Toronto and architecture have never been on the best of terms, but now it seems all is forgiven. Indeed, the city is on the verge of an architectural renaissance that will forever change the way we think about it.
Suddenly, many of the most important practitioners on the planet are working in Toronto. The list includes such celebrated names as Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Norman Foster and Will Alsop as well as some of the best local firms, especially Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB) and Diamond Schmitt Architects.
Their projects are at different stages of development, but within a year or two, most will be complete. By the time the construction dust settles, Toronto’s cultural infrastructure will have been entirely remade. Some of the city’s grandest and most venerable institutions will have been transformed into 21st-century landmarks. Though most of these projects are additions or expansions to existing buildings, some will be brand new, designed and built from the ground up.
So far, the most spectacular recent arrival on the Toronto skyline is Alsop’s “tabletop” at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) on McCaul Street. This remarkable structure consists of a striking two-storey rectangle suspended about 40 metres above ground on brightly coloured steel legs. Alsop, an English designer who has established himself as one of the most original architects in the world, devised the tabletop as a way to add room to the school while freeing up the space below for a small garden. No other building in the city has contributed as much to the creation of a new image of Toronto.
Then there’s Libeskind’s redesign of the Royal Ontario Museum, among Canada’s most respected institutions. The scheme is well underway and the ROM will reopen in phases starting in December. Libeskind has reinvented the museum as a series of enormous “crystals” that will rise dramatically five storeys from the street. These partially transparent forms will house, among other artifacts, the ROM’s dinosaur collection, which passers- by will be able to see as they walk along Bloor Street.
Meanwhile, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, just around the corner from OCAD, the hoarding is going up in anticipation of a Gehry-designed remake that will completely alter the AGO inside and out. Though this won’t be a typical Gehry—no curved titanium surfaces here—it will rank among his most elegant and thoughtful works. The new front façade of the gallery will become an exercise in transparency, with the upper level transformed into a new sculpture court.
Over at Queen Street and University Avenue, one of Toronto’s most important intersections, the Four Seasons Performing Arts Centre is fast taking shape. Designed by Diamond Schmitt, this modest but thoroughly urban structure will be the city’s first opera house. Though not as grand as one might expect, it will fill a deep-seated cultural need. Toronto has been actively pursuing an opera house since the early 1980s and now that the dream has come true, no one’s complaining that the hall’s too humble. Besides, Toronto is a city that values thrift.
Also in the works are major projects at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, the Royal Conservatory of Music and the National Ballet School of Canada. All of these were designed by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg, a firm that is single-handedly transforming Toronto architecture into something more sophisticated than anything the city has seen since the 19th century.
The other site of major change is the downtown campus of the University of Toronto. The much-delayed expansion of Canada’s largest post-secondary institution finally got underway about four or five years ago and since then many new buildings of quality have appeared. Included are a number of residences and faculty buildings designed by such luminaries as Foster and Behnisch, and Behnisch & Partner of Stuttgart, Germany. The main buildings, the Leslie L. Dan Pharmaceutical Building (Foster) and the Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research (Behnisch), are marvellous lantern-like towers that bring the U of T happily into the modern age. Both are on College Street west of University Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Toronto.
Even the Toronto Police are getting in on the action; just last year the force unveiled its magnificent new 51 Division headquarters. Located at the corner of Parliament Street and Eastern Avenue, in a run-down area long given over to heavy industry, the building incorporates a very early 20th-century gas rending plant along with new construction. The result is a structure that reaches out to both the past and the present, reconciling them seamlessly.
The new 51 Division is a short walk from the former Gooderham & Worts Distillery, which reopened in 2003 as Toronto’s newest cultural destination. The unique site, which contains more than 40 intact industrial buildings from the 1800s, has been cleaned up and reinvented as an entertainment district complete with art galleries, theatres, restaurants and bars.
At a time when people are hungrier than ever for authenticity, architectural excellence is increasingly important to a city’s fortunes. Not only is architecture the mother of the arts, it has become one of the most popular cultural pursuits of the age. Already these projects have brought Toronto to the attention of a wider audience and influenced attitudes towards it. First we change the city, then it changes us.
