Archive for the 'Toronto Modern Architecture' Category

A hilltop fortress for IBM

Marching across the crest of a wooded hillside in Don Mills, the former IBM Canada headquarters at 1150 Eglinton Avenue East was completed in 1967  for what was then the world’s dominant computer company and an icon of postwar America. The selection of John B. Parkin Associates as architect exemplified IBM’s commitment to modern design to communicate its corporate prestige, social progressiveness and technological leadership.

IMG_9909 IBM HQ V3

From Eglinton Avenue, the IBM building reads as a sprawling, ground-hugging megastructure of Louis Kahn-ish cubic modules, overlapping and interlocking as they step down the hillside. The influences of Kahn and Alvar Aalto are also apparent in the solid walls of reddish brick, a sharp divergence from Parkin’s glassy transparency of a few years earlier; the fortress-like impenetrability is only partially relieved by narrow vertical slits of bronze-toned glass in black anodized frames. Most interior spaces are oriented to the southern light, a benefit in Toronto’s often grey and wintry environment, and to views over the ravine of Ernest Thompson Seton Park. A private cloverleaf access road winds uphill to the west, leading to a secluded entrance court at the rear of the complex. Given the social context—the upheavals of the 1960s—the building’s defensive mien could be interpreted as the reaction of the famously buttoned-down IBM culture to an environment perceived as increasingly unpredictable and potentially threatening.

Presently, the IBM building seems to be facing an uncertain future: following a period as the head office of Celestica, a former subsidiary of IBM Canada, it now sits empty, awaiting new occupants or redevelopment.


IMG_9994 IBM HQ V1


Irving Grossman’s sculptural Betel residence

The Betel residence at 33 York Downs Drive, completed in 1957, is one of the best-preserved of the relatively few houses by Toronto architect Irving Grossman. Set back from the road on a broad expanse of lawn, the Betel house resembles a piece of sculpture: the narrow, wedge-shaped second storey thrusts forward and upward over its broad rectangular base, seeming to defy gravity in a daring cantilever. The house’s sculptural appearance is further emphasized by its stark glazed-brick whiteness, relieved only by the flash of yellow between the upper bedroom windows. An extension to the master bedroom wing at the left of the photograph, added in 1980 by longtime Grossman associate Bernard Gillespie, successfully rebalanced the composition into its current configuration.

The Betel residence’s dramatic exterior appearance is matched by its interior environment. Visitors cross a walled courtyard to the front door, passing through the low entrance hall before emerging into a soaring multi-level living and dining area overlooked by a second-floor gallery. The 16-foot ceiling, lined in dark tropical wood, gently slopes downward to a wall of glass that frames views over a ravine at the rear of the property. Natural light on three sides allows a soft, even illumination; inset courtyards balance close-up views of nature with those of the distant ravine.

After graduating in 1950 from the University of Toronto’s school of architecture, Irving Grossman traveled abroad on a prestigious Pilkington Scholarship, practicing with the MARS Group in London and R.M. Schindler in Los Angeles before returning to Toronto and establishing his own firm. His jazz-filled studio, located in a Victorian house at 7 Sultan Street, was for many years a gathering place for the city’s artists, architects and musicians. Architecturally, Grossman is best remembered for his inventive multi-unit housing developments, such as the internationally-acclaimed Flemingdon Park neighbourhood, the Somerset Apartments at 605 Finch Avenue West and the Edgeley in the Village complex at 4645 Jane Street. Other key projects are the Berman residence at 58 Plymbridge Road, the Fogel residence, a 1961 Massey Medals finalist, at 100 Sandringham Drive (demolished), B’nai Israel Beth David Synagogue at 55 Yeomans Road, Temple Emanu-El at 120 Old Colony Road, Shaarei Tefillah at 3600 Bathurst Street, Cedarbrae Library at 545 Markham Road (altered), a series of park pavilions on the Toronto Islands and the Expo 67 News and Administration Building, winner of a 1967 Massey Medal, at 2100 Avenue Pierre Dupuy, Montreal.

Art and architecture on the Spadina subway

A defining characteristic of many great cities is their subway system (or metro/underground), and the primary points of contact for those using the system are its stations. From the earliest stations in the London Underground, the Paris Metro and the New York Subway to the recent creations of Santiago Calatrava, Norman Foster and Renzo Piano, a city’s subway stations are important elements of civic identity and pride for both residents and visitors.

