Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Toronto City Hall
Toronto City Hall, by the architect Viljo Revell (1960 - 1965). Photo ©Darren Bradley
I recently went back to Toronto for a quick visit. My mother is from there and I spent many summers there as a kid (I know better than to visit in the winter). But I hadn't returned since the late 80s and the city has changed quite a bit. In fact, I barely recognized some neighborhoods. 

While there, I connected with my good friend (and architect) Steve. He was kind enough to spend his Saturday giving me the royal tour of some of Toronto's most significant architectural landmarks (some of which weren't there the last time I'd set foot in the city). 

The City Hall (above and below here) has always been one of my favorite buildings in Toronto. That saucer where the council chamber is located made quite an impression on me when I first saw it (and still does). 

Here's a picture of me with my father and brother visiting during one of my summers in Toronto. (probably 1983, judging by my brother's Cabbage Patch Kid... he's going to kill me for posting this.)
Photo ©Darren Bradley
In a testament to the city's progressive architectural tastes, the "new" Toronto City Hall was originally planned to be a very traditional, conservative, Beaux-Arts style building. But it was rejected by voters and a modernist tower was proposed in its stead. Alas, that design would not garner much support, either, even from other modern architects (Walter Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright were not likely to ever agree on much, but were both vocal critics of the project). The rejected design still saw the light of day, however, as it was later built as the Imperial Oil Building). 

So an international architecture contest was held in 1958 and a Finnish architect took the prize. Revell would die before its completion, so would never see his completed work. 

Toronto City Hall
Toronto City Hall, by the architect Viljo Revell (1960 - 1965). Several police crowd barricades MAY have been removed to get this shot. If the police are reading this, it was Steve's idea. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Sticking with the classic modernism for another minute or so, Toronto is also home to one of the largest Ludwig Mies van der Rohe projects in the world. The Toronto-Dominion Centre is huge. The design is classic Mies, complete with non-structural I-beams and bronze-tinted glass. 

Mies being Mies
Toronto-Dominion Centre by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Photo ©Darren Bradley
This place is absolutely enormous, with six towers and a bank pavilion that were all built between 1967 and 1991. There are more than 21,000 people working in this complex every day. It's mind-boggling. Anyway, my favorite part of this project is the banking pavilion. I love how the entire ceiling is completely unobstructed by walls or pillars inside. It's brilliant.

More Mies
Toronto-Dominion Centre by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Directly across the street is I.M. Pei's Toronto masterpiece, the stainless steel CIBC building (completed in 1972). I wanted to take some photos of it, too, but never got a chance (the light wasn't right when I was there). My aunt spent much of her career working in the CIBC building, and I have fond memories of visiting her there as a kid. I remember how much the building would rock in high winds, like a ship. I thought it was fun. Others, not so much. 

The next block over from these two classics, we have another, a bit more recent. Brookfield Place (formerly BCE Place, which doesn't quite roll off the tongue the same way) was designed by Santiago Calatrava. It includes a covered passage, the Allen Lambert Galleria...

Allen Lambert Galleria at BCE Place
Allen Lambert Galleria at Brookfield Place, by Santiago Calatrava. Photo ©Darren Bradley
As well as a covered atrium... 

Heritage Square at BCE Place
Brookfield Place, by Santiago Calatrava. Photo ©Darren Bradley
These were built between 1987 and 1992. Fans of Calatrava will recognize the designs, which predate the more well known Gare do Oriente in Lisbon, Portugal. 

Of course, starchitect and Toronto native son, Frank Gehry, is also represented now in the city with a major work. He took on the latest renovation of the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2004.
Art Gallery of Ontario
I really appreciated the toned down scale of the entrance to the AGO, which maintained proper scale to the traditional homes across the street. Photo ©Darren Bradley
I have to confess that I'm not really a fan of Gehry's work. Yes, the Bilbao Guggenheim was a seminal achievement, and his Walt Disney Hall redux is also nice (although I found the interior to be a bit disappointing). But his whole deconstructed post-modernism style is not really my thing. So I was skeptical when Steve insisted we see this project. I'm glad he did insist. I have to say that it really is quite good. I was very impressed and enjoyed the visit immensely. 
Art Gallery of Ontario
A serpentine wheelchair access ramp greets visitors at the entrance, hinting at the dramatic staircase that is just beyond.... Photo ©Darren Bradley
A staircase winds up to the upper levels, piercing the glass canopy enclosing the courtyard. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Art Gallery of Ontario
Photo ©Darren Bradley

