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What Does the Future of Toronto's Skyline Look Like?

Posted: 12/06/2012 5:34 pm

Led Zeppelin played its first North American gig there in 1969, and Neil Young rocked the house, too.

Toronto concert venue The Masonic Temple is up for sale and likely not long for this world. There is an understandable outcry. This cannot be true! We are destroying our heritage! But what is the architectural legacy of a building past its best before date?

In this context we might actually mean nostalgia for a past youth of ear blistering sounds and shaggy rock dreams. In the discourse so far, few have spoken about the building's attributes, its architectural values and influence. Truth is, the temple was built in 1917 for an altogether different time. At its peak, the building was home to 38 different Masonic bodies. In later years it became a popular event space for local performers and international stars.

The Masonic Temple was added to the City of Toronto's Heritage Property list along with about 7,000 others included in the heritage inventory, from well-known landmark buildings and structures to private homes and heritage districts.

But simply preserving a building such as this misses the point. Cities are in constant change and that is a good thing. Toronto is lucky enough to be grappling with growth that out-paces almost every other city on the continent. The conversation should focus on what this future looks like and what kind of buildings we want to make up our communities.

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  • 12 Degrees

    This 11-story building near Toronto's Queen West, developed by BSäR Group Of Companies and Prince Bay Developments, is meant to reflect the "building-block" feel of other buildings in the neighbourhood, such as the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Ontario College of Art and Design. Expected completion date: January 2013.

  • 12 Degrees

    This 11-story building near Toronto's Queen West, developed by BSäR Group Of Companies and Prince Bay Developments, is meant to reflect the "building-block" feel of other buildings in the neighbourhood, such as the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Ontario College of Art and Design. Expected completion date: January 2013.

  • 12 Degrees

    This 11-story building near Toronto's Queen West, developed by BSäR Group Of Companies and Prince Bay Developments, is meant to reflect the "building-block" feel of other buildings in the neighbourhood, such as the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Ontario College of Art and Design. Expected completion date: January 2013.

  • West Harbour City

    Completed in 2010, this building on Toronto's western lakeshore gives the city a new Gothic touch. Developed by Plazacorp and designed by Quadrangle Architects, the 36- and 28-story condo towers are quickly becoming a city landmark.

  • West Harbour City

    Completed in 2010, this building on Toronto's western lakeshore gives the city a new Gothic touch. Developed by Plazacorp and designed by Quadrangle Architects, the 36- and 28-story condo towers are quickly becoming a city landmark.

  • Hive Lofts on the Queensway

    Designed by Teeple Architects and developed by Symmetry Developments, this six-story low-rise will change the feel of Toronto's Queensway neighbourhood. Construction expected to be completed by May, 2013.

  • Hive Lofts on the Queensway

    Designed by Teeple Architects and developed by Symmetry Developments, this six-story low-rise will change the feel of Toronto's Queensway neighbourhood. Construction expected to be completed by May, 2013.

  • TCHC Block 32

    OK so this isn't exactly a condo tower -- it's a rental building being developed by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. The 41-story apartment building is set to be completed in late 2012, and the building makes two important points: That rental aprtment buildings can have character; and that if designed properly, buildings can look cool in winter.

  • TCHC Block 32

    OK so this isn't exactly a condo tower -- it's a rental building being developed by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. The 41-story apartment building is set to be completed in late 2012, and the building makes two important points: That rental aprtment buildings can have character; and that if designed properly, buildings can look cool in winter.

  • 190OZ

    190OZ, to be located on Ossington Street in the city's west side, is another example of the "building block" style that is becoming popular in Toronto. Developed by Reserve Properties, the six-story building should be online in 2014.

  • 190OZ

    190OZ, to be located on Ossington Street in the city's west side, is another example of the "building block" style that is becoming popular in Toronto. Developed by Reserve Properties, the six-story building should be online in 2014.

  • King West Condominiums

    This monstrous, three-pronged condo tower isn't slated to open until mid-2013, but its shadow is already changing Toronto's landscape. Developed by Plazacorp and designed by Quadrangle Architects, the building features a 20,000-square-foot fitness club and no fewer than two bowling alleys.

  • King West Condominiums

    This monstrous, three-pronged condo tower isn't slated to open until mid-2013, but its shadow is already changing Toronto's landscape. Developed by Plazacorp and designed by Quadrangle Architects, the building features a 20,000-square-foot fitness club and no fewer than two bowling alleys.