Toronto’s relationship with its subway stations has been decidedly mixed since the system’s opening in 1954. The early stations on the Yonge, University and Bloor-Danforth lines, based on standardized designs by John B. Parkin Associates, were intended to be functional: clean-lined, durable and efficient. But by the late 1960s, despite increasingly lurid combinations of coloured wall tiles, Toronto’s stations began to seem overly utilitarian and sterile, particularly compared to the avant-garde stations of Montreal’s new Metro.

To address this aesthetic deficit, in 1974 the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) decided to engage architects and artists in the design of the eight stations comprising its new Spadina Line. Three architectural firms were selected and assigned two stations each: Arthur Erickson Architects (Eglinton West and Yorkdale), Adamson Associates (Spadina and Glencairn) and Dunlop Farrow Aitken (Dupont and Lawrence West). The TTC retained architectural control over the St. Clair West and Wilson stations due to their technical complexities. Nine Ontario artists were selected from over 400 entrants in an open competition: Ted Bieler, Claude Breeze, Louis de Niverville, Michael Hayden, Rita Letendre, Gordon Rayner, James Sutherland, Joy Wieland and Gerald Zeldin.

The Spadina Line opened with great fanfare in January 1978. Dupont, Eglinton West and Yorkdale are generally considered the most successful stations, combining architectural verve with vibrant and well-integrated artwork. Dupont is the most fantastical of the three, a wondrous subterranean world of organically curving walls lined in shimmering melon-coloured tiles, which culminate at platform level with James Sutherland’s enormous glass-mosaic murals of psychedelicized plant life. Station entrances are Plexiglas bubbles framed in bright orange metal, startling insertions in their drab, workaday surroundings; hulking black steel gates by Ron Baird guard the electrical substation adjoining the northwest entrance.

TTC Eglinton West

Viewed from Eglinton Avenue, Arthur Erickson’s Eglinton West station appears as an octagonal glass-walled pavilion, topped with a concrete waffle-slab roof and pyramidal skylights. Once inside, though, a series of terraced staircases descend through the station to platform level, which features Gerald Zeldin’s well-loved Summertime Streetcar murals of abstracted TTC streetcars. The station’s refined details and limited materials palette of concrete, glass, stainless steel and variegated orange brick contribute to a visual serenity that counters the clamour of trains, busses and people.

Yorkdale station, also by Erickson, is a striking visual metaphor for speed and motion, a long, slim, stainless-steel-clad extrusion punched with oval windows like a subway car and capped by a vaulted glass roof running the entire length of the station. The slender steel roof arches once supported Michael Hayden’s stunning Arc en Ciel, a 570-foot-long light sculpture of neon tubes that pulsated with the colours of the spectrum in sequence with the arrivals and departures of the trains below. A particularly effective integration of art and architecture, the sculpture was unfortunately removed in the early 1990s for lack of maintenance funds. The same fate befell Rita Letendre’s Joy, a painted-glass skylight over the Glencairn station platform, which faded from sun exposure and was replaced by clear glass.

Spadina: Adamson Associates; Morning Glory by Louis de Niverville (porcelain enamel mural) and Barren Ground Caribou by Joyce Wieland (fabric quilt)
Dupont: Dunlop Farrow Aitken; Spadina Summer Under All Seasons by James Sutherland (glass mosaic tile murals)
St. Clair West: TTC architects; Tempo by Gordon Rayner (porcelain enamel mural)
Eglinton West: Arthur Erickson Architects; Summertime Streetcar by Gerald Zeldin (porcelain enamel murals)
Glencairn: Adamson Associates; Joy by Rita Letendre (painted glass skylight, removed)
Lawrence West: Dunlop Farrow Aitken; Spacing…Aerial Highways by Claude Breeze (ceramic tile mural)
Yorkdale: Arthur Erickson Architects; Arc en Ciel by Michael Hayden (neon lightwork, removed)
Wilson: TTC architects; Canyons by Ted Bieler (aluminum wall relief).

Massey Medals for Architecture 1950-1970

The Massey Medals for Architecture program was established in 1950 to promote and recognize excellence in Canadian architecture, and to increase public awareness of architecture as an expression of Canadian cultural life. Initiated by Vincent Massey, scion of one of Canada’s most distinguished and wealthy families and the Governor General of Canada from 1952 to 1959, the Massey competitions were held every three years from 1952 through 1970 in association with the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. Juries included Canadian and international luminaries such as Pietro Belluschi, William Wurster, Sir Hugh Casson, Eric Arthur and Peter Blake.

