Grand Designs : Modernist Architecture and More

September 10, 2015 | Cynthia

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See the full website:
A Grand Design: the Toronto City Hall Design Competition
Modernist architectural drawings & models submitted from forty-two countries.


City Hall 50 logoThe actual 50th Anniversary of the New City Hall is Sunday, September 13, 2015.

To mark this event, we have posted a couple of blog posts. We’ve looked at past City Halls, we’ve talked about the competition for the New City Hall in 1958, and we launched a new website, A Grand Design. But there is so much more to discuss. Two noted specialists in the field have published books to tell the tale.

Put your hold on these books now.


Competing Modernisms

George Thomas Kapelos FRAIC is currently an architect, planner and associate professor in the Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University as well as a Visiting Professor at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture at the University of Toronto.

On Thursday, September 3, 2015, George Kapelos filled the City Hall Council Chambers. Not only did Kapelos give a stimulating overview of what was happening in the architectural world at the time, but he also delighted us with segments of actual CBC television interviews with the competition's judges, rescued from old kinescopes lying in the vaults of the CBC Archives.


City Hall  Competing ModernismsSo now it is time to read the book: Competing modernisms : Toronto's new City Hall and Square. It examines the history, impact, and influence of Toronto's 1958 City Hall and Square competition on the design of public institutions and urban public spaces in Canada, and reflects on the value of architectural competitions as Modern architecture developed in the mid-20th century.

The release of this new book coincides with an exhibition at Ryerson University.




Shaping Canadian Modernity: Toronto's 1958 New City Hall and Square Competition and its Legacy, curated by George Thomas Kapelos and historian Christopher Armstrong, is currently mounted at the Paul H. Cocker Gallery, Ryerson University from September 1 to October 9, 2015. The official opening of the show and book launch is Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 6:30 pm.


Civic Symbol

Making Toronto Modern Armstrong

On Thursday, September 10, 2015, Dr. Christopher Armstrong, Professor Emeritus, York University, presents the second lecture of our 3-part series. Having long taught courses on the urban history of Toronto, he has published a book on municipal politics in the 1890s and most recently a study of the spread of Modernist architecture: Making Toronto modern : architecture and design, 1895-1975 .




ArmstrongCivicSymbolHis new book, Civic Symbol : Creating Toronto's New City Hall, 1952-1966, speaks on the background and history of the construction of Viljo Revell's winning design for the Toronto City Hall. The path was not a straight one. Dr. Armstrong chronicles the complex and controversial development of this urban landmark from the initial international competition to the many debates that surrounded its construction and furnishing. Illustrated with photographs, plans, and drawings, Civic Symbol is the essential history of this iconic Canadian building.



Additional Reading, Commentary and Dialogue

Apparently Frank Lloyd Wright claimed future generations would say the new Toronto City Hall "marks the spot where Toronto fell." Was he right? What do you think?

Come down to the Toronto Reference Library and see the April 1959 issue of Canadian Architect. The issue opens with a eulogy to Frank Lloyd Wright who had just passed away. However, the magazine is largely devoted to various views on the New City Hall and Modernist architecture in Canada.

Laced with wonderful black and white photographs and drawings, articles such as Reflections on Monumentality, How to Buy a Work of Art (Sara Bowser), City Hall and Centre (Sigfried Giedion), The Civic Square (Jaqueline Tyrwhitt) and for contrast, Report : What’s Happening to Downtown Montreal, provide a snapshot of the game-changing influence of the City Hall competition and the Modernist architecture movement on our sleepy Canadian cities.

For related reading, have a look at our booklist and visit the Toronto Collection, Humanities and Social Sciences Department, Toronto Reference Library.



Enjoy September and take in some of these special events:

City Hall 50th Series: Civic Symbol, Part 2 with Christopher Armstrong

Thursday, September 10, 2015 at 7pm, City Hall Council Chamber


City Hall Special 50th Anniversary Event

Sunday, September 13, 2015 from noon-5pm


Shaping Canadian Modernity: Toronto's 1958 New City Hall and Square Competition and its Legacy

Thursday, September 17, 2015 at 6:30pm, Paul H. Cocker Gallery, Ryerson University, special opening. 


City Hall 50th Series : Innovative Urban Design Aspects of Revell's Design, Part 3 with George Baird

Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 7pm, City Hall Council Chamber


Join us for the Battle of the Architects : Revisiting City Hall's Design

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 at 7pm, Toronto Reference Library Atrium