Christopher Hume is the architecture critic and urban affairs columnist for the Toronto Star. A passionate advocate for the city, Hume has been recognized by the Ontario Architects’ Association, received four National Newspaper Award nominations and an award from Heritage Toronto.“Architecture is the most public of all arts. You can’t hide it, for better or worse. We live with architecture everyday. It says something even if we don’t intend for it to say anything.” —William Thorsell, Director and C.E.O. Royal Ontario Museum
“Toronto is not nearly as beautiful as it should be, given the wealth and cultural muscle that is everywhere. I’ve always found it hard to square, especially when driving in from the airport after being somewhere else: the streets all look so shabby. In a way, it’s perversely charming, like the really cool and smart kid who dresses like a dork. I wouldn’t want to lose all the grittiness, but really, this ought to be a much more spectacular place.” —Mark Kingwell, Professor of Philosophy, U of T, author, social critic
(The Flatiron Building)
49 Wellington St. E. completed 1892
Architect David Roberts Jr., commissioned
by George Gooderham
The building’s iconic wedge-shape is a clever solution to the angle at which Wellington and Front streets intersect. A landmark of the downtown streetscape, the Flatiron Building, which pre-dates New York’s Flatiron Building by 10 years, was the gothic preserve of magnate George Gooderham, allowing the Gooderham & Worts Distillery heir to survey his empire. A tunnel beneath Wellington Street also provided secret passage to the Bank of Toronto across the street, of which he was then president. Currently the most expensive office space in the city, the Flatiron cost $18,000 to build. Though the most photographed “face” in the city, don’t forget to check out the back: artist Derek Besant’s brilliant trompe l’oeil playfully addresses the site’s iconic status.
Water Filtration Plant
2701 Queen st. e.
completed 1941, enlarged 1958
H.G. Acres Ltd. and Gore and Storrie Ltd.
The imposing art-deco fortress has been called a “Palace of Purification” by author Michael Ondaatje and “the Greta Garbo of public architecture” by writer John Bentley Mays. The structure’s practical purpose—converting water from Lake Ontario into drinking water (no small feat)—is inscribed in the images of turbines and engines that dot the exterior’s decorative frieze. Inside the dramatic gallery find an elaborately adorned 18-foot-tall nickel-plated timepiece.
“The R.C. Harris Building: I admire the sheer ambition, that something so practical takes such a magnificent form.” —Matthew Teitelbaum, Director and CEO, Art Gallery of Ontario
The Toronto Dominion Centre
66 Wellington St. W., Completed 1967-9
Mies van der Rohe with John B. Parkin Associates
and Bregman + Hamann
Van der Rohe’s minimalist towers reduce the skyscraper to its basic elements. The foundations of construction, steel frame supports and exposed I-beams affixed to the structural columns, articulate the grid-like design rather than provide merely support. Bronze-tinted glass panels put the style in the towers’ International Style, adding a dash of glamorous flash.
Arranged in asymmetrical composition, Van der Rohe’s elegant design extends to three buildings—the Royal Trust Tower, the banking pavilion, and the TD Bank Tower. Over the years, the buildings have inspired complementary additions: the Canadian Pacific Tower, the Maritime Life Tower, and the Ernst and Young Tower, the latter incorporating the art deco exterior of the old Toronto Stock Exchange building.
“The TD Centre. I look at it and think that they did it so right. Mies van der Rohe was so right. As a public space it is so right.” —William Thorsell, C.E.O. and Director Royal Ontario Museum
The Royal Bank Plaza
200 Bay St., completed 1976
The Webb Zerafa Menkes Housden Partnership
The two triangular towers, 41 storeys and 26 storeys, that comprise the plaza owe their luminescent exterior—the towers sparkle brilliantly at any time of year, and in any weather—to the fact that each window contains a layer of insulation-friendly 24-karat gold. With at least 14, 000 windows that works out to $1 million. The exterior’s mirror-like surface is further enhanced by the zigzag pattern configuration of the towers, allowing the buildings to reflect myriad colours and images.
“The Financial district. It reads power—the whole area.” —Joeffer Caoc, fashion designer
Robarts Research Library
130 St. George St., University of Toronto
Mathers and Haldenby with
Warner, Burns, Toan and Lunde
A muscular monument to the Brutalist trend that characterized institutional architecture of the late ’60s and ’70s—a response itself to the glass curtain wall that had predominated up to that point. The Library’s beton brut (unfinished concrete) face reflects this no-frills style. The third largest university library in North America after Harvard and Yale, Robarts represents 100,000 cubic metres of concrete. Rumour has it that that the library is sinking slowly as the weight of the books—nearly five million at last count—was not accounted for in the design.
New City Hall
100 Queen St. W.
Hungry for a controversial architectural statement, Torontonians voted down the proposal for a new City Hall that reflected a traditional style. The winner of an international design competition, Finnish architect Viljo Revell’s high-concept design envisions the buildings as “the eye of the city.” The two semi-circular towers forming the upper and lower eyelids, and the circular council chamber representing the pupil.
