50 Years for 50 Park Road

This year du Toit Allsopp Hillier are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the construction of their office building at 50 Park Road in downtown Toronto, the former headquarters of the Ontario Association of Architects. It opened on October 9th, 1954, less than six months after the cornerstone was laid April 23rd of the same year. The significance of the building as a landmark for both modern architecture in Ontario and the coming of age of the architectural profession was underscored by the officiating of His Excellency, the Governor-General Vincent Massey. A scant 30 years later it was one of the first modern buildings in Toronto to be listed on the City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties, followed by designation under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act in 1991. The building has been the home of du Toit Allsopp Hillier (DTAH) and Roger du Toit architects since the Ontario Association of Architects sold it and moved to their new building in Don Mills in 1992.

Even though 50 Park Road has been altered several times, its simple elegance remains. The original design encompassed both administrative offices as well as facilities for Ontario’s architects, including a library, conference room, exhibit space, bar and dining room. As the OAA’s membership and administrative role grew, the social and cultural facilities were gradually supplanted by office space. Open areas of the building were filled in and subdivided, the glass front wall was moved forward towards the street, and the brick panel at the front of the building was enlarged to enclose more space.

When it first opened, the building had a pavilion-like relationship–similar to the adjacent Studio building–to the Rosedale ravine, with the lower floor opening out to a terrace. When DTAH took over the building in 1992, many interior partitions were removed, restoring much of the original design’s clarity. Alas, reinstating the much-mourned former ramp which was lost in the early 1980s was not in the cards. This ramp descended from front to back, providing a ceremonial route from the foyer to the social areas of the building, and the experience of this gently sloping circulation was enhanced by the mounting of exhibits along its path.

The commission to design 50 Park Road was won in an open competition by John B. Parkin and project architect John C. Parkin, who had returned from studying with Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. The competition jury included Eric Arthur, Murray Brown and F.H. Marani.

Two types of brick were used in the design: the buff brick on the exterior and an aubergine brick used to separate the circulation space, ramp and office areas from the service core at the centre of the plan. The original interior partitions were detailed in glass and oiled flat-cut French walnut panelling. The simple exposed steel frame was constructed of 5′ x 5′ cubic modules and painted a light ivory colour, filled in with large glass panes and plywood panels fitted with metal louvres for ventilation.

du Toit Allsopp Hillier were early supporters of Doors Open Toronto. In fact, 50 Park Road was the first building in Canada to be part of Doors Open and continues to welcome the public each May.

Catherine Nasmith is an architect, heritage consultant and activist, former chair of the Toronto Preservation Board, and current vice president of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario. She publishes an electronic journal called Built Heritage News.