Posts Tagged 'Mies van der Rohe'

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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God is in the details at the TD Centre

A landmark at King and Bay since opening in 1967, the Toronto-Dominion Centre is among Mies van der Rohe’s largest and most important works. Here, the architect’s typically spare Classical simplicity, precise detailing and exquisite materials are best exhibited in the low-rise banking pavilion. Its open-span interior, framed in black steel and wrapped in bronze-tinted glass, integrates floor slabs of St. John grey granite, partition walls of fine-grained English oak, bookmatched panels of green Tinos marble and Mies’ own furniture of leather, glass and steel. Owners Cadillac Fairview and TD Canada Trust have fastidiously maintained the complex through the years and faithfully honour Mies’ most minute design details, down to the yellow daisies in spherical glass vases that are filled exactly one-third with water and meticulously arranged on desktops and banking counters.

All of which makes this photo of the seating area in the pavilion’s northwest corner even more incongruous. You’ll note the misaligned (Mies-aligned?) steel base of his iconic Barcelona table – it’s at right angles to the tabletop rather than in a 45-degree X-pattern. Not only is the current arrangement incorrect and unaesthetic, it’s also unstable – if someone were to sit on one of the unsupported corners, the thick plate-glass top would likely tilt off the base and crash to the ground.

Mies would not be pleased.

The Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Archive is part of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Architecture and Design: http://moma.org/explore/collection/architecture_design


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