The format of the Massey Medals evolved over the years, with varying categories and numbers of medals awarded. The Gold Medal was initially the highest accolade, representing “the most significant contribution to Canadian architecture in the three-year period prior to the award.” A Silver Medal was presented to the winner of each building type category, and other entrants deemed to be of merit earned mention as finalists. Building type categories were eliminated following the 1958 competition, and after 1961 the Gold Medal was dropped and all medals were awarded on equal standing.

The inaugural Massey Medals for Architecture competition, held in 1950, was somewhat of a false start. Only 22 architects participated, no awards were made in several categories, and a single firm, Toronto’s John B. Parkin Associates, received five of the nine medals awarded, including the overall Gold Medal. In 1952, though, the program began to flourish: the number of submissions increased dramatically and the Gold Medal winner, the Marwell Building by the Vancouver firm Semmens & Simpson, was unanimously praised as an exceptional example of Canadian architecture. Four of the eight Silver Medals were awarded to other British Columbia entries, acknowledging the emergence of the province (and particularly Vancouver) as a centre of creative and dynamic architecture.

Subsequent Massey competitions were ever more popular, peaking in 1964 and 1967 with 424 entries each. While British Columbia architects consistently earned accolades for single-family residences, Toronto firms received awards primarily for corporate and institutional buildings and multi-unit housing. Toronto-area medal winners regarded as enduring landmarks in Canadian architecture include the Ontario Association of Architects building and the Ortho Pharmaceutical offices and plant by John B. Parkin Associates; the Garden Court Apartments and the Regent Park South high-rise towers by Page & Steele; Central Technical School Art Centre by Fairfield & DuBois; and Scarborough College by John Andrews Architect (with Page & Steele), one of the few Canadian buildings of the era to gain international renown.

Despite the Massey program’s apparent success, criticism was growing over what was increasingly perceived as arbitrary and uninspired medal selections. This discontent culminated in outrage at the results of the 1970 competition. The managing editor of The Canadian Architect wrote a scathing four-page editorial arguing that while some of the medals were well-deserved, the seemingly inexplicable rejection of several extremely accomplished buildings had greatly diminished the program’s esteem and value, and that the lost credibility could only be restored by fundamental changes to the awards criteria and judging process. The magazine even included a tear-out page for readers to forward their presumably indignant comments to the Massey organizers.

This backlash seemed to kill any remaining enthusiasm for the program; 1970 became the final edition of the Massey Medals for Architecture. It was eventually superseded in 1982 by the Governor-General’s Awards for Architecture, which continues today as Canada’s principal architectural awards program.

Listed below are the Massey Medal recipients in the Toronto area. Unfortunately, despite their award-winning status, several have been demolished and many others extensively altered. Building names are as they were at the time of the award; addresses are current.

Canadian National Exhibition Grandstand
, Marani & Morris (Silver Medal, demolished)
Central Christadelphian Church, 728 Church Street, John B. Parkin Associates (Silver Medal)
Fabergé Perfumes Canada Ltd., 30 Queen Elizabeth Boulevard, John B. Parkin Associates (Silver Medal)
Garden Court Apartments, 1477 Bayview Avenue, Page & Steele (Silver Medal)
Humber Memorial Hospital, 200 Church Street, John B. Parkin Associates (Silver Medal)
York Township Hydroelectric System, 15 Rotherham Avenue, John B. Parkin Associates (Silver Medal)

Apartment Building,
130 Old Forest Hill Road, Gordon S. Adamson Associates (Silver Medal)
York Township Municipal Offices, 2700 Eglinton Avenue West, Shore & Moffat (Silver Medal)

Don Mills Convenience Centre
, Don Mills Road and Lawrence Avenue, John B. Parkin Associates (Silver Medal, demolished)
Ontario Association of Architects Building, 50 Park Road, John B. Parkin Associates (Silver Medal)
Seaway Hotel, 2000 Lake Shore Boulevard West, Elken & Becksted (Silver Medal, demolished)
Simpson-Sears Industrial Development, 2200 Islington Avenue, John B. Parkin Associates (Silver Medal)
Toronto Teachers’ College, 951 Carlaw Avenue, Page & Steele (Silver Medal)

