Visitor Centre Complements Natural World Wonder

By Johnson Chou

Situated at the precipice of Niagara Falls, the Table Rock Welcome Centre is a ‘hub’ that functions in a supporting role to visitors’ appreciation of the awe-inspiring, cascading Niagara River as it plunges over a cliff of dolostone and shale. Comprised of a central circulation hall, retail spaces, an upscale restaurant and fast casual dining, the project is inspired by the rich cultural history of the site and the beauty of the surrounding natural environment. Consistent with Niagara Parks’ core values of sustainability, education, inspiration and innovation, the challenge was to seek a balance against the prosaic needs of a famed tourist destination, and elevate and represent those core values through an overt sense of reverence, deference and authenticity.

Design Concept
Envisioned by the client as a ‘portal’ through which one engages with the essence of Niagara Falls, the design concept is to create spatial narratives with metaphorical forms and details to engender an elevated, authentic and memorable experience.

Large format porcelain tiles that resemble cleft slate were used in the retail space along with darker tiles that look like natural stone. Photo courtesy Ben Rahn/A-Frame Photography.

Circulation Hall
‘River,’ the main circulation hall, flows through the welcome centre, connecting the attractions, retail and hospitality components of the building, including the main entry, Table Rock House Shop, Table Rock Market and Journey Behind the Falls. The ceiling, illuminated in a soothing light blue, is composed to be evocative of flowing, rushing water, echoing the stream of pedestrian movement. As in the restaurant overlooking the falls, coloured lighting mirrors the nightly coloured illumination of the world wonder, which has become iconic in itself.

The interior finishes were selected to reference outdoor surroundings, bringing them inside. It was desired that flooring have visual movement and texture, like cleft or textured natural stone. Large format Silver/K-Slate porcelain tiles from Centura were used extensively, paired with the darker Spazzolata Mat/STI Piase from Stone Tile. K-Slate has more texture, resembling cleft slate, while STI Piase is rich in its depth of colour, punctuated by movement evoked by graphic ‘veining.’

Dine-in Restaurant
Table Rock House Restaurant was envisioned to amplify the dramatic, immediate and expansive view of Niagara Falls. The entrance sequence was reconfigured to visually connect the guest with a prolonged view of the falls as they land on the dining level via an extended ramp. The radial configuration of the dining and bar areas result in every seat having a dramatic view. Flooring finishes were selected for their aquatic imagery and natural appearance. The carpeting specified was Interface Caspian and Pacific/Net Effects One for their beautiful patterns and colouring that are evocative of textured waves supported with impressive durability. Porcelain surfaces included the specification of Moka/K-Slate on the entrance ramp and bar areas, again with the aggressive texture underscoring the references to the environment.

Johnson Chou is founder and principal of Toronto-based Johnson Chou Inc., an interdisciplinary design practice encompassing architectural and industrial design, furniture, interiors, graphic identity and corporate communications — a body of work characterized by conceptual explorations of narrative, transformation and multiplicity. Johnson can be reached at [email protected].

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