Archive for the ‘Construction’ Category

the concrete choice

Monday, December 4th, 2017

If you’ve ever renovated your home, you know about the endless options for flooring: tile, wood, carpet, stone. Once you select your material, you have to make more choices about colour, finish, how it should be arranged, even the kind and colour of grout. So many decisions! Of course, as with all design questions, your choices are shaped first and foremost by the space and its function: wet or dry? Formal or casual? How much wear will it get?

the floor dilemma

Our design teams faced similar quandaries when working out the details for the rapidway platform floor of the new Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Station [Viva bus rapid transit].

All of our other open air vivastations have tiled platform floors, so the obvious choice would be to use that in the new VMC Station. But this station faced an additional level of complexity, being built above the subway extension.

The top of the subway station extends to just under the vivastation foundation, providing limited depth to work with. Installing the tiles with concrete underneath as required would use up space needed for essential power and communications cables. A concrete floor became the ideal alternative.

durable by nature

Concrete flooring for the platform works better in the space we have, and the durability means less maintenance is required, saving money down the road. The VMC Station floor will be getting a lot of use in a relatively small space. We know concrete will perform.

But, we also want great aesthetics. Fortunately, concrete is also versatile.

Outside the station along the sidewalks of Highway 7 are paver stones laid in a distinctive pattern. Inside the station, we’re re-creating that look with concrete. First, we built the concrete molds to match the sidewalk, then poured each section with matching colours of concrete.

functions like concrete, looks like tile

Because the platform floor continues beyond the shelter of the vivastation canopy, we needed to ensure it’s not slippery. Before the concrete set, every concrete slab was given a hand-applied swirl finish to provide a measure of slip-resistance. We have also done decorative work on each section to create the appearance of tile.

Just like you’d want for your own home, the final result will meet design goals in every way: strong, durable, easy-to-maintain, and functional. And nice to look at, too.


a vent shaft becomes a thing of beauty

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Building transit infrastructure comes with some mandatory requirements, and not all of them are pretty, at least not to start. Take a vent shaft, an absolute necessity for the subway to vent air and for fire safety. One of these vent shafts had to be located right in the middle of our new SmartCentres Place Bus Terminal.

design becomes experience

Who says vent shafts have to be ugly? At vivaNext, we know that the design of a place becomes the experience. SmartCentres Place Bus Terminal is a new breed of bus terminal – beautiful, airy and open, not at all like the stereotypical bus terminal of yesteryear.

In the middle of this, the eyesore of a square, unattractive vent shaft simply would not do. Since the vent shaft was already the centrepoint, we transformed it into the centerpiece, designing it as an artistic element of the bus station.

catching the light

The vent shaft will still be there, masked by a far more elegant exterior. Flat, stainless steel metal panels punched through with a flower pattern were fastened together to create a curved shape, almost diamond-like in appearance.

In the sunshine, it will catch the light. At night, it will be lit up from the inside. Through it all, the air from the subway will vent, serving its purpose, and proving that, yes, vent shafts can be beautiful.

safety in waiting

Monday, November 20th, 2017

Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems like viva use a variety of design features to make travel faster, but the primary feature is dedicated transit lanes that allow buses to bypass regular traffic. BRT systems around the world take different approaches as to where those lanes go. Some use separate lanes beside the roadway. Here in York Region, the vivaNext system uses median rapidways that run down the centre of the road.

median benefits

A major benefit of median rapidways is how they minimize conflicts with driveways and business access. However, this design requires passengers to wait for their buses in the middle of high-volume thoroughfares – such as Highway 7 West at the new Vaughan Metropolitan Centre rapidway station. Utmost consideration was given to design strategies that ensure the safety of passengers while they wait for their buses.

crash-load strength

The VMC Station’s most crucial safety protection are the white concrete barrier walls which run the length of the station on both sides, separating the waiting area from traffic lanes. With the wall’s white architectural concrete finish, curves that echo those on the station roof and tapering design that flows into the planters and ramps near the crosswalk, this wall is a key aesthetic feature of the new station. But don’t be fooled by its good looks: this wall is a brute.

It’s designed to withstand crash loads, the potential forces involved in a traffic collision. Crash-proof walls have to meet strict criteria on factors such as design, materials and construction. These specifications are set by Ontario Provincial Standards, and before we received approval to begin construction, every element of the design was scrutinized to ensure it met or exceeded those requirements.

standard scrutiny

Design standards dictate things like the height and thickness of the wall, how much rebar – steel reinforcements – is incorporated, how much it will weigh, and how the wall will be fixed to the base. Standards apply to the type of materials used for the concrete wall, the aggregate used to mix the concrete, the steel used in the rebar, even the coatings on the steel. Likewise, standards dictate the construction itself, ranging from how the concrete is cured to how edges are finished.