Ortho Pharmaceutical Canada
, 19 Greenbelt Drive, John B. Parkin Associates (Silver Medal)
South Hill Village, Barber Greene Road, James A. Murray & Henry Fleiss (Silver Medal)
Workmen’s Compensation Board Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre, 115 Torbarrie Road, Page & Steele (Silver Medal, demolished)

Kipling Collegiate Institute
, 380 Westway, Gordon S. Adamson & Associates (Silver Medal)
Private Golf Course (for George Crothers, 24 Valleyanna Drive), Raymond Moriyama & Associates (Silver Medal)
Regent Park South residential towers, Belshaw Place and Blevins Place, Page & Steele (Silver Medal, all five towers demolished)

Central Technical School Art Centre
, 725 Bathurst Street, Fairfield & DuBois (Medal)
Control Tower, Lester B. Pearson International Airport, John B. Parkin Associates (Medal, demolished)
Don Valley Woods Phase 1, Valley Woods Road, Jack Klein and Henry Sears (Medal)
Imperial Oil Ontario Regional Headquarters, 825 Don Mills Road, John B. Parkin Associates (Medal, demolished)
Lothian Mews, 96 Bloor Street West, Webb Zerafa Menkes (Medal, demolished)

Automotive Service Centre
, Lester B. Pearson International Airport, John B. Parkin Associates (Medal, demolished)
Ceterg Office Building, 2 Duncan Mill Road, Fairfield & DuBois (Medal)
Don Valley Woods Phase 2, Valley Woods Road, Klein and Sears (Medal)
Etobicoke Public Library, Richview Branch, 1806 Islington Avenue, Dunlop, Wardell, Matsui, Aitken (Medal)
Mimico Centennial Library, 47 Station Road, Banz, Brook, Carruthers, Grierson, Shaw (Medal)
Scarborough College, 1265 Military Trail, John Andrews Architect and Page & Steele (Medal)

No medals were awarded to Toronto-area entries.

Barton Myers house: contextual high-tech

Architect Barton Myers’ own residence at 19 Berryman Street in Yorkville is a high-tech icon amid rows of Victorian workers’ cottages. Completed in 1970 on a narrow 25-foot lot, the house was immediately celebrated as a prototype of urban infill for successfully balancing contemporary design with the scale and massing of its older neighbours.

Myers planned the two-storey structure around a large central atrium capped by a barrel-vaulted roof of translucent fiberglass. On the ground floor, the atrium separates the main entrance, garage and utility rooms at the front of the house from the kitchen and living area at the rear. Upstairs, the atrium is spanned by a steel bridge and staircase, which connects two children’s bedrooms, a bathroom and a study area in the front section with the master bedroom suite and library in the rear block. Awash in natural light, the atrium is the physical and psychological hub of the house for circulation, dining and entertaining.

Inside and out, the house’s industrial character is expressed by the bare concrete-block walls, visible structural steel and exposed mechanical and electrical systems. Floors are polished concrete, ceilings are ribbed steel decking and silvery air ducts wind their way throughout the neutral white interior spaces. Sail-like canvas panels can be extended across the atrium to retain heat or filter sunlight. To soften the starkness of these factory-like elements, Myers combined Modernist furniture with aged oriental rugs, colourful abstract art, abundant greenery and inherited antiques. Open to the living area, the south-facing rear garden is a lush, intimate outdoor room in the city, shielded by high walls and dense foliage. The gentle splash of water flowing into a rectangular reflecting pool adds to its tranquility.

The Myers house received numerous awards and has been extensively published around the world. Although steel never became a common material for houses, Myers continued to develop his approach to steel construction in the University of Alberta’s Housing Union Building (1972), the Wolf residence at 51 Roxborough Drive (1974), the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton (1976), the studio building for The Watt Group at 300 Bayview Avenue (1984) and, with his move to Los Angeles in the late 1980s, a number of his projects in the United States. The influence of the Myers house is also apparent in many of the laneway houses built in Toronto over the last two decades.

Period images of the Myers house can be found on the Barton Myers website.

Tartu College’s Brutalism on Bloor Street

Rising straight up from the sidewalk like an extrusion of raw, striated concrete, Tartu College at 310 Bloor Street West was completed in 1969 as a University of Toronto student co-op residence and as a library, archive and study centre for the Estonian-Canadian community.

