A second life for the Mackenzie Building

As the Government of Canada expanded during the postwar decades, so did its need for office space in cities across the country. In Toronto, several federal departments and agencies were consolidated in the new Mackenzie Building, completed in 1960 at 30 Adelaide Street East. The structure was named for William Lyon Mackenzie, the first mayor of Toronto and a leader of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion.

Architects Shore & Moffat broke up the building’s mass into three interlocking blocks, placing two slab towers of 12 and 15 storeys and a four-storey pavilion around a landscaped entrance courtyard. Original aluminum curtainwalls were anodized a charcoal-gray colour, with inset spandrel panels of aquamarine blue; at the time, it was the largest curtainwall installation in Canada. The recessed ground floor of black granite and glass visually recedes, the floating effect lessening the visual weight of the walls above. Period stainless steel hardware is of notably high quality. A pair of majestic gingko trees dominate the courtyard, which originally featured a bronze fountain assemblage by Gerald Gladstone. A mosaic mural of colourful stone animates the elevator lobby.

Sold by the federal government in the late 1990s, the Mackenzie Building was completely renovated by Quadrangle Architects and reopened in 2001 as the State Street Financial Centre. New exterior cladding replicated the original design, but in a lighter palette of silver-gray aluminum with dark blue spandrel panels and blue-tinted windows. Sill heights were also slightly lowered, increasing the glass area and arguably improving the walls’ proportions. Three second-floor bays that spanned the courtyard entrance were removed to create a more open and welcoming street presence, and existing trees were integrated into attractive outdoor green spaces by landscape architect Janet Rosenberg Associates. Formerly open loggias on either side of the elevator lobby have been enclosed with glass for weather protection. While not an exacting heritage restoration, the high-quality and largely sympathetic renovation is certainly preferable to demolition, the fate of many aging Modernist office buildings.

Regardless of its current state, the very existence of the Mackenzie Building is still a source of contention within the Toronto heritage community. Its construction required the demolition of Toronto’s former main post office, a magnificent 1873 Second Empire confection by Henry Langley that grandly terminated the vista up Toronto Street. An artifact of the earlier building still exists on the site, however: the sculptural Canadian coat of arms that once adorned its doorway can be found hiding in the shrubbery on Lombard Street.

Shore & Moffat was established in 1945 by architects Leonard Shore (1902-1989) and Bob Moffat (1906-1960). Among the firm’s many Toronto-area projects are the East York Municipal Building (850 Coxwell Avenue, 1950; demolished); the York Township Municipal Offices (2700 Eglinton Avenue West, 1952; Massey Silver Medal, 1952); the Etobicoke Municipal Centre (399 The West Mall, 1958); the Union Carbide Building (123 Eglinton Avenue East, 1960; demolished); the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre (440 Jarvis Street, 1967) and the McLennan Physical Laboratories at the University of Toronto (255 Huron Street, 1967). Shore & Moffat was also a member of the architectural consortiums responsible for the planning and design of York University and the Government of Ontario complex at Queen’s Park. Outside of Toronto, the firm’s major works include the Sir Alexander Campbell Building in Ottawa (1961; demolished), the Imperial Oil Research Building in Sarnia (1961; Massey Silver Medal, 1961), the Shell Canada Research Centre in Oakville (1970; Massey Medal, 1970; demolished) and several buildings at the University of Waterloo. The firm continues today as the Toronto office of Perkins + Will Canada.

2 Responses to “A second life for the Mackenzie Building”

  1. 1 Bobby6 August 11, 2011 at 6:14 am

    Toronto is true architecture jewel and the whole world admires it thanks to the hard work of the first-class architects like Daniel Liebeskind, Will Alsop, etc. They changed the whole atmosphere of this city and can be seen as a great source of inspiration for the entire architecture community just like this article says: http://ilovetoronto.com/toronto-real-estate/2011/07/architects-of-toronto-ii. The Mackenzie Building is an essential part of the Canadian heritage and I couldn’t imagine Toronto without its State Street Financial Center.

  1. 1 Historicist: Toronto Street | culture | Torontoist Trackback on October 31, 2015 at 11:28 am

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