By 2017, the Toronto-Dominion Centre will have stood in the heart of the Financial District for 50 years. The matte-black painted steel I-beams and floor-to-ceiling windows are signature characteristics of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s interpretation of International Style architecture. The city hadn’t seen anything like it at the time. Torontonians were accustomed to the ornamentation of nearby bank buildings like Commerce Court North, which had been the tallest building in the Commonwealth. There was also no mistaking their imposing presence on the skyline. Postcard images from the Toronto Island show the original two towers soaring well above the city’s collection of stone, brick and concrete buildings. The view today is much different, with the emerging Southcore district increasingly blocking most of Mies’ work, but the TD Centre’s contribution to the architectural fabric of Toronto plays as important a role now as it did then.
The cluster of buildings rose after Allen Lambert, former President and Chairman of TD Bank, partnered with Fairview Corporation (now Cadillac Fairview) to develop the five-acre property. Three structures were outlined in the original master plan by Mies, realized with the help of Bregman + Hamann Architects (B+H Architects) in joint venture with John B. Parkin and Associates. The seminal tower—the tallest in Canada at the time—continues to anchor the massive office complex, which has since expanded to include six buildings. A second tower was completed in 1969 after the double-height banking pavilion was constructed at the corner of King and Bay Streets.
From 1974 to 1991, another three buildings were added outside the boundaries of the original site. Though these towers were not conceived by Mies, Bregman + Hamann Architects painstakingly incorporated the same steel and glass elements that reflected the modernity of the original plan. The Pellow + Associates-designed 95 Wellington Street West became part of the TD Centre when it was purchased by Cadillac Fairview in the 1990s, and thus features a distinct architectural style. With over 20,000 tenants and 4.3 million square feet of space, the TD Centre remains the largest business complex in the country. UrbanToronto was granted by Cadillac Fairview the opportunity to tour the iconic complex, taking stock of the TD Centre’s evolving position within a downtown core that is rapidly changing. The extensive tour was led by Dora Yeoh, Senior Manager, Tenant Projects at the TD Centre.
The legacy the TD Centre has curated is felt in the skies, the streets and underground. The shopping complex that was constructed in the original plan acted as a catalyst for the development of Toronto's extensive climate-controlled PATH pedestrian system, the largest of its kind in the world. The TD Centre was also the first major new business hub downtown before the office building boom swept the city and spawned some of the tallest towers in North America. After a lull in the construction of office space, projects like the EY Tower and Bay Adelaide Centre are once again building upon the groundbreaking success of the TD Centre.
As market demands shift and new office spaces attract prime tenants, the TD Centre has embarked on a renewal initiative to update the environmental performance and infrastructure of the buildings. Plaza repaving and waterproofing has been completed, and a living roof that protects the one-storey banking pavilion from solar heat gain has been installed. A number of changes to the interior and exterior of the original towers look to modernize the property while maintaining the integrity of Mies’ vision. As the buildings are designated heritage structures, B+H Architects and PCL had to ensure any work carried out preserved the overall design intent. They worked with a broad team of consultants which included: H.H. Angus, Exp, Zec Consulting, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc. and ERA Architects.
To enhance energy efficiency and insulation, the floor-to-ceiling windows of the TD North Tower at 77 King Street West —all 5,676 of them—have been replaced. The bronze tinted glass has been swapped with panes of a more neutral tone. Though 17 of the 46 floors of the North Tower were vacant at the time, every occupied floor required a high degree of coordination and planning to minimize disruptions to tenants, with crews working through the night to replace each single glass window pane with a thermal double pane. On numerous floors, perimeter induction units that had hugged a one-foot-wide strip of ground at the base of the windows—thus impeding the ability for workers to admire the more vertigo-inducing view right against the glass—were relocated to the ceiling to make the view more immediate. The glazing on floors two through 55 on the TD Bank Tower at 66 Wellington Street West have also been replaced, with repainting and resealing currently in progress.
The facade of 77 King West has already undergone a dramatic repainting and sealing that replaced its faded battleship grey appearance with the striking black finish it was meant to exhibit. Scaffolds currently surrounding 66 Wellington West protect passersby as the beams and mullions that comprise the exterior are given a fresh coat of paint. Since the 32-storey TD West Tower was completed in 1974, repainting will not begin for a few years. A test panel on the northeast corner of that building gives onlookers a glimpse of what to expect when that tower is fully revitalized. No replacement windows are currently planned for the TD West Tower, though new window film has been applied to most of the tower.