Although safety comes first, we made sure it looks good, too.

So now you know all the thought that went into protecting you while you wait for your YRT/Viva bus, we hope you admire the design of the station, relax, and enjoy this impressive new addition to the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre.

a modern take on the ancient dome

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Here’s a question: what do some of the most impressive structures in the world, including many of the great cathedrals of Europe and the Pantheon in Rome, have in common with our new bus rapid transit station at the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre?

The answer: they’ve all followed the same basic construction technique for building a dome, which has been around for at least 2,000 years.

Domes have traditionally been reserved for a select number of important buildings which need to be impressively open and dramatic. Another reason there aren’t a lot of domes is because they’re more difficult to build compared to standard rectangular buildings. We loved the idea of creating an open and airy space for the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre rapidway station, making it big enough for viva buses to drive right through. We also wanted it to be special, and symbolic of Vaughan’s new downtown.

Although building materials may have evolved over the past 2,000 years, the general approach for building domes hasn’t really changed. First, strong, deep foundations are constructed to take on the full weight of the dome. Then, a temporary support structure is built. Gradually the permanent exterior shape is created up around the support structure until the dome is closed at the top. Once the dome is complete and able to support itself, the temporary support structure is removed, piece by piece.

Ancient domes would have had wooden temporary support structures, with the outer dome made of stones added one at a time. Although the materials we used are modern, we followed the same classical construction technique. First we built a steel temporary structure. Over that we installed the station’s outer dome, a steel frame welded together one segment at a time.

With the outer steel structure fully installed and all the structural welding complete, we carefully removed the temporary support structure one piece at a time, which took a couple of weeks. After this process was complete, construction inside the station began.

All the weight of the station is supported by the subway structure underneath the station, and 25 metre-deep piles or caissons which extend underground to the same level as the subway.

With its glass and steel shell exterior and high-tech comfort and amenities inside, we know you’re going to love using our new station for its modern look and functionality. But you can be proud of the fact that, from an architectural standpoint, it’s joining a pretty special group of buildings that have been built to stand the test of time.

rain, rain, go away

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Our new rapidway station at Vaughan Metropolitan Centre is ready for the rain, innately designed to handle a downpour and keep those pesky puddles off the road.

Large structures like the new bus rapid transit station shed a lot of rain during storms. With the size of the station’s roof, the volume of water collecting from even light rain storms would be enough to create some pretty major puddles.

Water management has been a key design consideration for the station since day 1. Letting runoff drain freely onto the roads isn’t an option since the station is right in the middle of Highway 7. Here’s the rundown on how we’re managing runoff.

Water management strategy includes features built into the station’s design, and the design of the road and storm water management systems around the station.

Gutters run along the curved station roof between the skylight and the roof panels, designed to collect and funnel water to the ends of the station. At that point, brow gutters – shaped like eye-brows – will drain the water into downspouts on the sides of the station, which then drain safely into underground catchbasins connected to the storm water management system.

But that’s not all! Water from the middle portion of the roof, below the roof gutters, will drain off the roof onto the road. Generally at our vivastations, the road design ensures water doesn’t become puddles.  A very gradual slope away from the station to the curb lane directs the water into a series of curbside storm sewers and catch basins.

However, the VMC station is so much larger than the other stations, there’s simply too much water to direct across the road. Instead, we drain the water closer to the station.

We’ve built up the road surface so that its highest point is 1.2 metres away from the station.  Water draining off the station will be naturally directed back towards the station, running along the curb into a series of catchbasins and into the storm sewers.

We know that rain gutters and catchbasins aren’t the most glamourous features of the new station, but on a rainy day, we’ll all be glad they’re there.

our plants are born survivors

Friday, November 10th, 2017

City living in York Region provides lots of advantages, from all the great places to shop, eat and live, to entertainment options, and of course the increasing number of employers choosing to locate here. But one advantage country living usually has over city life is the abundance of green, natural spaces.

