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08 11

AGO Hands-On Centre wins Best of Canada Award!

The Dr. Mariano Elia Hands-On Centre at the AGO has won for Institutional Interiors in the 16th Annual Best of Canada Design Awards by Canadian Interiors Magazine.

In print:

Dr. Mariano Elia Hands-On Centre, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
+tongtong, Toronto

What's an art-loving family to do? In Toronto, grownups can ponder Rembrandt, Rubens and the Group of Seven while their restless little ones chill at the Dr. Mariano Elia Hands-On Centre located on the concourse level of the Art Gallery of Ontario in the Weston Family Learning Centre.

There the gallery's youngest audience age group, two-to-five-year-olds, can enjoy "art-making, constructing, storytelling and costume play, making new friends and exploring." The program brief called for a space that embraces the way children play and offers a diverse, wide-ranging environment, often linked to a current AGO exhibition, where kids can explore on their own.

+tongtong's John Tong softened the base-building space, characterized by big windows and a hard-edged quality. His main intervention was to create two large curving wall segments that face one another and dominate the room. Large cavities erode the cladding of these structures to reveal, within the thickness of the wall segments, a rich inner life of storage shelves; cozy, padded reading nooks; and openings with curtains and mirrors for dress-up sessions. A large circular communal table, inspired by dim sum tables in Chinese restaurants, has three turntables inset in its top that give access to supplies and tools. The table sits flush with the surface of the platfonn until elevated by a methanical lift. When up, the table acts as the social hub of the room, drawing children, caregivers and parents to gather 'round for craft projects and other activities.

A fringe of boldly coloured rods hanging from the ceiling act as a proscenium, giving a stage-like presence to the platform and adding texture to the space.

"I liked that they photographed it with kids using the space" -CF

"This project is different without being flamboyant" - AW


Design team: John Tong, who began the project while still a partner at 3rd Uncle Design, before starting his eponymous firm; and 3rd Uncle's Eunice Lam

Photos by Tom Arban