  • King West Condominiums

    This monstrous, three-pronged condo tower isn't slated to open until mid-2013, but its shadow is already changing Toronto's landscape. Developed by Plazacorp and designed by Quadrangle Architects, the building features a 20,000-square-foot fitness club and no fewer than two bowling alleys.

  • Edge on Triangle Park

    This 15-story building from Plazacorp and architects Tact Design brings European modernism to Toronto's Liberty Village neighbourhood. The big empty spaces in the building (note the gap on the right side of the main facade) create a "shine-through" effect that gives the building more than the usual amount of lighting. Completion slated for January, 2014.

  • Edge on Triangle Park

    This 15-story building from Plazacorp and architects Tact Design brings European modernism to Toronto's Liberty Village neighbourhood. The big empty spaces in the building (note the gap on the right side of the main facade) create a "shine-through" effect that gives the building more than the usual amount of lighting. Completion slated for January, 2014.

  • Studio on Richmond

    Aspen Ridge Homes is planning this futuristic (some would even say Blade Runner-ish) building complex for Toronto's repidly gentrifying downtown east side. Once completed, the complex will feature two towers -- one 41 stories, the other 31 stories. Another project from Quadrangle Architects, this one is slated for completion in January, 2015.

  • Studio on Richmond

    Aspen Ridge Homes is planning this futuristic (some would even say Blade Runner-ish) building complex for Toronto's repidly gentrifying downtown east side. Once completed, the complex will feature two towers -- one 41 stories, the other 31 stories. Another project from Quadrangle Architects, this one is slated for completion in January, 2015.

  • Studio on Richmond

    Aspen Ridge Homes is planning this futuristic (some would even say Blade Runner-ish) building complex for Toronto's repidly gentrifying downtown east side. Once completed, the complex will feature two towers -- one 41 stories, the other 31 stories. Another project from Quadrangle Architects, this one is slated for completion in January, 2015.

  • Fashion House

    Fashion House incorporates a heritage building on Toronto's King Street West into a modern condo and retail complex. Designed by Core Architects and developed by Freed Developments, the building is one of Toronto's most unique restorations of a historical building.

  • Fashion House

    Fashion House incorporates a heritage building on Toronto's King Street West into a modern condo and retail complex. Designed by Core Architects and developed by Freed Developments, the building is one of Toronto's most unique restorations of a historical building.

  • Fashion House

    Fashion House incorporates a heritage building on Toronto's King Street West into a modern condo and retail complex. Designed by Core Architects and developed by Freed Developments, the building is one of Toronto's most unique restorations of a historical building.

  • Emerald Park

    Yes, people will be living in the curvy parts at the top, and what a downward view they'll have. This condo complex in north Toronto (401 and Yonge St.) will feature twin 42- and 43-story towers, and is slated for completion in August, 2013. It was developed by Metropia, Pure Plaza, and the architect is Roy Varacalli.

  • Emerald Park

    Yes, people will be living in the curvy parts at the top, and what a downward view they'll have. This condo complex in north Toronto (401 and Yonge St.) will feature twin 42- and 43-story towers, and is slated for completion in August, 2013. It was developed by Metropia, Pure Plaza, and the architect is Roy Varacalli.

  • Emerald Park

    Yes, people will be living in the curvy parts at the top, and what a downward view they'll have. This condo complex in north Toronto (401 and Yonge St.) will feature twin 42- and 43-story towers, and is slated for completion in August, 2013. It was developed by Metropia, Pure Plaza, and the architect is Roy Varacalli.

  • X The Condominium

    Designed by architectsAlliance for Great Gulf Homes, this building is recognizable to many Torontonians as an homage to the smoky black TD Bank tower on the city's skyline. Interesting as the building is, we're hoping the trend doesn't catch on, or the city will become a forest of black rectangles.

  • X The Condominium

    Designed by architectsAlliance for Great Gulf Homes, this building is recognizable to many Torontonians as an homage to the smoky black TD Bank tower on the city's skyline. Interesting as the building is, we're hoping the trend doesn't catch on, or the city will become a forest of black rectangles.

  • X The Condominium

    Designed by architectsAlliance for Great Gulf Homes, this building is recognizable to many Torontonians as an homage to the smoky black TD Bank tower on the city's skyline. Interesting as the building is, we're hoping the trend doesn't catch on, or the city will become a forest of black rectangles.

