Books (March 01, 2010)

REVIEWED BY Ian Chodikoff and Leslie Jen

A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto
By Phil Goodfellow and Margaret Goodfellow. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010.

As part of a series of recent publications celebrating contemporary architecture in Canada’s three largest cities–Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto–A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto presents a collection of buildings completed in Toronto over the past decade. From well-considered laneway housing to technically advanced institutional buildings, architects practicing in Toronto have successfully made advances in urban density, infill, heritage restoration, environmental sustainability and social awareness.

As one might expect, this publication devotes considerable attention to the city’s architectural “renaissance,” in the form of well-publicized and oft-debated cultural institutions such as the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Gardiner Museum. These buildings are succinctly presented, as are other highly acclaimed projects such as Canada’s National Ballet School and the Sharp Centre for Design at the Ontario College of Art & Design. The selectively and conservatively illustrated assemblage of notable projects have nevertheless irrefutably altered the course of Toronto’s architectural trajectory.

To animate the rather normative display of recent buildings, the editors include a dynamic interview with Bruce Kuwabara, Larry Richards and William Thorsell. Playing the role of architect, advocate and civic booster respectively, these three individuals discuss their influential involvement in spearheading change in the city over the past decade.

While the guidebook is largely focused on the downtown core, it does make an earnest attempt at documenting several significant buildings constructed throughout the city’s suburbs while acknowledging the diversity of Toronto’s many ethnic populations. When surveying the city’s development over the past decade through this handy resource book, it is readily apparent that change requires leadership, perseverance and talent to build projects that improve the quality of life in Toronto. IC

A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Vancouver
By Chris Macdonald. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010.

The projects in A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Vancouver were selected not only for their design merits but because they so clearly represent the public and private interests shaping the warp-speed evolution of this highly malleable young city. The book encompasses work built in what seems to be an incredibly short chunk of time–1990 to 2010–more or less the period bookended by Expo ’86 and the 2010 Winter Olympics, both critical events that catalyzed unprecedented ambition and a collective urban consciousness in Vancouverites.

This book couldn’t have been published at a more opportune time. The Winter Olympics has thrust Vancouver onto the world stage, and the photogenic qualities of the city have captivated a global audience: spectacular snow-capped mountain ridges, evergreen forests and clear, blue ocean compete with glimpses of a vibrant downtown street life, throngs of jubilant citizens, and lots of shiny, happy new buildings. Since 1995, an astounding 150-plus high-rise residential structures have been built in the ever-densifying downtown peninsula–many of which were realized through the City’s density bonus transfer system, which allows developers greater height and density in exchange for the provision of public amenity. Consequently, a proliferation of community centres, parks, public art, social housing and heritage restoration has enriched Vancouver to the extent that it has become the envy of cities around the world, who look to it as an ideal paradigm for their own continuing growth and evolution.

But the guidebook does not glorify the city as a leisure-filled playground for the rich; it directly addresses the other, less glamorous story of Vancouver. The gritty and notoriously troubled Downtown Eastside is plagued by alarmingly high rates of homicide, HIV transmission and homelessness. Accordingly, a number of social housing projects are included in the volume, as is the ambitious and provocative Woodward’s Redevelopment.

Vancouver is unequivocally a fascinating work in progress; the rapid pace of development during its adolescent growth spurt of the past two decades has encouraged an “almost improvisational mode of practice,” according to editor Chris Macdonald. As a laboratory for experimental research in architecture and the public realm, there are bound to be positive results, numerous examples of which are contained in this thoughtfully prepared guidebook. LJ