Toronto-Dominion Centre: Modern Architecture before the bits flipped.

They landed like alien spaceships. Dark, monolithic, unmoving, and thrusting for the skies. It was 1967. First contact in Canada.

Their impact ? Instant. Their details unassailable. The bespoke furniture, the haute de gamme materials, the fruits of a classical education focused through a new lens for a new age. This was mass production, but with distinct humanity. Mass production with heart and soul. Black on the outside but coursing with red passion on the inside.

Everything lined up. Everything made sense. Everything was part of a whole. It was holistic. Integrated. Loving. But that love was easy to miss from a distance (just as emptiness is easy to miss in “successful” people, so too is love in their creations).

Now it’s 2019. And love is harder to find.i It was always hard to find, but now there’s even more ambient noise ; more distractions. More competition for attention. When you find it – should you find it – love still resonates. Of course. Now as always. It still works. Calming you. Relaxing you. Bringing you in and warming you up. Love is still out there. Complete and whole.

It’s in Toronto. Quietly. Serenely. Ambitiously. Daringly. Bravely. Quietly… If unsimply. It’s anything but simple. Even if it seems less messy than usual, it’s only because it’s so much more elegant than usual. You enter the travertine-walled lobby of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s final major commission : the twin-cum-sextuplet towers in Old Toronto known collectively as Toronto-Dominion Centre.ii

It’s gray. Cool. Drizzling. And you could be the only man left on earth. It’s not even so easy to tell. So you wander. Raindrops dot the enormous panes of glass. Your jaw slightly agape. It’s like a church. But for commerce. For business. For building. All this for 21`000 tenants plus who-knows-how-many daily visitors. Yet you feel alone. Whole, but alone. Together, but individualised. Loved. Called to greatness. Awed by the eternal. There’s so much you don’t know. So much you never will. So much that no one ever will. But there’s much to do.

You must reach higher. You must. Because you can.

Higher towards the stars – or perhaps from the stars – like a stranger in a strange land.

What stories will you share with us ?

Will we listen ?

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  1. The lack of societal ECC RAM means that flipped bits from cosmic rays aren’t caught in the moment and errors multiply. It’s like unregulated cell growth when the “apoptosis” feature gets turned off. That’s how you end up with emptiness that feels empty sixty years later in buildings like the Diamond Schmitt-designed Globe and Mail Centre at 351 King Street East.
  2. Mies oversaw the construction of the first two towers at Toronto-Dominion Centre but masterplanned three structures including the double-height pavilion. There are now a total of six towers plus the pavilion totalling 4.5 million square feet of leasable space housing 21`000 tenants – making it the largest commercial complex in Canada – but the remaining towers were designed by B+H Architects, albeit with with meticulous attention to the original spirit.

    The external curtain wall mullions – rendered here in steel instead of the OTT bronze of the earth-shattering Seagram Building – are in immaculate condition, having been recently repainted in stealth black as part of a LEED Platinum-certifying restoration and renovation effort that also included replacing the thousands upon thousands of single-paned bronze-tinted glass units in each building with double-glazed IGUs.

    Back in Toronto… and the city’s finally starting to grow on me. Being the largest city in Canada and about twice the age of the “normal” Prairie towns that I’m used to, TO increasingly feels like the country’s most cosmopolitan, multicultural, textured, and buzzy. Probably because it is. This is still something of a “tallest midget” statement in global terms but everything is relative and Torontonians are nothing if not self-important. Hey, what Canadians aren’t ? Eh ?

One thought on “Toronto-Dominion Centre: Modern Architecture before the bits flipped.

  1. […] of every size and scale since the dawn of humanity is a “coincidence” and that “modernity” has finally “solved” for its need? Oh you dear sweet thing…  […]

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