Two Minutes of Modernism

Originally published on Torontoist on September 8, 2011.

Toronto1960-11 from davide tonizzo on Vimeo.

Compared to heritage properties from the 19th and early 20th centuries, Toronto’s architecture from the 1960s and 1970s doesn’t often receive much love. While some period structures like the curving towers of City Hall have become iconic, the merits of the modernist qualities of others are fiercely debated: great representation of an era or an ugly slab of concrete?

Architects Graeme Stewart and Michael McClellanhed reflected on this ambivalence we have surrounding mid-century apartment towers and commercial skyscrapers in their introduction to the book Concrete Toronto (Toronto: E.R.A./Coach House, 2007):

This important period was a time of immense prosperity, when considerable public and private investment had a major influence on shaping Canadian cities. But more significantly, we now suffer a cultural amnesia about this period; we remain critical yet uninformed about its architecture and leave its very impact on our environment without thoughtful assessment. An appreciation for the architecture of the recent past is a contemporary culture blind spot. If the making of architecture and the making of cities are inexorably linked, it is clear that the understanding of one requires the understanding of the other. A better appreciation of our recent architectural past gives us greater continuity with the intent, knowledge and ambition of previous generations and a stronger sense of our direction as our city continues to grow.

An ode to this era’s architecture, Toronto 1960-11, was recently posted online by industrial designer/filmmaker Davide Tonizzo. Starting with a subway ride into the tubular stations of University line, Tonizzo takes viewers on a two-minute tour of structures that were primarily built during the 1960s. The film includes familiar buildings (the black-clad towers of the Toronto-Dominion Centre, the office and hotel skyscrapers south of City Hall) and those that may take a second to recognize (the glowing lights on the Arcade Building, the rippled façade of the Yorkdalebranch of the Bay).

We noticed one of our favourite small-scale examples of period architecture, the triangles pointing out from the roof of the circular section of Lord Lansdowne Public School on Spadina Crescent. The period feel is enhanced through lines running through the film that lend it the air of a 40-year old artefact. Tonizzo hopes that his movie “will inspire more conservation and appreciation of this great era” before someone decides any of the featured buildings meet the fate of the Bata headquarters in Don Mills or the curving floors of Riverdale Hospital.

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