Fortunately, we’ve all come to understand and appreciate the value of trees and landscaping in our urban spaces. More greenery is good for our air quality, increases property values, and can lower energy costs. It makes our urban spaces feel more welcoming and human-scaled. Plus, it just looks good.

greenery a vivaNext priority

For all those reasons, introducing more greenery and landscaping to the communities where we build our projects has always been a vivaNext priority. Plants are chosen largely for their practicality. Median and boulevard planters filled with lovely, healthy blooms and foliage look gorgeous. Median planters filled with sad, struggling plants? Not so much.

roadside plantings face tough ride

The challenge in getting more of the former and less of the latter, is finding plants that can cope with the often-inhospitable environment associated with roadside plantings. Roadside plantings have to cope with heavy doses of wind, pollution, and winter road salt spray. We’ve made an incredible effort to give our plantings every possible advantage, from the design of the planters, to the amount and type of soil, to the actual choices of trees and plants.

Some of the plants selected for our first projects didn’t thrive as well as we hoped, so we redesigned our plant selections for the rapidways. Now we’re using an even tougher group of plants with a built-in advantage: they already grow wild in this area. Many of the new plants are those you’ll find in rural York Region, growing happily along roadsides and around old farmhouses.

going wild at the VMC

Some, like sumacs, grasses and Kentucky Coffee trees [which isn’t really a coffee tree, but has pods with seeds inside that early settlers used to make a coffee-like drink], are native to parts of Ontario. Others, such as rugosa roses and daylilies, might have been planted many years ago by humans, but they’re so tough, they don’t need any help once they get established and are happy growing wild.

The new flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees, including those we’ve planted in Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, will add a beautiful green note to the Viva rapidways and stations. And because we’ve chosen these natural-born survivors, they should be green and blooming for years to come.

world-class transit a lure for big business (like Amazon)

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

The hunt for Amazon’s second headquarters is on, and two sites in York Region – the new Vaughan Metropolitan Centre and Markham Centre – are vying for the coveted prize.

World-class transit systems could be their ticket to success in this competitive bid process. Cities and regions all over North America are competing for the golden opportunity worth a US$5 billion investment and up to 50,000 jobs.

One of the top considerations for Amazon is simply logistics. With an influx of up to 50,000 potential employees at HQ2, the question becomes: how is that going work? The RFP noted a core preference for the new site to have direct access to mass transit: rail, train, subway, bus.

“In weeks of speculation and showdowns, a lack of transit connectivity has been one of the great presumed disqualifiers [for the Amazon bid],” writes CityLab’s Laura Bliss in her article Amazon’s HQ2 Hunt is a Transit Reckoning.

Here in York Region, we’ve been busy planning a strong rapid transit system, but the plan was never just about transit connections. The rationale behind vivaNext’s bus rapid transit network has always been that the rapidways are just part of the puzzle; an investment in long-term prosperity that helps attract businesses and foster economic vitality in communities.

We’re building it, so they can come.

In the Toronto Region RFP response, maps showcase transit connections for each proposed location. For Markham Centre and Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, the picture looks good. We’re beginning to forge the kind of transit connections that count when it comes time to move the masses.

The first subway is coming to our Region later this year with the TTC Line 1 extension serving Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. Three rapidways are up and running, including one serving the tech corridor in Markham Centre and a segment on Highway 7 East in Vaughan. Combine that with YRT/Viva buses and GO Transit, and we have great transit connections that are ready to serve the likes of Amazon, and other big businesses on the move.

So Amazon, if you want to come, our rapidways are ready for you! And take note, better transit systems ultimately translate into better quality of life. Employees spend less time getting where they need to be, and more time being where they want to be.

Whether at home or at work, that’s time well spent.

Read more about the Canadian bids for Amazon:

Premier backs bids for Amazon HQ

Amazon HQ2 would ‘fundamentally alter’ potential Canadian city candidates

bridge expansion >> driving piles and pouring piers

Friday, August 25th, 2017

When you go under a bridge, what do you see? Huge concrete columns – piers – that support it. The five-metre expansion of the bridge on Highway 7 West over Highway 400 is becoming fully visible as the new piers are completed. In the photo above you can see the three completed piers and crews pouring the concrete cap for the fourth.

Each one of these piers is held up with a set of nine piles. Piles are long poles driven straight down, until they reach a surface solid enough to hold everything above. In this case, the piles are each nine metres long.

In the photo, the tall piece of equipment beside the west abutment wall is the pile driver, which is – as you’d expect – used to drive the piles into the ground.

On top of the pile-supported-piers, there will be bridge footings, girders, and a wider deck to make room for cars and trucks – as well as buses on new vivaNext dedicated rapidway lanes and a multi-use path for pedestrians and cyclists.