Art Gallery of Ontario
Photo ©Darren Bradley

Art Gallery of Ontario
Photo ©Darren Bradley
Photo ©Darren Bradley
I see you. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Adjacent to this museum is the famous temple of post-modernism, the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), designed by Alsop Architects in 2004. Perhaps there is such a thing as karma, and nature and the gods were punishing me for all of the mean things I've said about PoMo in the past. Because right after I took this photo, my camera mysteriously fell off of its tripod head and landed, lens first, with a sickening crunch on the pavement. At first, I thought it was dead. The lens hood smashed into pieces and the outer ring of the lens was dented. Plus, my LCD screen was showing nothing but static. But it soon came back to life and even the lens still worked! So I escaped that one relatively easy. In any case, if the gods are listening, I'll say this is a VERY NICE BUILDING!

Ontario College of Art & Design
Ontario College of Art & Design, with the offices suspended over the neighborhood on stilts. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Of course, I also visited that other museum-remodeled-by-a-starchitect that the AGO/Gehry project is often compared to - the Royal Ontario Museum addition (called "The Crystal") by Daniel Libeskind. 

This museum looks very dramatic from the street - more so than the AGO. It was also the subject of controversy because its construction nearly bankrupted the ROM and went way over budget. A fair number of compromises and value engineering had to happen to finish the project. Inside, it's a bit of a disappointment that doesn't quite live up to the promise of the exterior - too many plain white walls, and the "Stair of Wonders" left me just to wonder what was so special about it.

The Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum
Apparently, the original design for this structure was to be all glass, but concerns about snow melt and urban avalanches meant coming up with an alternative that would channel the snow and melt it safely. Photo ©Darren Bradley
The Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum
Photo ©Darren Bradley
The Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum
This was one of the more interesting interior spaces inside the Crystal. Photo ©Darren Bradley
The Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum
Same space, seen from above... Photo ©Darren Bradley
The Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum

We also toured some of the new projects being constructed in the now gentrified Regent Park. This one is called the Daniels Spectrum. It's a community center, designed by Diamond Schmitt (who are everywhere in Toronto). 

Daniels Spectrum (aka Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre)
This building is part of that redevelopment effort, and contains several schools, community art facilities, and after-school and weekend youth programs. This is the back alley of that building. Photo ©Darren Bradley
We also stopped by Eaton Centre. This mall in the middle of the downtown core was heavily criticized at the time for its lack of street presence and inward focus (something they've tried to remedy in the intervening years). But as a kid, I didn't know or care about any of that. I was always completely fascinated and enthralled by the place. It was definitely one of my earliest memories of modern architecture. Seeing it again after 25 years, it seemed much smaller but it was still nice to see again. 

eaton centre
Toronto's Eaton Centre. Photo ©Darren Bradley
While walking around downtown at night, David Chang's Toronto outpost of Momofuku caught my eye, as well. I didn't eat there, though. 

This is actually a four-restaurant complex in downtown Toronto, including a noodle bar, a lounge, and several other concepts all grouped together. The most visible one here is Daishō, which serves "family-style" meals in this elevated glass box. Although given the prices, I doubt that a lot of families frequent the place.
Photo ©Darren Bradley
Finally, the last project I'll mention is a community pool built on the beach on the east side, near the house where my mother grew up. It's called the Donald D. Summerville Olympic Swimming Pool, although no olympics were ever held here. If you know who designed it, please leave a note. I'd love to know! 

Donald D. Summerville "Olympic" Swimming Pool
This "olympic" swimming pool is actually slightly short of 50 metres in length,
due to a miscalculation and conversion error from metric to imperial... Oops.  Photo ©Darren Bradley
There are many, many more interesting examples of modernism and the surrounding area. I just didn't get to them all in the very limited time I was there. For more information on Modernism in Toronto, I highly recommend Robert Moffat's blog, Toronto Modern. 


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