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RAIC Awards of Excellence: Gold Medal

Roger du Toit was a decorated architect, landscape architect and planner with project experience in Canada and other parts of the world.

May 11, 2017
by Canadian Architect

Partners Roger du Toit, Robert Allsopp, and John Hillier with a model of Toronto’s Distillery District. Photo: DTAH

Partners Roger du Toit, Robert Allsopp, and John Hillier with a model of Toronto’s Distillery District. Photo: DTAH

Roger du Toit

Roger Terence du Toit (1939-2015) was a decorated architect, landscape architect and planner with extensive project experience across Canada and other parts of the world. In a career spanning more than 45 years, he has left an indelible mark on Canadian urbanism, and has encouraged and inspired generations of fellow city builders.

A fundamental and consistent principle in all of his work was the integration of the major design disciplines to create environments that meet the need for economy and utility, and provide places that are socially responsive and a joy to inhabit. Du Toit’s primary concerns were the collective and public dimensions of the built environment.

Du Toit cared passionately about great architecture. However, his principal and most influential contribution to Canada’s urban environment is to be seen through the lens of urban design. To du Toit, urban design brings a comprehensive approach to orchestrating the many factors that when combined can create great buildings in a great public realm. He believed strongly that this process could only be successful through the close collaboration of all design disciplines, and the combined efforts of consultants, owners, managers and end-users.

While working with John Andrews, du Toit led the Metro Centre plan for Toronto’s downtown railway lands and played a key role in completing the CN Tower. Photo: Metro Centre

While working with John Andrews, du Toit led the Metro Centre plan for Toronto’s downtown railway lands and played a key role in completing the CN Tower. Photo: Metro Centre

Du Toit was born in Cape Town, South Africa on December 20, 1939. He earned a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Cape Town in 1963, moved to Toronto in 1965, and received his Master of Architecture from the University of Toronto in 1966. That year, he joined John Andrews Architects. During his time there he was a key figure in Metro Centre, the railway lands redevelopment plan that resulted in the CN Tower. He went on to play a primary role in the successful construction of the CN Tower, completed with WZMH Architects.

While with the John Andrews partnership, du Toit also worked on the twin campuses of the University of Minnesota. This project, along with Metro Centre, led du Toit to develop and refine his systematic, comprehensive and consultative approach to complex, multi-dimensional urban planning issues.

In 1975, he established Roger du Toit Architects with his wife Sheila, who acted as the firm’s business manager. In 1985, the firm evolved into du Toit, Allsopp, Hillier, and in 2012 became known by its acronym, DTAH.

Du Toit’s plan for Vancouver’s Downtown South recommended a mix of land uses that would reinforce the precinct’s best civic and natural features. Photo: DTAH

Du Toit’s plan for Vancouver’s Downtown South recommended a mix of land uses that would reinforce the precinct’s best civic and natural features. Photo: DTAH

Du Toit’s influence on Canadian urbanism can be summed up in at least three ways: in his extensive and wide-ranging body of work in cities, urban centres and campuses throughout Canada and abroad; in his innovative yet systematic working methods that always drove towards consensual resolution; and in his insistence on establishing and maintaining an interdisciplinary office that would nourish and sustain many emerging professionals.

Although he completed projects in Australia, Hong Kong, the Middle East and the United States, du Toit’s principal contributions have been in Canada. He was deeply involved with more than 20 university campuses, and undertook important urban design projects in most major Canadian urban centres. Of these, his most profound impact has been on the downtown precincts of Toronto and Ottawa.

Under du Toit’s leadership, DTAH worked with West 8 to design key components of Toronto’s waterfront, including the revitalization of Queen’s Quay Boulevard. Photo: DTAH

Under du Toit’s leadership, DTAH worked with West 8 to design key components of Toronto’s waterfront, including the revitalization of Queen’s Quay Boulevard. Photo: DTAH

An important early work was the groundbreaking document, On Building Downtown: Design Guidelines for the Core Area. In Toronto during the early 1970s, the term “urban design” was seldom used and little understood. This innovative study, produced by a team led by du Toit, George Baird and Stephen McLaughlin, emphasized simple but crucial concepts. These included the importance of historical context and site particularities; the design, accessibility and affability of the public realm; and the responsibility of private development to contribute to the public good. The report profoundly affected subsequent Toronto civic planning, and its messages continue to reverberate throughout cities across the country. This work was to define du Toit’s professional preoccupations and his modus operandi for the balance of his 45-year career.

The initial plan for the rejuvenation of Toronto’s waterfront, to which du Toit was a key contributor, envisaged the reconfiguration of the Gardiner-Lakeshore corridor. Photo: DTAH

The initial plan for the rejuvenation of Toronto’s waterfront, to which du Toit was a key contributor, envisaged the reconfiguration of the Gardiner-Lakeshore corridor. Photo: DTAH

Du Toit also spearheaded the heritage master plan for the 19th-century Gooderham and Worts Distillery District, now a major cultural destination. From 2000 to 2015, du Toit helped develop the planning basis for the revitalization of Toronto’s Central Waterfront, with key recommendations including the removal and reconfiguration of the Gardiner Expressway. In joint venture with West 8, his firm designed some of the new waterfront’s key components, including Queen’s Quay Boulevard and the WaveDeck structures.