“We don’t have the historical or cultural continuity, let alone the elegant architecture that these cities have. Frankly, Toronto, is a new, brash, rag-tag place—a big mix of periods and styles.” —Lawrence Richards, Faculty of Architecture, University of Toronto
“Parts of downtown are good, especially the area around the TD Centre and the Santiago Calatrava intervention in BCE Place. But there is a vast amount of what Rem Koolhaas calls ‘junkspace’ in Toronto. Too much context, not enough monument. Low-rise nothingness. We’ve allowed a potentially beautiful city to become plain at the centre and positively ugly at the periphery.” —Mark Kingwell, University of Toronto
Sharp Centre for Design,
Ontario College of Art & Design
100 McCaul St., completed 2004
Will Alsop Architects with Robbie,
Young & Wright Architects Inc.
Vividly progressive—roughly akin to the distance travelled from the rudimentary grids of Atari to the 3-D dynamics of PlayStation2—Will Alsop’s Sharp Centre for Design brings sophisticated graphic design to the Toronto landscape. Twelve vibrantly painted steel leg columns, each weighing 9 tonnes, hold the Faculty of Design 26 metres above the existing college. The rectangular, “table-top” structure is clad with a playful black and white pixellated skin that blurs scale and perception—just try to count the windows. In tribute to the fact that a city wears its best face at night, the design privileges night vision, the legs seeming to disappear in the dark and the table-top appearing to hover without effort.
“I’m told that tourism since OCAD has gone up 2.3%—I’m proud of that. It means people are coming to Toronto because there is something to see. Can you imagine if the whole of the waterfront had, not OCAD look-alikes, but was OCAD in spirit? It would be extraordinary.” —Will Alsop, Will Alsop Architects
“I want to see colour where it is least expected. Colour we work with is contextual. OCAD is very subversive and yet very respectful.” —Claude Cormier, Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagistes Inc.
“Toronto has some really grey buildings. People don’t come to Toronto to look at the architecture. There is a neglect to architecture. Toronto is like New York. It’s a vibrant city with a powerful civic message; it’s growing and vibrant. The city is not static but the architecture implies that.” —Daniel Libeskind, Studio Daniel Libeskind
University of Toronto, St. George Campus
The University has been engaged in its most ambitious expansion for nearly a decade now, bringing in the likes of Pritzer Award-winning Thom Mayne and English architect Norman Foster to raise the profile of the nearly 160-acre campus.
Terrence Donnelly Centre
for Cellular and Biomolecular Research
150 College St., to be complete fall 2005
Behnisch, Behnisch and Partner with Architects Alliance
This 12-storey transparent box elevated above a public concourse is part of an attempt to heighten the University’s presence at the intersection of College Street and Queens Park Crescent. An informal, open space for the promotion of “cross-disciplinary contact”—academic-speak for socializing—the interior features interior garden spaces that run several storeys high.
Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building
144 College St., to be complete late 2005
Foster and Partners
with Moffat Kinoshita Architects Inc.
The glittering structure marks a decisive break from its tweedy surroundings. The transparent glass base, from which the rest of the building blossoms, provides students with a natural-light-filled atrium. Two iridescent silver steel pods “float” in the middle of the atrium and will eventually contain a 60-seat classroom and faculty lounge.
60 Harbord St., completed 2000
Stephen Teeple architects
and Thom Mayne of Morphosis
Best known for its dramatic two-storey steel and glass signage boldly proclaiming “University of Toronto” as it dangles over the busy intersection of Harbord Street and Spadina Avenue. The external facade of this hulking, rectangular apartment block is dynamically composed as a series of shifting planes and screens, counterbalancing its weight with contrasting textures that wrap and engage with one another. Privileging interiority—perhaps in concession to the investigative endeavors of the more than 400 students inside—a communal outdoor courtyard forms the building’s pastoral centre.
Bata Shoe Museum
327 Bloor St. W., completed 1994
Moriyama & Teshima Architects
The Bata Shoe Museum’s limestone and glass exterior takes the responsibility of marrying form and function seriously: Architect Raymond Moriyama fashioned an angular shoebox-shaped design in order to house the museum’s extensive shoe collection. Exterior walls slanted at a 33.5° angle enhance the “container” concept, while the cantilevered roof, which appears to be resting on the structure, suggests a lid resting on an open box.
“The next ten years in architecture–after the glitzy stuff—the challenge will be to represent the essence of the place you’re building in.” —Claude Cormier, Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagistes Inc.
