Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vancouver Lights in Toronto: Part II

The second installment of Vancouver Lights' Toronto visit covers a more condensed time period: all of the following works were completed within 5 years of each other, from 1960 to 1965. They include important works by some of the country's foremost architects, including John B. Parkin Associates, Earle C. Morgan, Page + Steele Architects and Ron Thom (at that time still with Thompson Berwick + Pratt). There are also key contributions from foreign architects, namely Viljo Revell and Modernist giant Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Together they give a portrait of a city percolating with creativity and a time when Modernism was not just ascendant, but dominating design in Toronto.

TD Centre

The Toronto Dominon Centre largely speaks for itself. Sprawling over a block in the downtown business district, it feels like a functional, breathtaking shrine to its architect–Mies van der Rohe–and his vision of order and clarity. The buildings have been well preserved and the interiors and details maintained impeccably. Lobbies still hold Mies' 'Barcelona' chairs and the main banking centre–a large open room flush with rich wood and muted light–emits an aura of calm and confidence that is frankly remarkable.

Currently in the midst of renovation work, including replacing artwork and 'green' features such as new sealed windows, one hopes the timeless essence of the place remains intact. It is an ode to Capitalism and the commercial machine that imbues that function with dignity and optimism.

O'Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts

Initially called the O'Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts upon its completion in 1960, this cultural centre was renamed the Hummingbird Centre in 1996 and is currently called the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.

It too is in the midst of a renovation, though one that is much more extensive than the TD Centre. As with many theaters built in Canada at the time, it featured state-of-the art design and acoustics, the latter eventually being criticized as inadequate. It was designed by Earle C. Morgan and Page + Steele Architects and is a Modernist take on traditional theatre design, with an emphasis on more open circulation spaces and cleaner lines.

The entrance, with it's distinctive canopy, rises out toward the street and welcomes theatre-goers into a compressed lobby before opening up inside to an impressive double height foyer, featuring a 100' mural by Toronto artist Ronald York Wilson. The grand entrance is tempered on the exterior by straightforward material choices and muted pedestrian arcades that ring the building.

Toronto City Hall

Toronto City Hall was designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell in the late 1950's after winning an international design competition. Completed in 1965, it features two curved buildings, rising out of a rectangular base, that cradle a council chamber, often referred to as the 'pearl' of the complex. The rounded buildings are slender, resulting in an office arrangement with windows on the inner sides only.

To the south of the buildings is Nathan Phillips Square–a windswept plaza with a large fountain/water feature and sculptural concrete elements. Parts of the plaza feel a bit forlorn and forgotten, such as the elevated walkways on the outer sides of the block, however there are signs of revitalization through ongoing landscaping.

Crashley Residence

An original John Parkin-designed residence from the early 1960's with a confused history. Originally built for J. Douglas Crashley (one time president of the AGO), the house was renovated in the 1990's but has fallen into shocking disrepair in the intervening years.

The subject of much hand-wringing and various proposals for renovations on a designated heritage structure, a 2008 Preservation Board memo ruled that Moriyama and Teshima's plans to add another story to the house were unacceptable. M+T's proposal to open the house up to the street seems to have drawn particular ire, given that the nature of Parkin's original design–and importantly, the character of the neighborhood–emphasized privacy and modesty. As of the time of these photos, the house sits decaying and abandoned.

Massey College

One of the most captivating buildings in Canadian architecture, Ron Thom's 1962 Massey College warrants a post of its own, which will follow. Meantime, here are a few photos that give a hint of the complexity and depth that sits at the corner of Hoskin and Devonshire on the University of Toronto campus.

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