  • The Schoolhouse Lofts

    The Schoolhouse is an example of creative urban land use. Once known as Loretto College, the building has been transformed from a school into a five-story loft and condo complex in the heart of Toronto's Annex neighbourhood. Designed by 3rd Uncle for Empire Communities, the building opened in March, 2010.

  • The Schoolhouse Lofts

    The Schoolhouse is an example of creative urban land use. Once known as Loretto College, the building has been transformed from a school into a five-story loft and condo complex in the heart of Toronto's Annex neighbourhood. Designed by 3rd Uncle for Empire Communities, the building opened in March, 2010.

  • The Schoolhouse Lofts

    The Schoolhouse is an example of creative urban land use. Once known as Loretto College, the building has been transformed from a school into a five-story loft and condo complex in the heart of Toronto's Annex neighbourhood. Designed by 3rd Uncle for Empire Communities, the building opened in March, 2010.

  • Seventy5 Portland

    Another building from Freed Developments and Core Architects, this low-rise near King and Bathurst has garnered a lot of attention for its irregular rectangular patterns. The 10-story condo building opened in 2010.

  • Seventy5 Portland

    Another building from Freed Developments and Core Architects, this low-rise near King and Bathurst has garnered a lot of attention for its irregular rectangular patterns. The 10-story condo building opened in 2010.

  • Market Wharf

    Architect Peter Clewes' project near St. Lawrence Market on the east side of downtown has gotten a lot of attention for blending a style that evokes the surrounding historic buildings, while throwing a modernist tower -- complete with crazy, wavy balconies -- into the city skyline. Developed by Context Developments, the building opened in 2012.

  • Market Wharf

    Architect Peter Clewes' project near St. Lawrence Market on the east side of downtown has gotten a lot of attention for blending a style that evokes the surrounding historic buildings, while throwing a modernist tower -- complete with crazy, wavy balconies -- into the city skyline. Developed by Context Developments, the building opened in 2012. (Photo: Tact Design)

  • Market Wharf

    Architect Peter Clewes' project near St. Lawrence Market on the east side of downtown has gotten a lot of attention for blending a style that evokes the surrounding historic buildings, while throwing a modernist tower -- complete with crazy, wavy balconies -- into the city skyline. Developed by Context Developments, the building opened in 2012. (Photo: Tact Design)

  • Theatre Park

    One of the coolest aspects of this very noticeable building is how not noticeable at all it is at ground level -- it appears to be just another small building on King Street West. Designed by architectsAlliance for Lamb Developments, the building is slated for completion in 2013.

  • Theatre Park

    One of the coolest aspects of this very noticeable building is how not noticeable at all it is at ground level -- it appears to be just another small building on King Street West. Designed by architectsAlliance for Lamb Developments, the building is slated for completion in 2013.

  • Theatre Park

    One of the coolest aspects of this very noticeable building is how not noticeable at all it is at ground level -- it appears to be just another small building on King Street West. Designed by architectsAlliance for Lamb Developments, the building is slated for completion in 2013.

  • The Printing Factory

    Another example of creative land use, this time in Leslieville on the city's east side. Architects Chandler Graham and Montgomery Sisam redesigned this defunct factory into modern lofts for Beaverbrook Homes, adding a tower that rises from the centre of the old print shop. The condo complex opened in 2010.

  • The Printing Factory

    Another example of creative land use, this time in Leslieville on the city's east side. Architects Chandler Graham and Montgomery Sisam redesigned this defunct factory into modern lofts for Beaverbrook Homes, adding a tower that rises from the centre of the old print shop. The condo complex opened in 2010.

  • Picasso

    This may well become the most iconic of Toronto's new generation of "building block" condos, rising above Richmond Street West, near similarly lego-shaped buildings like OCAD. Teeple Architects designed this for Monarch and the Goldman Group, and the building is slated to finish construction in January, 2015.

  • Picasso

    This may well become the most iconic of Toronto's new generation of "building block" condos, rising above Richmond Street West, near similarly lego-shaped buildings like OCAD. Teeple Architects designed this for Monarch and the Goldman Group, and the building is slated to finish construction in January, 2015.

  • Pier 27

    Four 14-story buildings, connected by skywalks, are at the heart of what may be the most bold and unique condo development in Canada -- Pier 27, which is currently under construction and is already changing the face of Toronto's grimy eastern lakeshore. Designed by architectsAlliance for Cityzen and Fernnbrook Homes. Watch for this building to win awards.