TD Bank is also currently working on confirming timelines for the repainting of the banking pavilion. On Bay Street, the 1937-built former Toronto Stock Exchange building is receiving a comprehensive retrofit. In a nod to preservation tactics often employed in Europe, a printout of the building’s façade will be draped over the front as construction progresses behind. By incorporating the Art Deco façade into the 31-storey edifice above, the Ernst and Young Tower departs from the pure glass and steel elements of the other four black-clad buildings.
Behind the recent refurbishment of the TD North Tower’s lobby presents a captivating story chronicling the meticulous efforts crews took to restore Mies’ design details. New fixtures embedded in the ceiling emit brighter light while giving management more control over the illumination of the space. As many of the majestic one-inch-by-one-inch ceiling tiles had maintained their sheen, they were carefully disassembled in manageable sections with the drywall hidden above them still attached. The materials were soaked overnight, put into a tumbler and recovered. In the end, 80 percent of the tiles were salvaged and returned to the lobby ceiling.
The large building directories in the lobby of the TD North Tower have also been replaced with two digital touchscreen monitors housed within the same rectangular structure. The directories inside the TD Bank Tower, which will also soon be replaced, show the functional simplicity of the vertical glass-fronted blocks that contain the white script of each tenant. Pictured below, each block weighs about 30 pounds. The tenant list is flanked by a spot reserved for a fire hose and the logo of the Canada Green Building Council, advertising the complex’s newly minted LEED Platinum status.
Mies was renowned for his attention to detail. It takes a keen eye to discover each seemingly minor design attribute in the complex, but they all add up to an interior emphasizing symmetry, clean matching lines and perfect right angles. For example, the grooves in the travertine walls of the elevator cores and the interior walls of the elevators themselves line up with the ridges in the flooring.
Mies’ work didn’t end with the buildings themselves. The famous architect had a crucial role in outfitting the interiors with furniture he designed. TD Bank's corporate offices on the 54th floor are graced with wood paneling and wood slab desks nearly spanning the full length of the rooms they occupy. Multiple Barcelona chairs, designed by Mies for Expo 1929, adorn the spaces with their leather cushions and steel frames. A vast assemblage of Modernist cantilevered Brno chairs surround a massive boardroom desk.
Paintings by Canadian artists such as Emily Carr, A.Y. Jackson, Claude Tousignant, Jack Bush, and Jean-Paul Riopelle add pops of colour throughout the light-filled space. Oozing sophistication, the north half of the 54th floor is like stepping into a scene from Mad Men. The south half, which hosts Canoe restaurant, naturally boasts a much different and more contemporary atmosphere.
Above, an observation level that had welcomed members of the public to view the scenic city when the TD Tower was the highest in the country is now home to offices for Mattamy Homes. Doors Open aficionados will fondly remember when the TD Centre participated in the event by touring visitors around the 54th floor. In subsequent years, the downtown core has become populated with a number of new highrises that have significantly altered the view.
Projects like Theatre Park, Picasso, Ice Condominiums, and Delta Toronto have increased the density of the bustling Entertainment District and Southcore. A number of cranes belonging to new developments, including Bisha Hotel and Residences, The Bond and Sun Life Financial Tower and Harbour Plaza Residences, are the latest signs of Toronto’s booming verticality. The high albedo roof of the TD South Tower at 79 Wellington Street West is visible below, representing the finish that will cover the apex of the other towers in the complex.
Mies’ last major commission before his death in 1969, the TD Centre is a testament to ingenuity and ambition. The bold rectilinear towers assumed a style, scale and form that had not been seen in Toronto. The design intricacies implemented by Mies inspired architects after his death, capturing and recreating his style in the three towers that would follow. As a result, the TD Centre is one of the most cohesively-designed building complexes in the world. The ongoing revitalization of this Mies masterpiece has proven that what tenants look for in modern workplaces today—including sustainability and efficient spaces—can exist in tandem with the architectural norms and values of the 1960s.
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