George Baird: A Question of Influence

On March 9 and 10, 2012, the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design is holding a symposium to celebrate Professor Emeritus George Baird’s lifetime of achievement. Over the course of his remarkable career as an architect and educator, Baird has had a profound influence on the way architects, city planners, and politicians in Toronto, and beyond, think about architecture and how our cities are designed.  

Founder of the renowned firm Baird Sampson Neuert Architects, Baird retired from the University of Toronto following a term as Dean of the Daniels Faculty in 2010. His continuing contribution to the field has inspired a two-day symposium featuring an impressive group of local and international speakers, who are coming together to celebrate his ideas and projects over the past five decades. A parallel exhibition entitled George Baird: Meanings in Architecture, 1957-1993 is now on display in the Eric Arthur Gallery at the Daniels Faculty.

Though his influence has been felt world-wide, so much of what Toronto’s urbanists now recognize as good city-building was first championed by Baird in the 1970s, when isolated residential towers, plaza style shopping centres, and single-use zoning were considered de rigueur. Back then, the types of approaches Baird advocated for — including the primacy of public spaces, the need to achieve a nuanced relationship between new and old, and the importance of community-based design — challenged the established approach to urbanism in Toronto. 

Baird has been credited with playing a large role in determining Toronto’s design DNA. The City of Toronto has sought his advice on multiple occasions over the years, commissioning him to produce design guidelines such as the seminal 1974 report on building downtown, which addressed the growing pressure of tall buildings in the downtown core. Baird also advised on the planning of the celebrated St. Lawrence neighbourhood, recommending the expansion of the street grid and a linear park space spanning multiple blocks, which now runs along the Esplanade. As well, Baird was often called upon as a professional advisor for design contests, including the international competition held for the Mississauga Civic Centre. 

Baird’s influence extended from local politicians to city planners to some of Toronto’s most prominent architects, many of whom started their career working with him, including Bruce Kuwabara and Thomas Payne of the firm KPMB, John van Nostrand of regionalArchitects and planningAlliance, Brigitte Shim of Shim-Sutcliffe Architects, and Martin Kohn of Kohn Shnier Architects.

Baird joined Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design as the George Travelstead Professor from 1993 to 2003 (before returning to Toronto to become the Dean of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.) In addition to receiving the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Gold Medal in 2010 he has recently been awarded the prestigious Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education by the American Institute of Architects and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. 

The two-day symposium begins March 9 and includes a keynote event at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which features a conversation between George Baird and Kenneth Frampton, moderated by K. Michael Hayes. The sessions on March 10 will take place at the Daniels Faculty (230 College Street). Further information on the schedule of events and registration for the symposium is available at

This event is pesented with the generous support of: architectsAlliance, Baird Sampson Neuert Architects Inc., Brookfield Properties Ltd., DIALOG, Tye and Eileen Farrow / Farrow Partnership, Great Gulf Homes, Hariri Pontarini Architects, John van Nostrand Architect / regionalArchitects, Kohn Shnier Architects, KPMB Architects, Montgomery Sisam Architects, Jeremy Sturgess, and the Canada Council for the Arts