  • Pier 27

    Four 14-story buildings, connected by skywalks, are at the heart of what may be the most bold and unique condo development in Canada -- Pier 27, which is currently under construction and is already changing the face of Toronto's grimy eastern lakeshore. Designed by architectsAlliance for Cityzen and Fernnbrook Homes. Watch for this building to win awards.

  • Pier 27

    Four 14-story buildings, connected by skywalks, are at the heart of what may be the most bold and unique condo development in Canada -- Pier 27, which is currently under construction and is already changing the face of Toronto's grimy eastern lakeshore. Designed by architectsAlliance for Cityzen and Fernnbrook Homes. Watch for this building to win awards.

  • The L-Tower

    Designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Liebeskind, this 58-story condo tower will rise above the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on Front Street. Being so close to the business district, the building's unique shape (it grows wider at the top, leaning out onto the street) will alter the city skyline permanently. The original design for the building called for a large open hole at the base of the "L" shape, but more recent illustrations suggest that part of the plan has been scaled back.

  • L-Tower

    Designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Liebeskind, this 58-story condo tower will rise above the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on Front Street. Being so close to the business district, the building's unique shape (it grows wider at the top, leaning out onto the street) will alter the city skyline permanently. The original design for the building called for a large open hole at the base of the "L" shape, but more recent illustrations suggest that part of the plan has been scaled back.

  • L-Tower

    Designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Liebeskind, this 58-story condo tower will rise above the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on Front Street. Being so close to the business district, the building's unique shape (it grows wider at the top, leaning out onto the street) will alter the city skyline permanently. The original design for the building called for a large open hole at the base of the "L" shape, but more recent illustrations suggest that part of the plan has been scaled back.

  • L-Tower

    Designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Liebeskind, this 58-story condo tower will rise above the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on Front Street. Being so close to the business district, the building's unique shape (it grows wider at the top, leaning out onto the street) will alter the city skyline permanently. The original design for the building called for a large open hole at the base of the "L" shape, but more recent illustrations suggest that part of the plan has been scaled back.

  • Absolute World

    The Absolute Towers at Mississauga's Square One (also known as the "Marilyn Monroe" towers) are arguably the most celebrated new buildings in the Toronto area, having won an award for "Best Tall Building in the Americas" for 2012. Designed by MAD Architects for Cityzen and Fernbrook Homes, the twin buildings were completed in late 2011. So it appears that Mississauga's long struggle to climb out of Toronto's shadow may have borne some fruit at last.


Other cities are up for the challenge. In London, a dialogue is taking place on the role skyscrapers ought to play, particularly in the way they affect the great city skyline. The heart of the city is now home to the tallest building in Europe, the 72-storey Shard by Renzo Piano. Architects, urban planners and the general public too are divided on how the structure challenges the view of Christopher Wren's St. Paul's Cathedral, one of the world's best examples of Baroque design.

A building does not have to be "old" to be an important heritage property. Many of Toronto's modern buildings and structures such as Roy Thomson Hall and the CN Tower are significant parts of our heritage and are symbols of our city. Nor does a property have to be a grand public building -- small cottages, warehouses, industrial structures and bridges are also valuable legacies of the past and some deserve to be protected and preserved.

Yet in the shiny new city that is Toronto, there is such deep confusion about its identity that non-descript characterless buildings such as the Mr. Christie's cookie plant on the lakeshore are deemed by some an asset to be preserved. Why? Because of how it fits into the urban landscape? Not really. It is a mid-century factory that does nothing to inform its surroundings. The loss of jobs matters tremendously but the building's time has past.

Let's speak about what will replace it. A mammoth cluster of condominiums is the odds on favourite outcome. In an area that is now overwhelmingly residential this is probably a smart use of land. What about the towers' structure, fabrication, density and surrounding public space? Forget the tired "mixed use" terminology that has become a pseudonym for condos with ground floor retail. Perhaps the area can gain entrepreneurial studios, a cooking school, continuing education facility or a museum outpost.

A great city's brand is, in many ways, defined by its architecture and urban landscape. Rome has its terracotta rooftops set against blazing blue skies, Moscow its renowned onion domes and New York City its still remarkable Central Park.

Twenty-five years ago, Toronto was described as "the city that works." Few people believe that today. We can enjoy fond memories of attending past concerts at the Masonic Temple or catching the scent of chocolate when driving by the Christie plant, but the future is upon us. The opportunity is not to be a passer-by in the Toronto that is now emerging.

 

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