“It is true that most North American cities are incredibly ugly cities. This is not something that afflicts Toronto alone, but I ask myself, so what? So most North American cities are ugly. Does that mean we have to be ugly? This is something that is within our power to change.” —John MacFarlane, editor Toronto Life Magazine
“The notion of Toronto reinventing itself probably shows when looking at the city. The city tends to be a hodgepodge of styles.” —Bill Douglas, graphic designer, editor Coupe Magazine
“I think we have to bring architectural-awareness programmes into schools. These kids are the future of our city, and making them understand what constitutes great design can only make for a more beautiful future for us all.” —Jeanne Beker, host Fashion TV, author
325 Bay St.
construction to begin late 2005
Zeidler Partnership Architects
Donald Trump wants to leave his super-sized thumbprint on the Toronto skyline with a 70-storey, 1000-foot-tall highrise—potentially the tallest mixed-use residential and hotel building in Canada. Trump’s plan will include 260 luxury accommodations, five Trump Executive suites and 109 condo residences. Penthouses will boast up to 28-foot-high ceilings, grand staircases and spectacular foyers. Would you expect anything less?
Royal Ontario Museum
100 Queens Park Cr.
to be complete 2007
Daniel Libeskind Studio in a joint venture
with Bregmann and Hamann Architects
Described as a “crystal locked in limestone,” Libeskind’s sharp excrescences overlay and extend from the existing site. The additions will provide the gallery with six new galleries, and will allow glimpses of the gallery contents to be seen from the street. The fourth floor galleries, hanging 110 feet over Bloor Street, will feature fifty foot high ceilings and will house the museum’s textile and costume collections, which up to now have been languishing in storage.
“We want to be inviting to the public – to be a big Yes instead of a big No.” —William Thorsell, C.E.O and Director Royal Ontario Museum
“When I saw the crystals at the ROM I saw the world in a new way. Everything evolves from crystal. Even humans evolved out of DNA.” —Daniel Libeskind, Studio Daniel Libeskind
The Art Gallery Of Ontario
317 Dundas St. W., to be complete 2008
Frank Gehry, Gehry International Architects
Frank Gehry’s vision for the Art Gallery of Ontario is both an invitation and a restoration. The 70 foot high, 600 foot long glass and titanium façade opens up the street to the activity within the gallery. More important, however, it repositions Walker Court—the institution’s original centre—as the gallery’s magnificent entryway. Once restored, the entrance will feature a grand spiral staircase and luminescent atrium.
“Robert Fulford wrote about the fact that Toronto used to be a private city. There was nothing happening on the street, so we built the kind of buildings that allow you to huddle. And now, thanks to immigration, we’ve outgrown that. There’s more street life now and we want to let that life in and we want the people on the street to know what’s inside.” —John MacFarlane, editor Toronto Life Magazine
“We began with three main goals: To create a transparent institution that opens to the street. To open up the gallery internally. To create greater coherency within the gallery. To create a justification and a flow to the galleries that makes sense. To create beautiful spaces for the experience of art.” —Matthew Teitelbaum, C.E.O. and Director AGO
The Four Seasons Centre
Corner of University Avenue
and Queen Street, to be complete Fall 2006
Diamond and Schmitt Architects Inc.
Representing the city’s commitment to culture, Canada’s first “purpose-built” opera house occupies an entire city block. Investment in the best possible acoustics underlies the design. Arranged in the traditional European horseshoe form, the theatre’s sound system is more powerful than a locomotive and each seat (there are 2, 000) has been computer tested for the best possible sitelines.
Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art
111 Queens Park Cr.
to be complete fall 2005
Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg
The museum’s re-design features a reconfiguration of the existing space and the addition of three new galleries—providing an additional 10,000 square feet—for temporary exhibits, the Asian Ceramic exhibit and the Contemporary Ceramics exhibit. The addition is crowned by the third-floor, glass pavillion with its panoramic view from the outdoor roof terraces.
“Buildings are civic in nature. They tell you a story about a city. The history of a city at a certain time. There should be an evolution of the spirit of the people.” —Daniel Libeskind, Studio Daniel Libeskind “Toronto is a work in progress. Its citizens are evolving and its urban fabric is also evolving.” —Brigitte Shim, Shim-Sutcliffe ArchitectsREVAMPING OLD FAVES
Toronto hasn’t always had the best track record when it comes to preserving our architectural heritage. Thankfully things appear to be changing and the past few years have seen the restoration of the oh-so-cool salon-style Drake Hotel, and the renewal of the all-embracing, pedestrian-friendly Distillery District.
