A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto Review
By Elli Davis, May 15, 2011
A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto, by Margaret and Phil Goodfellow (published in 2010), captures an aspect of Toronto that often goes unappreciated: its modern architecture.
In the hustle and bustle of downtown activity, amidst gorgeous gothic architecture, the contemporary design of developing buildings is often viewed as straying away from the historical authenticity of the city. This guidebook explores the revitalization and development of Toronto’s architecture as a “reinvestment into the historic building fabric” of the city and takes the reader through several important architectural landmarks that were completed between 1992 and 2010.
The guidebook is smart in its layout; landmarks are grouped by location, so that readers can maximize their time spent in a specific area. With about 75 landmarks located across the GTA (including Scarborough, Mississauga, and Vaughan), A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto covers a lot of important ground. The projects are grouped according to neighbourhood and then numbered in order of implied sequence, so when readers have completed a certain section, they are guided to the next neighbourhood, which is generally in close proximity. The provided map contains numbers and arrows with the suggested order so readers have the “big picture” in front of them before they begin their journey.
In addition, all of the architectural landmarks described in the guidebook are accessible by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). With updated subway, streetcar, and bus information, the guidebook is able to clearly map out exactly how an individual can access a certain neighbourhood with a simple TTC day pass. Further, most of the buildings described are accessible to the public for viewing or accessible by paid admission. In rare cases where the landmark is private and inaccessible, the book provides pictures of interiors so that readers can have a better sense of the unique aspects of their design.
Although the guidebook doesn’t cover hotels, restaurants, or retail interiors (the authors discard these due to their “ephemeral nature”), many of the selected works are considered “Toronto landmarks,” such as the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the Distillery District, and Young-Dundas Square — all of which are great for tourists. Locals can also benefit from this guidebook, with its references to public schools, churches, public libraries, and even a bicycle and pedestrian bridge! The guidebook organizes landmarks by building, building type, and design firm, which allows for easy cross-referencing in the detailed index — perfect for any reader. Along with identifying the architects, landscape architects, and urban designers, the book contains plenty of gorgeous images (often used by the designers themselves to showcase their work) that provide readers with a holistic and detailed approach to each landmark.
One of the highlights of the guidebook is its opening interview with Bruce Kuwabara, Larry Wayne Richards, and William Thorsell — key figures in the transformation of Toronto. They provide interesting insight into the outcome of the Cultural Renaissance, how new architectural ideas have changed Toronto, the development of the ROM, the reinvestment of the University of Toronto, and more. In addition, the authors explore a reinterpretation of Toronto’s architectural past with their interviewees and examine how Toronto will develop in the future.
Readers will also enjoy the historical information provided for each neighbourhood and its development, as well as details about each building. By highlighting certain aspects of the landmarks, even those unfamiliar with architecture can appreciate the design they see in front of them.
What Doesn’t Work
While A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto covers some important architectural landmarks, there are a few areas worthy of constructive criticism. Those who are familiar with the University of Toronto (all three campuses) may feel that the guidebook’s focus in this area is excessive: 19 of the described landmarks are found on the main campus, which amounts to a significant portion of the guidebook, and which is perhaps not as interesting to those already familiar with the university.
The landmark descriptions could also use more information, so that the reader understands not only the design aspects in front of them, but also the purpose and impact of the designs. While the books explores key facts about the landmarks (the date and conditions of their opening, their locations, and building materials) I often feel as though I were reading a more polished version of what I would describe myself. Instead, readers may wish to learn more about the impact of certain designs and why they are appropriate choices for the landmarks, or how such designs are innovative in light of a post-Cultural Renaissance age.
In spite of these concerns, A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto is an excellent read for tourists and locals alike. Its detailed referencing system, excellent layout, and beautiful pictures provide the reader with a comprehensive approach to exploring contemporary architecture in Toronto.
A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto Details:
- By Margaret and Phil Goodfellow
- 192 pages, Trade Paperback
- List Price: $24.95
- Available at Chapters (online price is $16.46) and Amazon (online price at $15. 64)
- ISBN – 10:1553654447
ISBN – 13:9781553654445