Brentwood Towers in the park

Designed by Harry Kohl and constructed between 1958 and 1961, Brentwood Towers at 17-25 Lascelles Boulevard is one of Toronto’s earliest high-rise residential clusters. It’s also one of the few of its time to come close to fulfilling Le Corbusier’s urban-planning ideal of towers in the park surrounded by sunlight, space and greenery.

At Brentwood Towers, much of the espace et verdure, if not the soleil, is provided by the dramatic modernist garden in the postcard above. Created by the husband-and-wife architectural team of Pamela and Bill Cluff with landscape architect Bill Huber, the garden mixes natural elements, free-form shapes and fanciful whimsy. Large reflecting pools dominate the composition, the placid surfaces punctuated by rock outcroppings and water jetting from mushroom-shaped fountains. Elevated platforms provide views over the grounds and are prime spots for sunbathing, while flagstone walkways wind through grassy lawns, specimen trees, ornamental shrubs and beds of flowers. All is comfortably enclosed by a row of mature trees and three of the complex’s five towers.

After fifty years the garden is a picturesque ruin, the pools empty, fountains crumbling and pathways reclaimed by overgrown foliage, but it is alive with the extroverted squirrels and twittering songbirds that live in its now-tall trees.

As well as Brentwood Towers, the Cluffs and Huber also designed Modernist gardens for Kensington Gardens (21 Dale Avenue, Crang & Boake, 1957) and The Four Thousand (4000 Yonge Street, John Daniels and Wilfred Shulman, 1962). Expanded surface parking and other alterations have removed much of the Kensington Gardens gardens, although many fine specimen trees remain, including some from the previous 1874 estate. The Four Thousand’s gardens, by contrast, are largely original, with functioning fountains and well-maintained plantings.

3 Responses to “Brentwood Towers in the park”


  1. 1 Nick September 21, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Thank you for this article. I knew walking by this place with its dilapidated yet unusual center garden that it was not your typical apartment complex. You can feel an “argument in brick” about modern visions of community in the very arrangement of the towers. So nice to have a little context on places like this that exist right under our noses!

    Nick

  2. 2 Chris Manning October 14, 2011 at 9:01 am

    They redid the back fountains, but now they are talking about building townhouses in our front yard! I’d rather look over my balcony at the ruins.

  3. 3 Biff Evans October 26, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    10 townhomes have been approved by Toronto City (2014) to be build at the front of what was the garden fountain area to the disgust of tenants and neighbours.


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