To avoid the oppressive heaviness of many Brutalist towers, architects Tampold and Wells broke up the elevations with a series of vertical shear walls and staggered setbacks; bands of strip windows further dematerialize the building’s mass and provide a strong horizontal counterpoint. The main Bloor Street entrance is several feet above the sidewalk, deeply recessed into the façade at the top of a steep and rather pinched staircase, but this unfriendliness is balanced by the warm golden oak of the entrance doors (a well-detailed Aaltoesque feature) and the engagingly superscaled TARTU lettering cast into the adjoining wall. Internally, the L-shaped residential floors are divided into six-person suites, each with a communal lounge and kitchen facilities; individual bed-study rooms are deliberately small in size to promote social interaction among the residents. Tartu College’s innovative design and quality execution were recognized by a 1971 Canadian Housing Design Council Award.

Tampold and Wells designed a number of multi-unit residential complexes in the Toronto area during the 1960s and 70s. Nearby examples include the famously anarchic Rochdale College (now the Senator David A. Croll Apartments for seniors) at 341 Bloor Street West, the University of Toronto’s Student Family Housing Towers at 30 and 35 Charles Street West, and the landmark The Colonnade, Toronto’s first modern mixed-use building (retail, commercial and residential), at 131 Bloor Street West (with architect Gerald Robinson).

A touch of Wright in Rosedale

At first glance, Modernism and Rosedale seem to be an incongruous combination. The leafy, curving streets of Toronto’s traditional old-money neighbourhood are lined with gracious homes largely from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, complemented by a few Georgian and Tudor Revivals that filled the remaining lots during the 1920s and 30s. Despite limited opportunities to build, from the 1950s onward a small number of distinguished Modernist residences have been constructed, often on subdivided estates or on sites previously considered unbuildable.

One of the lesser-known examples of Modernism in Rosedale is 87 Roxborough Drive, designed by architect George Boake of Crang & Boake for his family and completed in 1956. Low-key and undemonstrative, the house is set nearly flush to the street on a small, shallow site that abruptly drops away into one of Rosedale’s main ravines. To capitalize upon the steeply-sloping incline, Boake tucked a lower storey beneath what appears from the street to be a single-storey structure. This compact and efficient arrangement allowed the full separation of the adult and children’s living areas: the living room, dining room and master bedroom suite overlook the ravine from the entrance level, while three bedrooms, a bathroom and a playroom for the Boake children occupy the lower level. Connecting the two floors is a broad staircase, naturally illuminated by a skylight and a wall of glass blocks. Living areas are located well away from the street, buffered by the service and storage areas, and open onto sizable sundecks on both levels.

The Boake residence is also one of the surprisingly few Toronto houses directly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. On the outside, Wright’s design principles are evident in the pronounced horizontal coursing of the red-brick walls, the deep roof overhangs with angled fascias and the daringly cantilevered roof section over the carport. A broad brick chimney on the cross-axis pins the house to its precarious site. The Wrightian concept of unity between the inside and outside is expressed by extending the brick walls into the interior, culminating in a massive asymmetrical brick fireplace as the focal point of the living area. Overhead, natural light filters downward from raised clerestory windows; low-slung ceiling soffits form a light trough around the opening and continue outside to become the exterior roof overhang. Their smooth white surfaces reflect light throughout the interior. Contrasting dark-stained wood frames the soffits, the floor-to-ceiling windows and the French doors, while butt-jointed glass makes the room’s corners seem to disappear. The dining area advances Wright’s belief in integration with nature to its logical conclusion, extending outward into the greenery like a glass-walled treehouse.

Crang & Boake was formed in 1952 by recent University of Toronto graduates James Crang and George Boake. Initially focusing on economical residential, commercial and light-industrial buildings, the practice rapidly grew to become one of Canada’s largest architectural firms from the 1970s through the mid-1990s. Early Toronto work includes apartment buildings at 145 and 169 St. George Street, the British-American Oil offices at 477 Mount Pleasant Road, the Columbia Records of Canada offices at 1121 Leslie Street, the Gestetner Canada offices at 849 Don Mills Road, the Burndy Canada offices and plant at 1530 Birchmount Road, the firm’s own offices at 86 Overlea Boulevard and the marble-clad Canada Trust tower at 110 Yonge Street. All have been altered to varying degrees.

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