Posts Tagged 'commercial buildings'

One University Avenue / Metropolitan Place

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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.

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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.

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A medley of motor hotels

Constellation Hotel postcard, c. 1963

A creation of postwar mobility and affluence, the upscale motor hotel swept across North America during the 1950s and 60s. Motor hotels combined the auto-oriented convenience and informal ease of the suburban motel with the luxury amenities, attentive service and fine dining found in the better downtown hotels, all wrapped in a high-style architectural package that captured pure midcentury swank.

In Toronto, the model was epitomized by the sleek and glamourous Four Seasons Motor Hotel and the Inn on the Park, both designed by Peter Dickinson, and the Scandinavian-influenced Valhalla Inn by George Robb. Joining the trend in the early 1960s were three other notable architect-designed motor hotels: the Constellation Hotel, the Ascot 27 Hotel and the Canadiana Motor Hotel.

Constellation postcard 2 LR

With air travel rapidly expanding and the new Toronto International Airport under construction, formerly rural Dixon Road became a magnet for hotel development. The Constellation Hotel (above and top) was among the first to open in 1963 at Dixon and Carlingview Drive. Architects Bregman + Hamann designed the Constellation as a two-part composition, fronting the block of guest rooms with a low-pitched A-frame pavilion for the entrance lobby and dining lounges. Rugged fieldstone walls helped to visually tie the pavilion to the site and contrasted its transparent glassiness. The Constellation’s backers further upped the ante by commissioning murals from Jack Reppen and Harold Town as well as Galaxy, an enormous welded-aluminum sculpture by Gerald Gladstone that now resides in front of the Etobicoke Civic Centre.

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Ascot 27 Hotel crop

The Ascot 27 Hotel opened in 1960 near the intersection of Rexdale Boulevard and Highway 27, also convenient to the Toronto airport and the new Woodbine horse-racing track. Architect George Robb stretched the hotel 700 feet along a curving ravine escarpment, giving guests and restaurant diners a birds-eye view into the trees of the Humber River valley below. A swoopy Swiss chalet-style roof, inset with coloured glass, established an immediate visual identity and created dramatic interior spaces for the entrance lobby and dining lounge.

Canadiana postcard LR

Overlooking Highway 401 at Kennedy Road was the Canadiana Motor Hotel, designed by James Murray and Henry Fliess and opened in 1962. Here, the signature element was the circular dining pavilion, a space-age flying saucer that had alighted on the lawn next to the amoeba-shaped swimming pool. The crisply rectilinear main building provided an inset sundeck for each of the 95 rooms as well as lounge and conference facilities.

Like most of their contemporaries, much has changed for these roadside icons in the intervening fifty years. The Constellation Hotel was repeatedly expanded, enveloping the original building and enlarging from 150 rooms to 800 rooms (including numerous disco-era clubs, restaurants, health spas and palm-tree atriums) before going bankrupt in the early 2000s. The abandoned complex was finally demolished in 2012. The Ascot 27 Hotel is also long gone, replaced by high-rise residential towers, while the Canadiana’s guestroom block lives on within the current Delta Toronto East. The economics of the hospitality industry have shifted to blandly generic chain accommodations, but the remaining preserved or restored examples of classic motor hotels still bring a sense of style to the open roads.

Marketing Mies at the TD Centre

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Completed in 1967 to designs by the pioneering Modernist master Mies van der Rohe, the Toronto-Dominion Tower immediately redefined the Toronto skyline and financial district. The centrepiece of the new Toronto-Dominion Centre, the city’s first major multitower office complex, the TD Tower was the tallest building in Canada and one of the tallest in the world, an enormous rectangular monolith of black steel and bronze glass extruded 54 storeys above the corner of King and Bay.

With the Toronto-Dominion Bank planning to occupy only a portion of their 1.7 million square-foot tower, in 1964 the bank and development partners Cemp Investments Ltd. commissioned an elaborate full-colour brochure to help attract major corporate tenants as well as appropriately A-list finance, law and accounting firms. At a lofty $6 per square foot, leases were some 20% above the going rate for premium Toronto office space.

Prospective tenants were invited to partake in more than just a new office building. “Great cities deserve great buildings,” read the foreword, signed by TD president Allen Lambert and Cemp VP (and liquor magnate) Charles Bronfman. “The Toronto Dominion Bank Tower, as such a great building, will bring grandeur and serenity to the core of the city…It is our hope that the Centre will inspire other undertakings for the betterment of Toronto’s environment for work and human relationship. The completion of its first phase in the Centennial Year heralds Canada’s second century, and marks a significant architectural contribution to the future of a great Canadian city.”