While it’s true that piers are just a part of the bridge, the bridge is part of a road, which is part of a rapid transit system, which connects people to where they need to go.

Next time you go under a bridge, look at the piers that support it, and the engineering and construction that went into them.

We’re building rapid transit, and along the way making infrastructure – built to last.


For information on ongoing vivaNext projects, be sure to subscribe to email updates, and follow us on Twitter. Questions or comments? Comment below or email us at


what’s gravity & slope got to do with it?

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

While we’re building the rapidway projects, it’s not unusual for us to be talking a lot about retaining walls. If you’ve ever wondered why so much of our work seems to involve retaining walls, the answer can be summed up in two words: gravity and slope.

Simply put, retaining walls prevent soil from sliding down a slope. If a slope is very gradual as you might see on a lawn or wide flowerbed, for the most part the soil and earth pretty much stays put. But where there is a slope over a short distance that creates even a difference in grade, the force of gravity will make the soil slide downwards.

stopping soil slippage

The steeper the slope, the more likely it is that the soil will slide. If you have a lawn that’s even a few centimetres higher than an adjacent driveway or sidewalk, you’ll know that without some kind of edging, eventually the dirt will flow down onto the pavement.

Retaining walls are like edging; they’re structures that keep the soil in place where grades need to change within a short distance. And retaining walls can be short or high. For example, a curb is essentially a very short retaining wall.

where retaining walls fit in on the rapidway

In many stretches along our rapidway construction zones, the adjacent land is either higher or lower than the roadway – in some cases the difference is only a few centimetres, in others it’s a metre or more.

Because we’re widening the road, that difference in grade level now has to be made up over a shorter horizontal distance, making the slope steeper than it was before. In areas where the resulting grade difference between the road and the land slope is very steep, a retaining wall is needed to keep the soil in place.

where design is king

Some of our retaining walls are essentially high curbs; others are high structures requiring handrails and complex foundations.

Every one of our rapidway segments has a significant number of retaining walls, each requiring its own design, approvals and construction process. In all cases, retaining wall construction takes place once utilities have been moved out of the way, and needs to be finished before road widening can be started.

With so many retaining walls forming part of the new streetscape, design considerations are of major importance. A lot of effort goes into ensuring that the new retaining walls contribute to the aesthetics of the streetscape as well as be functional.

Different materials and finishes are used for different walls, from pre-formed wall blocks similar to what you’d use in your own garden, to poured concrete with decorative exterior designs.  Design approaches vary depending on how high the wall is, what kind of foundation it requires, and what it is adjacent to. And if the wall or adjacent slope is especially steep and the wall is next to a sidewalk, it will also get a specially designed handrail.

So the next time you see a bulletin advising about retaining wall work, think of gravity and slopes, and you’ll know that’s why we’re building these additional structures.

For information on ongoing vivaNext projects, be sure to subscribe to email updates, and follow us on Twitter. Questions or comments? Comment below or email us at

the expansion of the Highway 400 bridge on Highway 7 West begins

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Many of you have already noticed the work that has begun on Highway 7 West at the bridge over Highway 400, so here’s an overview of the components of the newest mega-feat of engineering that you’ll see happening over the next few years.

The project is part of the Highway 7 West rapidway project in Woodbridge-Vaughan and it will include expanding the bridge – with the new segment added to the north side – by approximately 5 metres.

New piers

Construction includes four new piers to support the expansion, which means new foundations, footing and forms. With multiple lanes above and below, this is a complicated project and safety is paramount for both the travelling public and the workers on site.

Huge girder lift

In September, the first piece of a gigantic girder will be lifted into place. This girder, which is needed to support the expansion of the bridge, will be installed in five pieces.

Multi-use path and rapidway

What makes this project especially remarkable, is that it will not only include dedicated red-asphalt bus lanes, but a pedestrian and cycling path will be constructed in the centre of the bridge between the bus rapidway lanes. Once complete, the bridge will provide roadway and connections for all types of transportation modes.

Realigned ramps

That’s not all. In addition, two of the ramps on the east side of Highway 400 will be realigned in order to accommodate potential future development. And to accommodate the waterway conditions in the area, new culverts will be built under the new ramps.

You’ll be hearing much more about this massive undertaking as time goes on. Next month, we’ll look more closely at what’s involved in expanding the bridge itself – think piers, pile drivers and parapets!


For information on ongoing vivaNext projects, be sure to subscribe to email updates, and follow us on Twitter. Questions or comments? Comment below or email us at