With most of our buildings clad in bricks, Toronto has long been a city of earth tones. While we have lots of white, buff, and yellow brick throughout Toronto, brown was all the rage in the 70s, and slate gray has been quite popular as of late, it's the range of tones that can be summed up as red brick that are what really gives this city its predominant hue. Set a bay-and-gable red brick Victorian off with a sugar maple on a blue sky day, and you have a beautiful, colourful, neighbourhood scene.

Our latest neighbourhoods are somewhat different these days. Now that we can no longer afford to spread out endlessly to the horizon with single family homes, we build upwards instead, and the materials we use to clad most of our tall buildings have changed. Condo purchasers want endless views, so condos have been designed with ever more glass. Architects want their glass buildings to have a unity and simplicity to them, so even surface areas that don't provide views have been covered in glass. This glass, however, is back-painted to hide the insulation, studs, and wall board behind it, and it's referred to as spandrel.

Most spandrel in this city so far is one tone or another of gray. Gray, in a sense, expresses the colour of the concrete often hidden behind it, so it's seen as honest, but it's also a neutral colour, considered safe because it won't clash. The problem is, however, that there has been so much gray as of late, that's there's nothing for the gray to clash with. A blue sky day over a gray tower, far removed from the verdant landscaping below, just does not produce the same beautiful scene that we have long associated with Toronto.

Concord CityPlace seen from the Toronto Islands, detail of image by Jack Landau

It is with some relief then that splashes of colour are appearing, bit by bit, on more Toronto towers, and some of the latest splashes look to add real exuberance to part of Concord CityPlace. The new downtown neighbourhood already features colourful accents in its impressive and growing list of public artworks, seen up-close scattered through the area, and at a distance at night on the skyline. Now, however, the latest construction at CityPlace will add colour to our wider cityscape all day long.

Spectra with its first splashes of colour, image by Youranthony

Spectra is the building in question, and its façade, by RAW Design, offers some respite from Toronto's recent rule of gray via a multicoloured stripe featuring fall colours running up each of the tower's four sides. We had already seen it in the renderings and on the scale model, but it's always great to see the first manifestations of it in real life.

Scale model detail of Spectra, image by Craig White

Above and below, the scale model and rendering of Spectra shows that the tower will still feature gray mullions and some spandrel, but it will be offset by lots of white—an accent that's working very well across the street at the TCHC tower—and energizing strips of colour running up each side. Podium balconies will also be treated to vivid hues.

Rendering of Spectra, image courtesy of Concord Adex

While only running up two courses on each side, the saturated colours grab the eye without over-powering the whole composition, the very definition of 'accent'.

Spectra is not the only building in the area to dare to add colour. Kitty-corner from Spectra across Fort York Boulevard is the soon to be completed Library District Condos by Context Development. We have been watching the application of the mostly green spandrel panels on this KPMB-designed complex for months, especially on the angled walls of its amenities podium. (You can see Spectra rising on the very right edge of this photo below, taken in late August.)

Looking northeast: Library District condos with its green accents, image by MafaldaBoy

Library District's colours are a bit more muted but a whole lot more prevalent on its face, making the building no less exuberant. The completion of both Library District and Spectra will bring some real technicolour visual interest to the area, and we look forward to the photos we know our many talented photographers will come up with as things progress here.

Colour at Library District Condos, image by RiverCity1

Just to the north, and already complete, is another welcome jolt of colour in the new cityscape. Tridel's Rêve, designed by Wallman Architects, features both red accent cladding as well as red highlighting of the building's crown by night.

Rêve by night, image by Drum118

In the centre of the city is the YMCA's new Elm Centre, coloured in blue spandrels in a design by regionalArchitects. This represents the boldest use of colour in recent Toronto buildings.

Blue spandrel at the YWCA Elm Centre, image by Craig White

The addition of colour to our cityscape is not being welcomed with open arms by everyone: there are UrbanToronto readers who bemoan the multi-hued buildings as not being dignified. If the price of dignity is a city moving towards a monotone, however, most readers will be happy to trade in some of that dignity for other qualities.

Want to know more about the buildings mentioned in this article? Click on one of the dataBase pages, linked below, to get a look at lots of renderings and more info. Want to get involved in the discussion? Choose one of the associated Forum thread links, or add your comment in the space provided on this page.

Related Companies:  Baker Real Estate Inc., Bondfield Construction, Burka Architects, Concord Adex, Context Development, DeepRoot Green Infrastructure, DTAH, EllisDon, Ferris + Associates Inc., figure3 Interior Design, GBCA Architects, Hilditch Architect, KPMB Architects, LiveRoof Ontario Inc, RAW Design, RJC Engineers, SvN, Tridel, U31, Wallman Architects, YWCA Toronto