The Drake Hotel
(1150 Queen St. W.,
The richly refurbished Drake Hotel provides a stylish haven for Queen Street West’s army of jaded scenesters and the people who want to hang out with them. Meshing an array of cultural influences and design concepts—think Rorschach inkblot test inspired walls and secondhand vinyl sofas. Undergoing innumerable incarnations since first opening its doors in 1890, the hotel lay in general disrepair until falling into the hands of current owner Jeff Stober and au courant design firm 3rd Uncle in 2001. Two years and $6 million later yielded spectacular results, including the restoration of 110-year-old floors.
Stylish new hotel rooms or “crash pads,” as the hotel calls them, are fully equipped with contemporary touches such as sleek bathroom fixtures and LCD TV screens. Creative lighting fixtures, kitschy leather-pile rugs, gold frames and a tasteful mix of colours adorn the ceilings and walls. New life was given to existing objects, creating funky and unique items while inspiring new pieces such as see-through ottomans that expose thick box springs.
The Gladstone Hotel
(1214 Queen St. W.,
Just up the street, intense renovations are still ongoing at Toronto’s oldest hotel in operation, The Gladstone Hotel. This 1889 Richardsonian Romanesque-style hotel is another one of Queen Street’s legendary hipster haunts. Under the direction of Christina Zeidler, 51 rooms, 15 of which were designed by local artists, are set to reopen in June. The hotel is also in the process of restoring its original hand-operated elevator. Amidst the hotel’s massive restoration, the charming art-deco bar will be untouched.
The Distillery District
(55 Mill St., 416-364-1177)
An ideal destination for escaping Toronto’s car- and people-infested streets, the pedestrian-only Distillery District provides a distinct cultural experience within the span of its 44 Victorian-era buildings.
The Distillery District, which opened in May 2003 after extensive renovations, is welcoming several new additions to its expansive cultural repertoire. Coming soon is a new theatre complex, a joint venture between George Brown College Theatre School and the Soulpepper Theatre Company, the complex will include seven stages, including an outdoor theatre.
The Stone Distillery Building, the oldest building onsite, is part of a multi-million dollar renovation to accommodate new cultural tenants and galleries. Renowned Canadian designer Bruce Mau will be lending his talents to the design of one of the spaces.
THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE
When we asked the city’s tastemakers what building inspired them most in the city, Finnish architect Viljo Revell’s design for New City Hall emerged as the undisputed favourite. Perceptions of the sci-fi structure, in their own words.
“City Hall is a sculptural structure. It was an agent of change when it was built. It made the statement that Toronto was open to change and new ideas. Great cities are always open to new ideas and change.” —William Thorsell, C.E.O. and Director, Royal Ontario Museum
“City Hall speaks of an optimism in the role of the city at the time. I remember seeing a picture or model of it in my grade eight math book and dreaming about wanting to live in the city. It’s iconic. We don’t dream about cities anymore.” —Kim Storey, Storey & Brown Architects
“The ‘new’ City Hall is unquestionably ‘TORONTO’ to me. I remember seeing it go up as a kid, and thinking it was the most unusual, “space-age” building I’d ever seen. It certainly has always spoke of the future to me… and the fact that it houses our municipal government offices has always been inspiring to me as well. This is the place where changes happen, where the faith in the future of our city must lie. I just think it’s striking and beautiful.” —Jeanne Beker, host of Fashion Television
“Toronto has lots of great architecture … I love new City Hall. I was astonished by it when it was first built. What a beautiful building.” —Daniel Libeskind, Studio Daniel Libeskind
“People must’ve thought it came from outer space when it was first built. As a unit it is cohesive. It’s an impressive sight whatever you think of it. It is not necessarily utilitarian—if you work on the east side and have a meeting with someone on the west side it’s hard to reach the west side. But it is a pretty cool building.” —Stephen Bulger, Stephen Bulger Gallery
“A city has only one city hall, and it should be a great monument and symbol. In this regard, Toronto was served incredibly well in the late 50s when the Finnish architect Revell won the international competition that gave us our incredible city hall—a building that the world talked about (and still does). But not every structure in a city needs to be so powerful or bold. Some buildings just have to be “good citizens” and quietly do their job, such as the Bahen Centre at the University of Toronto; or Queen’s Quay Terminal at Harbourfront. City Hall, the Bahen, Queen’s Quay—these are all very “Toronto” responses in different ways at different moments in time.” —Lawrence Richards, Faculty of Architecture, University of Toronto.