliberate acts of craftsmanship and storytelling. We are architects, artists, thinkers and cultural enthusiasts devoted to a cause: smart, beautiful and provocative design. Renderings by PARTISANS. For more information, visit partisanprojects.com