Bregman + Hamann: Spaces for People

By the late 1970s Bregman + Hamann had become one of the largest and most prolific architectural firms in Canada. Founded in 1953 by University of Toronto graduates Sidney Bregman and George Hamann, the firm soon progressed from small office buildings and apartment houses to working with the international architectural stars of the day, executing projects of unprecedented size and scale with profound impacts upon Toronto’s built environment.

Spaces for People, a thick, glossy marketing brochure published in 1977, captures Bregman + Hamann at this giddy peak. Fold-out pages showcase three landmark Toronto developments to which B+H contributed: Mies van der Rohe’s Toronto Dominion Centre, its precisely detailed black steel towers the first and arguably the best of the Bay Street banking complexes; Edward Durell Stone’s First Canadian Place, wrapped in slabs of white Carrara marble and, at 72 storeys, the tallest building in Canada; and Eb Zeidler’s iconic Toronto Eaton Centre, whose spectacular glass-roofed galleria influenced shopping malls around the world.

Bregman + Hamann’s own designs also proliferated across Toronto: multi-tower complexes such as the Yonge-Eglinton Centre, Harbour Square and Olympia Square in Don Mills; Mount Sinai Hospital, Scarborough Centenary Hospital and other major healthcare facilities; and an array of public schools, regional shopping malls and light-industrial buildings. Commercial office buildings, B+H’s historical strength, were legion: in barely ten years the firm had populated the busy Bay/Bloor intersection with 1200 Bay Street and 77, 80, 102 and 130 Bloor Street West. Downtown, the Sunoco Building and Prudential Assurance Building modestly filled spaces around the megaprojects. Most buildings were clad with precast concrete, the predominant Toronto building material of the period, and in their sometimes leaden heaviness reflected wider North American architectural trends.

Never experimental or avant-garde, Bregman + Hamann built their reputation on technical expertise, reliable project management and unobtrusively handsome buildings delivered on time and on budget. These qualities made them a favourite of major Canadian developers like Cadillac Fairview, Campeau Corporation and Olympia & York, and well-positioned to capitalize upon Toronto’s explosive growth during the 1960s and 70s. Spaces for People addresses this mercantile reality while acknowledging, as the title suggests, humanism, urbanism, community and public space—values that by the late 1970s were embedded in the consciousness of a public increasingly sceptical toward large-scale development.

Imperial Oil’s Parthenon of petroleum

Imperial Oil’s Ontario regional headquarters was truly a building of the Automotive Age, meant to be perceived not by pedestrians strolling the sidewalk, but from behind the wraparound windshield of a Buick Electra at speed. Completed in 1962 on a verdant hillside at 825 Don Mills Road, overlooking the busy intersection of Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue, the Imperial Oil building was as long as a football field and sleekly clad in an endless grid of sculpted white precast panels.

John B. Parkin Associates designed Imperial Oil with Classical formality and the rectilinear lines of the International Style. The ground floor was recessed some 20 feet and clad in dark plum-coloured brick, making the building appear to hover above the site. Exposed structural columns defined a broad south-facing podium, fronted with reflecting pools, fountain jets and a row of spotlights to light up the facade at night. The main lobby, accessed from a massive surface parking lot at the rear, offered views of traffic whizzing by through floor-to-ceiling glass. A technical innovation was neoprene seals between the window glass and precast panels, used for the first time in Canada, which eliminated bulky metal window frames. Imperial Oil was awarded a 1964 Massey Medal for Architecture and an honourable mention at the Sao Paulo International Biennale of Architecture and Design.

The building was not to last, however. Imperial Oil moved out in the early 1990s and, with the commercial office market flatlining, the building was summarily demolished. Its site is now the parking lot of a big-box supermarket. Only the crumbling stub of the service drive remains.

Neighbouring Wynford Drive is still lined with fine examples of 1960s Modernist buildings, including A.C. Nielsen at 39 Wynford Drive (Peter Dickinson Associates / Webb & Menkes, 1963, altered), Texaco Canada at 90 Wynford Drive (Bregman & Hamann, 1968), Bell Canada at 100 Wynford Drive (Webb Zerafa Menkes, 1969), and the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre at 123 Wynford Drive (Raymond Moriyama and Associates, 1963). The Bata International headquarters at 59 Wynford Drive (John B. Parkin Associates, 1965), a further development of the Imperial Oil concept, has been demolished, as have Oxford University Press at 70 Wynford Drive (Fairfield & Dubois, 1963) and Shell Canada at 75 Wynford Drive (Webb Zerafa Menkes, 1966).