I can think of no other Canadian who achieved the level of skill, expertise and recognition in the field of urban design. He also possessed an uncanny ability to convey his ideas and persuade his clients of the importance of the issues implicit in his designs, in such a mild-mannered way.

-Norman Hotson, Architect, FRAIC

Du Toit’s legacy in the National Capital Region began with a 1982 siting study for the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now the Canadian Museum of History). In 1983, his firm devised the ceremonial route, now Confederation Boulevard, which connects the nation’s major political and cultural institutions in Ottawa and Gatineau. He was the driving force behind the Long Term Vision and Plan for Ottawa’s parliamentary and judicial precincts, completed in 1987 with an update in 2006, which guides the development and preservation of Can-ada’s most important cultural and political symbols. In the 1990s, he initiated a process for developing building height regulations in Ottawa to protect the views of national landmarks such as the Parliament Buildings.

The whimiscally shaped WaveDecks are a popular feature of the new waterfront. Photo courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

The whimiscally shaped WaveDecks are a popular feature of the new waterfront. Photo courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

Many observers and colleagues commented on du Toit’s ability to listen—to take all views seriously, to weigh a full range of opinions and ideas, to recognize and accept ambiguities—and then to carefully dis-till and persuasively convey his conclusions. Often faced with multi-faceted client groups with divergent opinions and perspectives, du Toit developed great skill in untangling seemingly intractable planning conundrums, and in devising solutions of dazzling beauty and simplicity.

Du Toit developed a powerful approach to master planning that he refined throughout his career. He had an aversion to the idea of a definitive “Master Plan” since it implied a kind of fixed view of a future state—one that was doomed to obsolescence as circumstances changed. Instead, du Toit developed a principles-based approach that set out objectives and general resolutions. Illustrated by a “Demonstration Plan,” these principles offered strong guidance, coupled with the flexibility necessary to incorporate as yet unknown future requirements.

Queens Quay includes improvements for pedestrians and cyclists. Photo courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

Queens Quay includes improvements for pedestrians and cyclists. Photo courtesy of Waterfront Toronto

Du Toit believed that to be good at doing urban design, one also had to be good at making buildings, urban spaces and landscapes. He also believed that the opposite was true—that building and planning were reciprocal skills that were necessary for any one endeavour to be successful. Du Toit’s firm was always, and remains, a team of talented architects, landscape architects and urban planners that, along with like-minded specialist consultants, can respond collectively to issues with solutions that may cross conventional professional boundaries.

Roger du Toit has possibly been the foremost practitioner and proponent of urban design for his generation in Canada… No-where has this been more significant than in Canada’s Capital, where he has had the most profound and positive influence, on its present and future character and notably on its national symbols.

-John Abel, FRAIC / Former Director, Design and Land Use (National Capital Commission)

A further distinguishing aspect of his career was du Toit’s ongoing involvement in a number of Canadian institutions and communities over a very long period of time. These long-term associations gave du Toit the opportunity to monitor, refine and modify plans as conditions evolved. In the most rewarding instances, he was responsible for all project dimensions—planning framework, master plan, design and implementation.

Du Toit spearheaded the creation of a heritage master plan for Toronto’s 13-acre Distillery District, including the rehabilitation of its 19th century industrial buildings. Photo: DTAH

Du Toit spearheaded the creation of a heritage master plan for Toronto’s 13-acre Distillery District, including the rehabilitation of its 19th century industrial buildings. Photo: DTAH

The most notable of these long-term associations included Wascana Centre in Regina. For more than 30 years, starting in 1979, du Toit oversaw the long-range plan of the Wascana Centre in Regina, a 2,300-acre park built around Wascana Lake that encompasses the Provincial Legislative Building, the University of Regina, museums, arts centres, and other community buildings. As the Centre’s architect-planner, du Toit was able to successfully maintain a balance between the natural beauty of Wascana Centre, its recreational potential, and the cultural value of the institutions located there.

Du Toit initiated a process for developing new building height regulations that preserve the preeminent visual stature of the Parliament Buildings. Photo: DTAH

Du Toit initiated a process for developing new building height regulations that preserve the preeminent visual stature of the Parliament Buildings. Photo: DTAH

Other long-term projects included Carleton University, Queen’s University, University of Regina and the University of British Columbia, where he created a framework for expansion that preserved the site’s old-growth forest. For all four, he directed successive master plans and precinct plans, as well as conducting feasibility studies, develop-ing guidelines, or implementing specific architectural projects.

Du Toit died in 2015, aged 75, from injuries suffered in a bicycle accident. He was among the best in his field. His legacy will prevail not only in the many plans and projects he leaves behind, but also in the many individuals he inspired and stirred to action.


:: Jury ::

Du Toit was a leader. He has made timeless contributions to significant parts of our urban environments across the country. He developed a unique career that transcended traditional understanding of architectural practice, with work encompassing planning, urban design, community development and architecture.

An innovator in truly integrative design processes, du Toit anticipated and planned for unknown futures. He took stewardship on as an important component of his relationship with his clients, and was also committed to research, teaching, and sharing.

Du Toit’s work inspired many professionals and firms that followed his pioneering in urban design. He made us aware that our community projects could go far beyond the traditional notions of just streetscapes.




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