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 Knoll-designed 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.