Posts Tagged 'Irving Grossman'

Three synagogues by Irving Grossman

IMG_7492 Shaarei Tefillah

Following the close of the Second World War, much of Toronto’s Jewish community began a northerly migration along the Bathurst Street corridor, moving throughout the sprawling new suburbs of North York to the northern edge of Metro Toronto. This mix of Orthodox and more liberal congregations, many newly-formed, looked to Modernist architecture as an expression of their religious faith and their confidence in the future, both in a new postwar suburban world and, for those who had left war-ravaged Europe, in a fresh beginning in an entirely new country. Responding to this need, Irving Grossman, then a promising young Toronto architect, designed a series of synagogues that deftly integrated traditional Hebrew imagery and ritual with the rapidly-evolving language of Modernist architecture.

IMG_7457 Beth David

IMG_7471 Beth David

One of Grossman’s earliest works for the Jewish community was the Beth David B’Nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue, completed in 1959 at 55 Yeomans Road. Conceived by Grossman as a richly decorated jewel box, the rectangular form of Beth David was completely wrapped in concrete bas-relief panels, each deeply sculpted with abstracted interpretations of traditional Hebrew iconography. In a rich contrast of light and shadow, the panels express the menorah, the sacred wine goblet and the tree of life, while curves of glass represent the cupped hands of the high priest. This evocative fusion of art and architecture was developed in collaboration with Graham Coughtry, a rising star in the Toronto art world with whom Grossman shared a studio building. And the design proved surprisingly cost-effective: the precast panels cost little more than a plain cladding and their modular construction eased future expansion.

Shaarei Tefillah 9 LR

IMG_7485 Shaarei Tefillah

Some distance south at 3600 Bathurst Street is the 1963 Shaarei Tefillah. Faced with a constricted site and heavy vehicle traffic, Grossman turned the complex inward, arranging around an inset courtyard an octagonal-shaped sanctuary on the prominent northeast corner and a rectangular assembly hall to the south. The sanctuary is placed close to the sidewalk on two sides, its flat planes of orange-brown brick separated by inset slit windows and ornamented with vertical piers capped by the Star of David. Above the walls is a ring of stained-glass clerestories, filtering natural light through cool tones of blue, green and violet. Seating in the sanctuary is also octagonal, as per Ashkenazic requirements, with an upper gallery tucked beneath the timber-beamed roof. Sunlight streams down through an octagonal skylight to illuminate the central bema.

IMG_4840 Temple Emanu-El

IMG_4844 Temple Emanu-El

Grossman’s Temple Emanu-El, completed in 1963 for a reform congregation, is by contrast set within a bucolic acreage at the end of Old Colony Road. Its long, low red-brick base nestles into the crest of a grassy slope, topped by the cubic form of the sanctuary volume and an ethereally floating roof of glass and steel. The generous south-facing entrance, sheltered by a row of mansard roofs, evokes a sun-kissed California feel and leads to the main sanctuary space. Here, rows of parliamentary-style seating face each other in the Sephardic tradition, washed in natural light from above and through the massive Star of David-shaped aperture over the bema. Red brick walls and dark-stained cedar link the interior and exterior and complete a warm, comforting and uplifting environment for spiritual contemplation.

Toronto Islands Modern

Located just across Toronto’s inner harbour from the downtown core, the Toronto Islands have long been a popular summertime retreat from the heat and noise of the city. While the 17 or so islands are dotted with structures dating to the early 1800s, the creation of Centre Island Park in the late 1950s and early 1960s produced some interesting Modernist versions of traditional park facilities.

In 1956 Project Planning Associates began work on the master plan for Centre Island Park, intended as the first stage of a larger plan to redevelop the entire Toronto Islands as a vast public park. Led by Macklin Hancock, planner of the internationally-acclaimed Don Mills, Project Planning Associates was one of Canada’s first broadly multidisciplinary design firms, providing in-house teams of planners, architects, landscape architects, civil engineers and other specialized consultants for large-scale projects.

Toronto Island postcard c.1960

As originally conceived, Centre Island Park included Middle Island, Olympic Island and the core of Centre Island itself. Visitors disembark at the Centre Island ferry dock and proceed southward along the Avenue of the Islands, winding through a landscape of sprawling green lawns, grassy berms and clusters of trees. Across Long Pond and Manitou Bridge are the park’s centrepieces, the octagonal Island Fountain and a grand pedestrian mall that extends south to the shore of Lake Ontario. Perhaps oddly formal for the resolutely casual Islands, the allée is lined with manicured hedges and trees, colourful flowerbeds and cool blue reflecting pools. Far Enough Farm, a small-scale children’s farm, was also established at the time.

In addition to executing the park’s overall planning and landscape design, Project Planning also designed a number of buildings as Hancock, Little, Calvert Associates. Particularly expressive is the hexagon-shaped Iroquois Restaurant, perched upon the bank of a lagoon and sheltered under a folded copper roof supported by massive timber beams. In a more rectilinear style is the nearby boathouse, as are the pavilions to the west of the Island Fountain and at the entrance to the Island Pier. Three smaller pavilions with festive folded-plate concrete roofs are by Venchiarutti & Venchiarutti (a fourth was demolished), while Olympic Island’s umbrella-roofed pavilion and open-air theatre were added a few years later by Irving Grossman.

Toronto Island postcard c.1960

The grand scheme to redevelop the entire Toronto Islands as parkland was never fully completed. Demolition stopped in 1970, leaving 250 homes remaining on Ward’s Island and Algonquin Island, and after years of controversy and legal action the community’s future was finally secured in 1993. Today, Centre Island Park is indistinguishable from the larger Toronto Island Park, and its hordes of visitors seem to more or less happily coexist with the Islands’ residential community.

Toronto Island postcard c.1960

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.


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