The ground breaking ceremony (i.e. they put a shovel in the soil, rather than doing anything remotely innovative) this month for the L Tower at Yonge and Front got me thinking about “look at me” buildings. The renders I’ve seen for the L Tower don’t fill me with enthusiasm for Daniel Libeskind’s latest contribution to Toronto’s cityscape, but it can’t be denied that it’s a unique building. And Toronto is beginning to acquire a few examples of stand-out buildings (One St Thomas, for example) that enliven the skyline and streetline.
But what, I wonder, would Toronto make of this? We have our own, rather quieter, version in the shape of the lit up CN Tower. But what would our city look like if every downtown tower adopted this technology – a glorious celebration of energy and diversity, or a rampant cacophony of commercialism?
For my part, I like the dynamic presentation, especially the starfield effect at 5:17, that completely alters perceptions of the building’s shape – but then you have to remember that I used to work in advertising (and even I find the “children of many nations” sequence at 6:05 nauseating).
What do you think? Just a natural extension of “look at me” architecture, or an insidious attempt to extend advertising’s already pernicious reach?
By Andrew Horberry
Andrew is Global Account Director at Imagination, a brand communications agency.
photo by Jphilipg
Toronto Pearson Airport is our gateway to the world and an entry point for millions to the city. I’ve spent countless hours at the airport, but move through the place on auto-pilot as part of my travel routine. So last night on the way back from New York, I decided to take a step back and see what newcomers experience when first arriving in Toronto.
If Toronto’s decision to transform one lane of Jarvis Street into two bike lanes is “a war on cars” (© opponents of the scheme), what would they call New York’s action to completely close Times Square and Herald Square to cars? A pre-emptive nuclear strike? Armageddon? The End of Days?
Oh, and the New York move has actually happened (without any discernible blip on seismic monitors, and with some unexpected consequences). The Toronto changes won’t take effect immediately – there has to be an environmental study first, and there’s no firm timeline beyond that.
Suburban sprawl has been undermining core urban health across North America for decades, and the Greater Toronto Area has been no exception. This has been relatively accepted in the mainstream. What has not received equal attention, or the concern it deserves, is the idea of ‘peak oil.’ Peak oil, as described on Wikipedia, “is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.”
Sprawl exacts a heavy toll on our society. It means significantly higher infrastructure costs, longer commutes, higher health costs and the stretching, if not tearing, of our social fabric. These are only some of the ways in which suburban development wastes resources and drains wealth from our urban core. These are also clear present day costs without the context of ‘peak oil.’
TED talks recently featured an inspiring presentation by Shai Agassi titled “A bold plan for the mass adoption of electric cars.” He argues that to succeed, electric cars need to be better, more convenient and more cost-effective than any gasoline-powered car on the market today.
This in itself is hardly revolutionary. What sets his plan aside is the fact that he’s developed a straightforward, actionable plan to turn this vision into a reality and have over ten million electric cars on the world’s roads by 2016. Australia, Denmark, Israel, Hawaii, and the San Francisco bay area have already signed up with many more sure to follow suit.
Sometimes you need to think big.
You may have noticed new street furniture beginning to roll out across the city. There are lighter glass transit shelters, clunky newspaper boxes and awkwardly curved trash bins. Some functional improvements have been made and the City has achieved its mandate for a more coordinated system.
So, we a have consistency. But what does the new furniture, defined by sterile metal and grey, say about our city? There’s a huge missed opportunity to express personality that is distinctly Toronto. Think London red phone booths and Parisian public washrooms. These unique designs have become associated with those cities. Our design approach feels stuck between generic, inoffensive form and imitation of what’s worked elsewhere like the Time Square-like billboards at Dundas Square.
Why not open ourselves to design that allows us to explore Toronto’s identity and create an ownable image?
At least we have the post-and-ring bike stand. It’s not full of personality, but it’s simple, functional and unique to Toronto. If you haven’t seen the rest of the new street furniture you will — it will be around for the next twenty years.
Wendy Gold, Founder and President of OpenCity Projects, comes from small-town Canada. While living and working abroad, she became fascinated with cities and how people experience them. But it took moving to Toronto to show her the value of a city that embraces cultural diversity and green space.
photo by Jbcurio