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References to the Canadian centennial recur throughout the brochure, reinforcing the building’s positioning as an expression of an optimistic, forward-looking nation driving ahead into its second century as well as a transformative nexus for dynamic and innovative business leadership. Renewal of Toronto’s aging, cluttered core was not neglected, either: the TD Centre would be at the vanguard of a rejuvenated downtown, its graceful proportions and spacious plaza providing light, air, space and greenery for all. “Business welcomes such change,” the copy confides, “not for reasons of altruism, but because it makes the best of business sense.”

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With appeals to city- and nation-building complete, the brochure’s latter third is about power, luxury and lifestyle. The self-contained nature of the TD Centre and its many amenities—“a city within a city”—promise a reassuringly insular alternative if urban renewal doesn’t quite work out. Elaborately detailed renderings depict the era’s trappings of business success: the boardroom tables extending almost to infinity, the acres of attentive clerical staff and the expansive, sleekly appointed executive offices with skyline views and leather Eames lounge chairs. The restaurant and lounge on the 54th floor represent sophisticated, monied leisure, the swank alcoves of deep-toned turquoise blues, greens and browns populated by women in cocktail dresses and men in dark suits and narrow ties.

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It’s a compelling presentation, and no doubt contributed to the TD Centre’s great success. And Mies? His name is nowhere to be found in the brochure, except as a quote in the foreword. Although Mies was the primary architect and a widely-recognized figure, he was not officially licensed to practice architecture in Ontario; thus, the decision was made to list only the architects of record, John B. Parkin Associates and Bregman & Hamann, in promotional materials.

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Bregman + Hamann: Spaces for People

By the late 1970s Bregman + Hamann had become one of the largest and most prolific architectural firms in Canada. Founded in 1953 by University of Toronto graduates Sidney Bregman and George Hamann, the firm soon progressed from small office buildings and apartment houses to working with the international architectural stars of the day, executing projects of unprecedented size and scale with profound impacts upon Toronto’s built environment.

Spaces for People, a thick, glossy marketing brochure published in 1977, captures Bregman + Hamann at this giddy peak. Fold-out pages showcase three landmark Toronto developments to which B+H contributed: Mies van der Rohe’s Toronto Dominion Centre, its precisely detailed black steel towers the first and arguably the best of the Bay Street banking complexes; Edward Durell Stone’s First Canadian Place, wrapped in slabs of white Carrara marble and, at 72 storeys, the tallest building in Canada; and Eb Zeidler’s iconic Toronto Eaton Centre, whose spectacular glass-roofed galleria influenced shopping malls around the world.

Bregman + Hamann’s own designs also proliferated across Toronto: multi-tower complexes such as the Yonge-Eglinton Centre, Harbour Square on the waterfront and Olympia Square in Don Mills; Mount Sinai Hospital, Scarborough Centenary Hospital and other major healthcare facilities; and an array of public schools, regional shopping malls and light-industrial buildings. Commercial office buildings, B+H’s historical strength, were legion: in barely ten years the firm had populated the busy Bay/Bloor intersection with 1200 Bay Street and 77, 80, 102 and 130 Bloor Street West. Downtown, the Sunoco Building and Prudential Assurance Building modestly filled spaces around the megaprojects. Most buildings were clad with precast concrete, the predominant Toronto building material of the period, and in their sometimes leaden heaviness reflected wider North American architectural trends.

Never experimental or avant-garde, Bregman + Hamann built their reputation on technical expertise, reliable project management and unobtrusively handsome buildings delivered on time and on budget. These qualities made them a favourite of major Canadian developers like Cadillac Fairview, Campeau Corporation and Olympia & York, and well-positioned to capitalize upon Toronto’s explosive growth during the 1960s and 70s. Spaces for People addresses this mercantile reality while acknowledging, as the title suggests, humanism, urbanism, community and public space—values that by the late 1970s were embedded in the consciousness of a public increasingly sceptical toward large-scale development.

Imperial Oil’s Parthenon of petroleum

Imperial Oil’s Ontario regional headquarters was truly a building of the Automotive Age, meant to be perceived not by pedestrians strolling the sidewalk, but from behind the wraparound windshield of a Buick Electra at speed. Completed in 1962 on a verdant hillside at 825 Don Mills Road, overlooking the busy intersection of Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue, the Imperial Oil building was as long as a football field and sleekly clad in an endless grid of sculpted white precast panels.

