Posts Tagged 'modernist architecture'

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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Six scenes of Toronto City Hall

Opened to great fanfare on September 13, 1965, the New Toronto City Hall represents Toronto’s break from its parochial past and its emergence as a dynamic, forward-looking international metropolis. These postcard images depict the building immediately after completion; Henry Moore’s famed bronze sculpture The Archer was not unveiled on Nathan Phillips Square until October 1966.

City Hall was designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell, winner of an international design competition that drew over 500 entries from 42 countries and was adjudicated by architectural luminaries such as Ernesto Rogers, Eero Saarinen and Sir William Holford. Revell’s flamboyantly sculptural and expressionistic masterpiece—two curving office towers cupping a saucer-shaped council chamber, atop a wide, low podium—has long transcended its initial controversy and established itself as a beloved Toronto landmark and a timeless icon of Modernism in Canada.

Elevated above the podium as the focal point of Revell’s composition, the council chamber symbolizes the primacy of the city’s democratically-elected representatives. Measuring 155 feet in diameter and some 40 feet to the peak of its domed ceiling, the clear-span concrete shell hovers over the circular central assembly space and semi-circular public gallery. A continuous band of glass between the upper and lower shells provides indirect daylight.

The central lobby is dominated by the Hall of Memory war memorial. A massive mushroom-shaped column bursts upward from a sunken amphitheatre, supporting the council chamber above and flooded with light from below. Regimental insignias line the amphitheatre wall; in the foreground are the Book of Remembrance and a cylindrical time capsule.

Inside the lobby itself, the curving shapes of structural columns, freestanding staircases and the Hall of Memory are contrasted by the linearity of the aluminum ceiling panels and strips of white Botticcino marble set into the floors. Main doors, stair railings and other interior fittings are of heavy laminated teak, the rich wood tones adding warmth to the predominantly grey and white environment. Original interiors by Knoll International included furniture by Eero Saarinen, Mies van der Rohe and Warren Platner as well as custom Knoll-designed desks and benches of precast concrete with inset wood tops.

Key to the success of City Hall is Nathan Phillips Square, an expansive civic plaza that visually frames the building and provides much-needed open space in Toronto’s downtown core. Its rectangular reflecting pool, spanned by three concrete arches, is a popular summertime oasis and in winter becomes an ice rink for throngs of enthusiastic skaters. The square is presently undergoing a revitalization that will restore much of its original spatial qualities while introducing new amenities and sustainable green spaces.

Exhibition Place goes Modernist

Inaugurated in 1879 as the site of the Toronto Industrial Exhibition, Exhibition Place currently draws over five million people each year to the Canadian National Exhibition, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, sporting and cultural events and trade and consumer shows. Although Exhibition Place’s eclectic mix of buildings dates as far back as 1794, seven major structures built between 1948 and 1962 exemplified Modernist architecture in Toronto and captured the optimistic, forward-looking spirit of the time.

Grandstand Stadium (Marani and Morris, 1948; demolished 1999) was Exhibition Place’s first postwar Modernist building and received a silver medal in the inaugural 1950 Massey Medals for Architecture competition. For many years the home of Argonauts football, Blue Jays baseball and innumerable concerts and special events, the stadium was defined by its massive steel-truss roof, cantilevered over the spectators for unobstructed sightlines. A carefully-detailed rear elevation of brick and limestone gave the building a substantial street-level presence.

The Food Building (Richard Fisher, 1954) was built to showcase the products of Canada’s food industry, from Laura Secord chocolates to Maple Leaf meats and Red Rose tea. An 80-foot pylon of stainless steel, now removed, marked the main entrance; reflecting pools at the secondary entrances feature bronze fish sculptures by Jean Horne. The enormous FOOD sign atop the roof remains, and after dark the rows of hourglass light fixtures wash the exterior walls with cones of light.

Once a dominant landmark at Exhibition Place, the steel-and-glass Shell Oil Tower (George Robb, 1955; demolished 1985) provided visitors with 360-degree views from its observation deck. The giant analogue clockface, visible from across the exhibition grounds, was replaced in the late 1960s by a then-novel digital readout.

The Queen Elizabeth Building (Page & Steele, 1956) was designed by Peter Dickinson, an English émigré architect who helped define Modernist architecture in Canada before his untimely death in 1961 at the age of 35. Folded-plate concrete roofs facilitated the long spans required for the 1300-seat theatre and exhibition hall, complemented by a swooping entrance canopy (now removed) and a glass-walled lobby with a freestanding spiral staircase. The blade-like structural towers jutting from the exhibition hall are particularly dramatic. In the foreground is the Princess Margaret Fountain, created by the Toronto exhibit-display firm Design Craft and installed in 1958.

Dufferin Gates (Philip Brook, 1959), a 65-foot-high parabolic arch of reinforced concrete, marks the northern entrance to Exhibition Place. Its shape was likely inspired by Eero Saarinen’s famous Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, designed in 1947 but not completed until 1965.

Canada’s national sport found its permanent home at the Hockey Hall of Fame (Allward and Gouinlock, 1962; demolished 2005). Neoclassical New Formalist influences showed in its columned entrance portico, polished white granite exterior walls and latticework screens of gold-anodized aluminum. A matching east wing, added in 1967 for the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, completed the symmetrical composition.

CNE Better Living Centre

The Better Living Centre (Marani, Morris & Allan, 1962) celebrated the latest consumer goods for the home, including furniture, appliances, electronics and housewares. A thin, flat roof appears to float above the curving walls of white glazed brick, separated by a narrow band of clerestory windows. Some five acres of floor space were relieved by a central courtyard marked by a Mondrianesque tower of black steel and coloured Plexiglas.

Canadian National Exhibition postcard 1

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