This past Saturday, September 26th, the Third Not-So-Annual Harvest Festival took place in Thorncliffe Park. Hosted by not-for-profit Diasporic Genius (DG), the festival featured a pop-up Women’s Cultural Café, an initiative of the Thorncliffe Action Group (TAG). Diasporic Genius, TAG, and ERA Architects collaborated to design, build, and run this dynamic pop-up café.
Over the course of four meetings, ERA and collaborators brainstormed ideas for the Cultural Café. ERA joined several Story Circle Sessions, an initiative of Diasporic Genius to connect neighbours, communities, and fellow citizens through the act of storytelling. During these meetings, the Thorncliffe Action Group guided the planning process, setting the priorities for the design. Ultimately, the design process focused on place-making—inventing a design to complement and respond to the community and the harvest theme of the festival.
Together, DG, TAG, and ERA chose a site for the café, adjacent to the major pedestrian route in RV Burgess Park, and at the very heart of the Thorncliffe Park community. The team creatively used a cluster of trees as the natural boundaries of the café and as a structural framework for a fabric canopy, which formed the focal point of the design. Vibrant lengths of red, yellow, and orange fabric, up to 15 metres long, draped over the trees—illuminated at night by strings of light. The harvest colours and flowing fabrics were designed to reference the sari, telling a story about identity and cultural heritage so integral to the Women’s Cultural Café. The fabric also took on new meaning as gathering, eating, playing, and drumming took place beneath its billowing expanse.
As the night drew to an end, the process of disassembling the Café became an unexpected participatory event: lines of children, excited to take home the balloons that adorned the canopy, offered impromptu help tidying up.
The Harvest Festival was a great success, with its lively cross-cultural music, Women’s Cultural Café, harvest-themed Story Circles, arts and crafts, and communal drumming circles.
ERA is pleased to have had the opportunity to collaborate with such wonderful organizations. ERA members worked primarily as facilitators, helping bring to life the space imagined by the members of TAG. In the spirit of Diasporic Genius’ mandate to ‘bring stories into form,’ the Cultural Café was the formalization of a set of stories—brought together through a spirited collaboration, and transformed into its own Harvest Festival tale.
Special thanks to David Buchbinder and the Diasporic Genius team for bringing ERA into the conversation, to the Thorncliffe Action Group for envisioning and executing an incredible Cultural Café, to Arber Makri for his design and building expertise, and to Ananna Rafa for her skillful photography. Thanks also to ERAers who came together to help design the Cultural Café: Rui Felix, Clint Langevin, Ya’el Santopinto, and Tatum Taylor. Last but not least, thanks to those who volunteered to help with construction: Will Cavendish, Alexis Cohen, Rui Felix, Keltie McLaren, Ya’el Santopinto, Tatum Taylor, and Max Yuristy.