Season’s Greetings from the first Four Seasons

Designed by Peter Dickinson Associates, the first Four Seasons Hotel opened in 1961 at 415 Jarvis Street. One of budding hotelier Isadore Sharp’s many innovations, suggested by landscape architect Austin Floyd, was to celebrate the holiday season by placing Christmas trees on every balcony. The brightly-lit trees brought the hotel’s courtyard alive with cheer, particularly when casting their luminous glow upon a blanket of fresh snow. To maintain a festive spirit after New Year’s, the trees were carefully piled in the courtyard outside the dining room, sprayed with water and allowed to freeze until they formed a giant sparkling ice sculpture.

Best wishes to all in 2012!

Six scenes of Toronto City Hall

Opened to great fanfare on September 13, 1965, the New Toronto City Hall represents Toronto’s break from its parochial past and its emergence as a dynamic, forward-looking international metropolis. These postcard images depict the building immediately after completion; Henry Moore’s famed bronze sculpture The Archer was not unveiled on Nathan Phillips Square until October 1966.

City Hall was designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell, winner of an international design competition that drew over 500 entries from 42 countries and was adjudicated by architectural luminaries such as Ernesto Rogers, Eero Saarinen and Sir William Holford. Revell’s flamboyantly sculptural and expressionistic masterpiece—two curving office towers cupping a saucer-shaped council chamber, atop a wide, low podium—has long transcended its initial controversy and established itself as a beloved Toronto landmark and a timeless icon of Modernism in Canada.

Elevated above the podium as the focal point of Revell’s composition, the council chamber symbolizes the primacy of the city’s democratically-elected representatives. Measuring 155 feet in diameter and some 40 feet to the peak of its domed ceiling, the clear-span concrete shell hovers over the circular central assembly space and semi-circular public gallery. A continuous band of glass between the upper and lower shells provides indirect daylight.

The central lobby is dominated by the Hall of Memory war memorial. A massive mushroom-shaped column bursts upward from a sunken amphitheatre, supporting the council chamber above and flooded with light from below. Regimental insignias line the amphitheatre wall; in the foreground are the Book of Remembrance and a cylindrical time capsule.

Inside the lobby itself, the curving shapes of structural columns, freestanding staircases and the Hall of Memory are contrasted by the linearity of the aluminum ceiling panels and strips of white Botticcino marble set into the floors. Main doors, stair railings and other interior fittings are of heavy laminated teak, the rich wood tones adding warmth to the predominantly grey and white environment. Original interiors by Knoll International included furniture by Eero Saarinen, Mies van der Rohe and Warren Platner as well as custom desks and benches of precast concrete with inset wood tops.

Key to the success of City Hall is Nathan Phillips Square, an expansive civic plaza that visually frames the building and provides much-needed open space in Toronto’s downtown core. Its rectangular reflecting pool, spanned by three concrete arches, is a popular summertime oasis and in winter becomes an ice rink for throngs of enthusiastic skaters. The square is presently undergoing a revitalization that will restore much of its original spatial qualities while introducing new amenities and sustainable green spaces.

Five sculptures at the University of Toronto

Recognizing the potential for public art to enrich the campus environment, during the 1960s and 70s the University of Toronto commissioned or accepted as gifts a number of notable outdoor sculptures for the main St. George campus. Most are by well-known Toronto-area artists and are representative of the fertile artistic currents at the time.

Solar Net (1963, at top) reflects artist Gerald Gladstone’s interest in celestial bodies and space exploration. Mounted upon the Larkin Academic Building at 15 Devonshire Place, the sculpture’s patinated bronze discs and rods effectively contrast the rough limestone of the wall behind.

Robert Murray created Becca’s H (1973), a vibrant ruby-red counterpoint to the subdued Galbraith Building at 35 St. George Street. The slanting plane beneath the crossbeam introduces a dynamic quality to an otherwise static minimalist construction.

Suitably sited in front of the Medical Sciences Building, Ted Bieler’s Helix of Life (1971) represents the double helix of DNA through its spiraling ribbons of precast concrete. The undulating concrete forms of Waves (1967), also by Bieler, emerge from the surface of the building’s courtyard. Sculpted precast concrete wall panels are by Bieler and Robert Downing.

Outside the Anthropology Building at 19 Russell Street is Cedars (1962), a cast-bronze piece by Walter Yarwood. Yarwood originally intended the shapes to be much larger, producing a peering-through-the-trees effect from inside the building, but this smaller-scale version was ultimately commissioned. Horizon (1964), another Yarwood bronze, is mounted on the St. George Street façade of nearby Sidney Smith Hall.

Like an inscrutable sentinel, Ron Baird’s Untitled (1964) vigilantly guards the College Street entrance to the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. The sculpture’s shield-like triangular plates and long vertical spars are of steel and bronze.

