Posts Tagged 'modernist architecture'

Welcome to downtown Don Mills

Established in 1952 as a self-contained new town for 32,000 residents, Don Mills was Canada’s first garden city and a model for postwar suburban developments across the country.

Don Mills began with industrialist E.P. Taylor assembling some two thousand acres of farmland seven miles northeast of downtown Toronto. Taylor appointed the young Harvard graduate Macklin Hancock as director of planning, and in creating Don Mills Macklin drew upon the principles of Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City and Clarence Stein and Henry Wright’s Radburn. Four neighbourhood quadrants surrounded a town centre of commercial buildings, community facilities and high-density housing, bisected by Don Mills Road and Lawrence Avenue and encircled by The Donway ring road. Vehicles were separated from pedestrians: The Donway separated the town centre from the neighbourhood quadrants, pedestrian walkways linked neighbourhoods and the town centre, and vehicular traffic within neighbourhoods was slowed by winding streets, cul-de-sacs and T-junctions. A greenbelt around the community was developed to buffer suburban encroachment, and connected to a system of neighbourhood greenspaces as well as the ravines and valleys of the Don River. Existing trees and natural landscape features were retained wherever possible. The integration of clean industry allowed residents to both live and work in Don Mills, a key differentiator between a garden city and a dormitory suburb. A consistent Modernist aesthetic was ensured by the Don Mills Development Corporation’s control over architectural design, colours and materials; all houses and buildings in the original development were designed by company-approved Modernist architects such as John B. Parkin Associates, Venchiarutti & Venchiarutti, Henry Fliess, James Murray, Irving Grossman and Michael Bach.

The above postcard, published c. 1968, looks north up Don Mills Road through the town centre (click on image to enlarge). The white igloo-shaped dome (1) is the Don Mills Curling Rink (William S. Hall, 1960; demolished); directly behind it is the Don Mills Civitan Arena (Crang & Boake, 1960). (2) is the Don Mills Convenience Centre (John B. Parkin Associates, 1955; demolished), Don Mills’ central shopping plaza and a silver medal winner in the 1955 Massey Medals for Architecture competition. Just across Lawrence Avenue is the diamond-roofed Don Mills Library (3) (Craig, Madill, Abram & Ingleson, 1961). Forming a dense residential core opposite the commercial and recreational facilities are clusters of mid-rise apartment buildings (4) by various architects. To the east is Don Mills Collegiate (5) (John B. Parkin Associates, 1959), the community’s junior and senior high school. (6) is St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church (John B. Parkin Associates, 1963). An early example of the many well-designed row-housing developments in Don Mills is Greenbelt Heights Village (7) (Belcourt and Blair, 1958). In the bottom right corner is the Ortho Pharmaceuticals office and plant (8) (John B. Parkin Associates, 1955), recipient of a 1958 Massey silver medal and a Canadian prototype for innumerable corporate headquarters. In the distance is Highway 401 and Toronto’s ever-expanding suburban periphery.

Ontario Science Centre: Raymond Moriyama’s temple of technology

Opened in 1969 as a belated Canadian centennial project, the Ontario Science Centre at 770 Don Mills Road is one of the world’s first interactive museums of science and technology. It exemplifies the museological shift during the 1960s toward engaging visitors in creative hands-on learning experiences.

To house the Science Centre’s innovative program, architect Raymond Moriyama set three interconnected structures of raw Brutalist concrete into the heavily-wooded ravine site. A long, low entrance pavilion sits at the ravine edge, originally welcoming visitors with a massive oval reflecting pool and a somewhat cave-like entry atop broad front steps. Perched upon a knoll directly behind the entrance pavilion is the tower building, its triangular shape inspired by the trillium, Ontario’s official flower. The tower building’s three cylindrical drums, enclosing theatres and administrative offices, open into the Great Hall, a vast central space filled with natural light. Traversing the valley between the entrance pavilion and the tower building is a 210-foot enclosed pedestrian bridge; floor-to-ceiling glass on the north side provides stunning treetop views. At the lowest level, linked by escalators to the ravine floor, are the Science Centre’s principal exhibition spaces. Inspired by theatre design, Moriyama created neutral and flexible “black box” modules of 20,000 square feet to accommodate a wide range of exhibits and allow their rapid changeover. Despite the Centre’s focus on science and technology, views of the sky and the surrounding landscape remind visitors of the ultimate supremacy of the natural world.

In 1996 Zeidler Roberts Partnership opened up the Science Centre’s entrance with a glass-walled, two-level lobby and Ontario’s only OMNIMAX theatre. A major revitalization during the mid-2000s produced the Weston Family Innovation Centre, KidSpark and TELUSCAPE, which replaced the forecourt fountain with an environmentally-themed greenspace.

Springtime for Simpson’s Yorkdale

Before gaining international renown for Scarborough College, Gund Hall at Harvard University and the iconic CN Tower, John Andrews was a young architect at Toronto’s John B. Parkin Associates. During his tenure at Parkin he designed the Simpson’s department store at Yorkdale Shopping Centre, opened in early 1964 as the largest indoor shopping mall in the world and a landmark in the development of suburban Toronto.

