The 1980s were not a golden age of tall buildings in Toronto. Dozens of new office towers were built during the Decade of Greed, particularly in the downtown financial district, but despite the precedent set by recent landmarks such as the Toronto Dominion Centre, Commerce Court, and the Royal Bank Plaza, most were forgettable: either blankly banal late-modern glass boxes or post-modern confections encrusted with thick layers of historicist details and pointed party-hat roofs.
One University Avenue, completed in 1986 as Metropolitan Place, is one of the few distinguished towers from that period. Working within the late-modern idiom and typical developer constraints, the Toronto firm of Brisbin Brook Beynon created an inventive, well-crafted building and an engaging urban realm at one of the city’s primary gateways.
One University is notable first for its response to its site, a small but prominent triangle of land adjacent to the limestone monoliths of Union Station and the Royal York Hotel. The 19-storey tower’s massing follows the triangular shape, its vertical ziggurat profile progressively staggered inward to form a blunt prow overlooking Front Street. Structural modules are articulated as individual units, the edges elegantly chamfered like faceted diamonds, and are wrapped in a sleek blue-green glass membrane that effectively dematerializes the tower’s bulk. But, lest the surfaces simply dissolve into air, each floor level is demarcated by bands of polished stainless steel and weathered bronze, the bronze’s mottled texture and deep greenish-gold colour an unexpected and powerful foil to the glassy slickness of everything else.
The entrance and landscape treatment further elevate 1 University beyond the norm. Heavy, robust pilotis clad in the same patinated bronze firmly anchor the tower to the land, both physically and metaphorically, and frame an entrance lobby that is both glass-walled and set back to visually open up the entrance plaza. A curving reflecting pool by the entrance casts watery lighting effects upon the lobby walls and ceiling. The plaza itself evokes a Canadian ruggedness in its raised terraces, stone pavers, and naturalized native plantings.