Connecting Toronto's Core: The PATH

June 29, 2017


In a country known for its colder temperatures, Canada's major cities have to innovate to create liveable and exciting settings to attract residents, visitors and businesses from abroad. As Canada's largest municipality, Toronto was early in recognizing this, and created PATH. As the largest underground shopping complex not only in the country, but also in the world, PATH has 371,600 square metres of retail space, and a length of over 30 kilometres. It connects over 50 buildings including 1,200 shops and services, eight subways and more. In 1988, Gottschalk+Ash Toronto and Keith Muller+Associates accepted the challenge of creating an overarching brand and signage system for this underground labyrinth. The intuitive wayfinding and strong identity that the team created for PATH changed the entire landscape of the city and enabled Toronto to truly become a "City for All Seasons".

By using different fonts for each letter of the PATH, the identity represents the excitement of the downtown core, while the colours correspond to specific directions and were picked up in a compass rose design used to orient walkers. Every letter in the PATH logo is also contained in a square, the same way each building on the map is inside a square, representing waypoints on a route. On signage, a durable yet beautiful porcelain-finished enamel was chosen to avoid vandalism and damage.

The map had to be flexible due to a constantly growing and changing downtown core. Considering how people actually use maps, the design team realized that people usually turn them in the direction they are headed. Instead of giving all large maps in the system the usual north straight-up orientation, the perspective of the maps were shifted according to the direction the user was actually facing. The PATH system is itself a destination for locals and tourists alike; it continues to expand and shape the city's underground landscape.