John B. Parkin Associates designed Imperial Oil with Classical formality and the rectilinear lines of the International Style. The ground floor was recessed some 20 feet and clad in dark plum-coloured brick, making the building appear to hover above the site. Exposed structural columns defined a broad south-facing podium, fronted with reflecting pools, fountain jets and a row of spotlights to light up the facade at night. The main lobby, accessed from a large surface parking lot at the rear, offered views of traffic whizzing by through floor-to-ceiling glass. A technical innovation was the neoprene seals between the window glass and precast panels, used for the first time in Canada, which eliminated bulky metal window frames. Imperial Oil was awarded a 1964 Massey Medal for Architecture and an honourable mention at the Sao Paulo International Biennale of Architecture and Design.

The building was not to last, however. Imperial Oil moved out in the early 1990s and, with the commercial office market flatlining, the building was summarily demolished. Its site is now the parking lot of a big-box supermarket. Only the crumbling stub of the service drive remains.

Neighbouring Wynford Drive is still lined with fine examples of 1960s Modernist buildings, including A.C. Nielsen at 39 Wynford Drive (Peter Dickinson Associates / Webb & Menkes, 1963, altered), Texaco Canada at 90 Wynford Drive (Bregman & Hamann, 1968), Bell Canada at 100 Wynford Drive (Webb Zerafa Menkes, 1969), and the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre at 123 Wynford Drive (Raymond Moriyama and Associates, 1963). The Bata International headquarters at 59 Wynford Drive (John B. Parkin Associates, 1965), a further development of the Imperial Oil concept, has been demolished, as have Oxford University Press at 70 Wynford Drive (Fairfield & Dubois, 1963) and Shell Canada at 75 Wynford Drive (Webb Zerafa Menkes, 1966).

Season’s Greetings from the first Four Seasons

Designed by Peter Dickinson Associates, the first Four Seasons Hotel opened in 1961 at 415 Jarvis Street. One of budding hotelier Isadore Sharp’s many innovations, suggested by landscape architect Austin Floyd, was to celebrate the holiday season by placing Christmas trees on every balcony. The brightly-lit trees brought the hotel’s courtyard alive with cheer, particularly when casting their luminous glow upon a blanket of fresh snow. To maintain a festive spirit after New Year’s, the trees were artistically piled in the courtyard outside the dining room, sprayed with water and allowed to freeze until they formed a giant sparkling ice sculpture.

Best wishes to all in 2012!

The long-lost Lord Simcoe Hotel

Opened on May 15, 1957 at 150 King Street West and University Avenue, the Lord Simcoe Hotel was one of Toronto’s first postwar downtown hotels and certainly the shortest-lived. In October 1979, after only 22 years of operation, the hotel closed its doors and was subsequently demolished to make way for the east tower of the Sun Life Centre.

The Lord Simcoe was designed by Montreal architect Henry T. Langston. Langston enclosed the hotel’s 900 rooms within a wide and shallow building envelope, bookending the long north and south façades with projecting wings faced in limestone. Curtainwalls were a subdued blue-grey glass overlaid with narrow bands of green porcelain enamel. A deep canopy sheltered the main entrance on King Street, flanked by bookmatched marble panels deftly angled to draw in passersby. Gold-toned anodized aluminum rather garishly framed the lower-level windows and wall panels.

Restaurants and guest rooms were designed and furnished by the T. Eaton Company. The three restaurants—The Pump Room, The Captain’s Table and The Country Fare—were decorated in historical styles. The luxurious Pump Room was reportedly inspired by its 1795 neoclassical namesake in Bath, England; accordingly, waiters wore long red tailcoats and served prime rib skewered on swords. The entrance lobby and public areas were considerably more modern, with lots of sleek walnut paneling, brass trim and floor tiles in a checkerboard pattern. “Rest-Assured” guest rooms were similarly outfitted in walnut and brass, and boasted television sets to receive Toronto’s sole TV station.

The Lord Simcoe proved to be only sporadically profitable, although its cocktail lounge was a favourite Bay Street watering hole for many years. By the mid-1970s the hotel seemed painfully dated, and its lack of central air conditioning and large conference spaces left it uncompetitive with newer downtown hotels. Rising land values and increasing demand for office space in the financial district finally sealed its fate.

As a side note, Lord Simcoe was actually a misnomer: Governor John Graves Simcoe was never elevated to the peerage, despite serving as the first lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada and founding what is now Toronto. Lord Simcoe Hotel was presumably chosen by the hotel’s management company to match their existing Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa and Lord Beaverbrook Hotel in Fredericton, New Brunswick.


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