The long-lost Lord Simcoe Hotel

Opened on May 15, 1957 at 150 King Street West and University Avenue, the Lord Simcoe Hotel was one of Toronto’s first postwar downtown hotels and certainly the shortest-lived. In October 1979, after only 22 years of operation, the hotel closed its doors and was subsequently demolished to make way for the east tower of the Sun Life Centre.

The Lord Simcoe was designed by veteran Montreal architect Henry T. Langston. Langston enclosed the hotel’s 900 rooms within a wide and shallow building envelope, bookending the north and south façades with projecting wings faced in limestone. Curtainwalls were a subdued blue-grey glass overlaid with narrow bands of aqua-green porcelain enamel. A deep canopy sheltered the main entrance on King Street, flanked by bookmatched marble panels and deftly angled to draw in passersby. Gold-toned anodized aluminum rather garishly framed the windows and wall panels in the building podium.

Restaurants and guest rooms were designed and furnished by the T. Eaton Company. The three restaurants—The Pump Room, The Captain’s Table and The Country Fare—were decorated in historical styles. The luxurious Pump Room was reportedly inspired by its 1795 neoclassical namesake in Bath, England; accordingly, waiters wore long red tailcoats and served prime rib skewered on swords. The entrance lobby and public areas were considerably more modern, with lots of sleek walnut paneling, brass trim and floor tiles in a checkerboard pattern. “Rest-Assured” guest rooms were similarly outfitted in walnut and brass, and boasted television sets to receive Toronto’s sole TV station.

The Lord Simcoe proved to be only sporadically profitable, although its cocktail lounge was a favourite Bay Street watering hole for many years. By the mid-1970s the hotel seemed painfully dated, and its lack of central air conditioning and large conference spaces left it uncompetitive with newer downtown hotels. Rising land values and increasing demand for office space in the financial district finally sealed its fate.

As a side note, Lord Simcoe was actually a misnomer: Governor John Graves Simcoe was never elevated to the peerage, despite serving as the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada and founding what is now Toronto. Lord Simcoe Hotel was presumably chosen by the hotel’s management company to match their existing Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa and Lord Beaverbrook Hotel in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Toronto Islands Modern

Located just across Toronto’s inner harbour from the downtown core, the Toronto Islands have long been a popular summertime retreat from the heat and noise of the city. While the 17 or so islands are dotted with structures dating to the early 1800s, the creation of Centre Island Park in the late 1950s and early 1960s produced some interesting Modernist versions of traditional park facilities.

In 1956 Project Planning Associates began work on the master plan for Centre Island Park, intended as the first stage of a larger plan to redevelop the entire Toronto Islands as a vast public park. Led by Macklin Hancock, planner of the internationally-acclaimed Don Mills, Project Planning Associates was one of Canada’s first broadly multidisciplinary design firms, providing in-house teams of planners, architects, landscape architects, civil engineers and other specialized consultants for large-scale projects.

Toronto Island postcard c.1960

As originally conceived, Centre Island Park included Middle Island, Olympic Island and the core of Centre Island itself. Visitors disembark at the Centre Island ferry dock and proceed southward along the Avenue of the Islands, winding through a landscape of sprawling green lawns, grassy berms and clusters of trees. Across Long Pond and Manitou Bridge are the park’s centrepieces, the octagonal Island Fountain and a grand pedestrian mall that extends south to the shore of Lake Ontario. Perhaps oddly formal for the resolutely casual Islands, the allée is lined with manicured hedges and trees, colourful flowerbeds and cool blue reflecting pools. Far Enough Farm, a small-scale children’s farm, was also established at the time.

In addition to executing the park’s overall planning and landscape design, Project Planning also designed a number of buildings as Hancock, Little, Calvert Associates. Particularly expressive is the hexagon-shaped Iroquois Restaurant, perched upon the bank of a lagoon and sheltered under a folded copper roof supported by massive timber beams. In a more rectilinear style is the nearby boathouse, as are the pavilions to the west of the Island Fountain and at the entrance to the Island Pier. Three smaller pavilions with festive wing-like roofs are by Venchiarutti & Venchiarutti (a fourth was demolished), while Olympic Island’s umbrella-roofed pavilion and open-air theatre were added a few years later by Irving Grossman.

Toronto Island postcard c.1960

The grand scheme to redevelop the entire Toronto Islands as parkland was never fully completed. Demolition stopped in 1970, leaving 250 homes remaining on Ward’s Island and Algonquin Island, and after years of controversy and legal action the community’s future was finally secured in 1993. Today, Centre Island Park is indistinguishable from the larger Toronto Island Park, and its hordes of visitors seem to more or less happily coexist with the Islands’ residential community.

Toronto Island postcard c.1960

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