Khristel Stecher (Courtesy of Winter Stations Design Competition)

A Toronto design competition invites an unlikely urban activity—going to the beach during the chilly off-season.

Beaches and winters: It’s almost as uncomfortable a pairing as humid summers and overcrowded subway cars. What could possibly make going to the beach fun when your everyday outfit requires thermal padding?

Maybe a Japanese-inspired foot-spa that keeps your feet warm as you sip on some hot chocolate. In a bid to make the brutal chilly season more palatable and enjoyable for Toronto’s city dwellers, a design competition unveiled eight winning art installations along the shoreline of Lake Ontario last week. In its third year, the Winter Stations Design competition featured a range of creative distractions to make the beach an unlikely source of fun.

Keep your feet wet and warm in this Japanese-inspired foot spa, designed by Asuka Kono and Rachel Salmela. (Khristel Stecher)
Like a foot-only hot tub. (Khristel Stecher)

The public art installations along Kew, Scarborough, and Balmy Beaches effectively refresh the idea of the lakefront—not necessarily a first choice when the weather calls for fuzzy socks instead of flip flops. “It’s thrilling to see the city truly embrace Winter Stations,” says Ted Merrick, the Winter Stations co-founder, adding that the competition has been a hit among urban dwellers who turned up on the day of the reveal.

This structure, by Dionisios Vriniotis, Rob Shostak, Dakota Wares-Tani, and Julie Forand, uses mirrored surfaces to reflect an image of buoys bobbing in the waves. (Khristel Stecher )
Consisting of cages filled with bottles, this installation from a team at the University of Waterloo refers to waste from plastic consumption. (Khristel Stecher)

This year, the design submissions came from professional architects and designers from around the world, as well as from students studying at University of Waterloo, University of Toronto, and Humber College School of Media Studies & IT, School of Applied Technology.

The creative installations all have one thing in common: They let visitors escape the dreariness of urban winters in the northern city. One suspends 41 fir trees in midair to transport visitors to an imagined forest. Another installation draws inspiration from Canada’s growing migratory population. Drawing on the message-in-a-bottle motif, recycled bottles make up the structure and recall the power of shared anecdotes.

Constructed from recycled bottles, the installation by Mario García, from Barcelona, and Andrea Govi, from Milan, draws from messages tossed into the sea. (Khristel Stecher)
The design from Montreal’s studio PERCH hangs a forest of firs upside down. (Khristel Stecher)

Many cities are trying to ramp up their winter cool quotient, by borrowing from the Danish concept of hygge, livening up sidewalks with quirky winter street lights, or redesigning snow collection with icy mountains of fun. Maybe the next winter trend could be going to the beach in February—and actually enjoying it.

The installations will be on view from February 21 through March 27.

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