In contrast to the raw concrete and sculptural forms of Andrews’ later Brutalist work, the Simpson’s store shows the influence of New Formalism, a fanciful, decorative neoclassical style popularized in the late 1950s and early 1960s by American architects Edward Durell Stone and Minoru Yamasaki. Pairs of arched columns line the perimeter of the building, curving upward into deep parapets that gently flare outward at the top. The precast concrete cladding, when new, was a pristine white and glittered with Georgian quartz aggregate. Inset panels were Simpson’s blue. The building’s careful detailing extended to the undersides of the entrance canopies, which were decorated with candy stripes of glass tiles in brilliant orange shades. Originally opening onto the mall was Simpson’s Court, a high-ceilinged, airy public space with marble and terrazzo floors, a reflecting pool, splashing fountains, tropical plants and a winding helicoidal staircase leading to a restaurant overlooking the court below. Spotlights set into a ceiling of undulating Moorish arches provided a final exotic touch.

In 1978 the Hudson’s Bay Company acquired Simpson’s, and in 1991 Simpson’s Yorkdale was remodeled as a Bay store after the Simpson’s brand was discontinued. The building’s exterior remains much the same, although the white concrete panels have become badly discoloured. Simpson’s Court has been largely subsumed by rows of cosmetics boutiques.

Born in Australia, John Andrews received an architectural degree from the University of Sydney before entering the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. A submission by him and three Harvard classmates was selected as a finalist in the Toronto City Hall competition, which led to his recruitment by John B. Parkin Associates in 1958. Among the buildings he was responsible for during his three years with Parkin were the Primrose Club (273 St. Clair Avenue West, 1960; demolished), the Federal Equipment plant and offices (88 Ronson Drive, 1960), Bawating Collegiate and Vocational School (750 North Street, Sault Ste. Marie, 1961; demolished) and the control tower at the new Toronto International Airport (1964; demolished). In 1962 Andrews established his own firm and became chairman of the University of Toronto’s school of architecture, a position he held until 1967. His North American work during the 1960s and 1970s includes Scarborough College, the South Residence at the University of Guelph, the Weldon Library at the University of Western Ontario, the proposed Metro Centre redevelopment of the Toronto railway lands, the Miami Seaport Passenger Terminal, Gund Hall for the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and, probably most famously, Toronto’s CN Tower.

In 1972 Andrews returned to Australia, where his best-known buildings include the King George Tower in Sydney, the Cameron Offices for the Australian federal government in Belconnen, Canberra and convention centres in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide. He retired from full-time practice in the early 1990s with many honours, among them a Massey Medal and an OAA 25-year award for Scarborough College, a Gold Medal from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.

Carmen Corneil channels Alvar Aalto

Hidden away at 50 Merton Street, the headquarters of the Girl Guides of Canada is probably the most faithful homage to Alvar Aalto to be found in Toronto. Designed by Carmen Corneil (with William McBain) and completed in 1962, the building successfully synthesizes the great Finnish architect’s postwar work, particularly the Sӓynӓtsalo Town Hall and the National Pensions Institute in Helsinki.

Corneil came by his influences directly. Graduating from the University of Toronto in 1957 with a Royal Architectural Institute of Canada medal and a Pilkington scholarship, he traveled to Europe and worked from 1958 to 1960 in Aalto’s Munkkiniemi studio, primarily on a cultural centre for Wolfsburg, Germany. Corneil returned to Toronto in 1960 to participate in the invitation-only competition for Massey College at the University of Toronto and to establish his own practice, partnering with architect William McBain for several modest public buildings.

The Girl Guides building houses the organization’s administrative, retail and mail-order functions. To give prominence and increase visibility from busy Yonge Street (the obtrusive parking garage next door was not yet built), Corneil raised the structure upon a podium and arranged its massing around a landscaped entrance courtyard to the west. The composition is dominated by the cubic form of the front block, clad in rough red brick and seeming to float above the steel frame and inset glass walls of the lower level. A smaller brick box on the roof houses a skylight system that allows a flood of glare-free natural light into the boardroom below. Sunlight was further moderated by vertical wood slats, now removed, across the boardroom’s south windows and by recessed windows on the east and west sides. The irregular textures and intricate detailing of the front block are effectively contrasted by the planar simplicity of the rear block, with its smooth precast concrete spandrels and nearly flush panes of glass. A third storey was seamlessly added by Corneil in 1970. The wheelchair ramp and the awkwardly oversized Guides logo on the front façade are later changes.

In addition to the Girl Guides building, Carmen Corneil’s projects include the Township of Toronto Public Library (with William McBain, 110 Dundas Street West, Mississauga, 1961; demolished), the Wayland Drew residence (Port Perry, 1964; Massey Medal for Architecture, 1967), a row of townhouses in Moore Park (412-418 St. Clair Avenue East, Toronto, 1968), the School of Architecture building at Carleton University (with Jeffrey Stinson, Ottawa, 1972), Harbourfront Passage waterfront park (with Jeffrey Stinson, Toronto, 1973), the Wintergreen mixed-use building (8199 Yonge Street, Markham, 1982), the McMullin summer house (Lake Kashagawigamog, Ontario, 1991), renovations to the 1407 Yonge Street office building (Toronto, 1991) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union headquarters (100 Lesmill Road, Toronto, 1991; Governor-General’s Award for Architecture, 1992). Corneil also taught at the University of Toronto from 1967 to 1995 and was a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He and wife Elin, a Norwegian architect he met in Scandinavia during the late 1950s, now teach and practice in Norway full-time after many years of working in both countries. In 2008 Dalhousie University organized architecture e+c: work of elin+carmen corneil 1958 to 2008, a traveling retrospective of their work.


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