City Spaces: a guide to architecture in Toronto

March 7, 2012

Architecture in Toronto definitely has its own distinct flavour. While we may not have the flash of other cities (the CN Tower exempted) in the world, a walk around downtown Toronto reveals a gratifying mix of architecture that showcases Toronto’s diverse past and present.

Toronto Dominion Centre

Toronto Dominion Centre

Situated in the heart of the financial district, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s TD Centre stands at the southwest corner of Bay and King. It’s a black glass, unabashedly modernist in style complex of six imposing towers. This architecture epitomizes the crisp, clean and clear design that is indicative of the international style of architecture. The buildings are harmonized with the many towers that comprise the financial district. As the commercial centre of Canada, many of the country’s largest firms have a presence in downtown Toronto. At this same intersection sit the office towers of the four main banks, four of Canada’s five tallest buildings. These large dominating structures point to the significance of the financial sector to Toronto’s prosperity.

University College

University College

(photo via Mary Crandall)

One of the oldest buildings at U of T, this building expresses a mixture of architectural styles that were popular in the 19th century. While being mainly Romanesque revival, it also exhibits Norman, byzantine and gothic elements. Its heavy masonry construction, elaborate ornamentation and imposing size gives the downtown U of T campus a monumental historic site as the face of the central campus, while embodying U of T’s Victorian heritage.

Robarts Library


(photo via Angie Torres)

The massive concrete Robarts Library is one of the largest libraries in North America. It’s a prominent example of brutalist architecture, a trend that celebrated concrete as a modern construction material. Its distinctive design presents the building as an enormous industrial peacock, inviting curiosity from passersby and maybe even from the students confined within its walls. Robarts Library shows just how much architecture has developed over the course of U of T’s existence.

The Royal Ontario Museum Crystal


(photo via Laura)

As one of Canada’s most prominent museums, the recent expansion gave the museum a series of colossal and distinct “crystals” that rise five storeys from the ground and jut out dramatically into the Bloor streetscape. While the expansion has engendered much controversy regarding its appropriateness in tandem with the older ROM building, it definitely is a talking point and as a piece of original, sensationalistic architecture puts Toronto on the map.

Toronto City Hall

City Hall

(photo via John)

Built in 1966, this modernist structure is in perfect character for a growing, multicultural city. The City held an international competition to select an architect to design the new city hall. Finnish architect Viljo Revell’s design features a curved circular chamber situated between two curved office towers of differing heights. Its uniqueness has contributed to it becoming the symbol of the city, as can be seen on the City of Toronto Seal.

Eaton Centre

Eaton Centre

(photos via Michael Grosch & Jareed)

As one of the continent’s earliest downtown shopping malls, Eaton’s design was once considered revolutionary. It was constructed as a multi-level, barrel vaulted glass covered gallery. For its large size, the Eaton Centre fits quite well with the crowded downtown landscape of Toronto. If you think about how much space it takes up, it doesn’t give the feel of an imposing mega-mall, but rather the glass cladding gives it a lighter feel. The structure also makes thorough use of the underground level.

OCAD Sharp Centre for Design


(photo via Thomas Hawk)

Love it or hate it, this building has also contributed to the eclectic vibe of Toronto architecture. Its bright and colourful crayon legs support its checkered box, which floats nearly nine storeys above ground. This is definitely a unique place in the city. The architect Will Alsop, as an artist and sculptor, definitely chose to express OCAD’s designation as an art and design college in his concept. And its playful design and use of space allows for visitors to utilize the small park below as well as offer a great view of the city from the interior.