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November 16, 2009

Toronto, Ontario, is one metropolis that never ceases to amaze me with its never-ceasing construction. I grew up in Buffalo, New York, and always loved being able to see the city from across Lake Ontario on a clear day. The bright white of the Rogers Center (formerly the SkyDome) always made it easy to spot, but the landmark was nowhere to be found when I traveled back to my hometown earlier this fall, the result of numerous new high rises.

Terrence Donnelly Center Cellular Biomolecular Research

The Toronto skyline is filled with cranes and new construction—some producing tall marvels, others just additional run-off-the-milll apartments and condos. My favorite buildings in the city include the relatively recently completed Terrence Donnelly Center for Cellular and Biomolecular Research on the University of Toronto campus, the slightly older Bata Shoe Museum, and the historic John Street Roundhouse.

Terrence Donnelly Center for Cellular and Biomolecular Research

I’ve spent many years living in Toronto and was fortunate enough to see the completion of Behnish Architekten’s Terrence Donnelly Center for Cellular and Biomolecular Research on the University of Toronto main campus before moving in 2006, the year after which it was completed. Located on one of the main thoroughfares, College Street, the glass building is a play in colors and the inside-outside relationship, with windows in a range of hues dotting the east and west facades and trees reaching through multiple floors throughout the building’s elevation. To me, the most stunning aspect of the building is the entrance: stairs that slowly climb upward along a living forest of bamboo shoots next to the formerly-exterior-now-interior wall of the adjacent Rosebrugh Building. In a place where a winter jacket is required for most of the school year, an indoor oasis like the one found at the Donnelly Center is well received.

Bata Shoe Museum

Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto Canada

Apart from loving the contents of the Bata Shoe Museum, I’ve always admired the architecture of this Bloor Street structure. Designed by the Toronto firm Moriyama and Teshima, the Bata Shoe Museum is often said to be shaped like a shoe box, though the architects insist that that was not the inspiration for its form. Rather, the property lines and city setback regulations (which were quite limiting in all direction) were what guided it. The renovation of the Royal Ontario Museum, located down the street from the Bata Shoe Museum, caused controversy when it was conceived in the early 2000s and the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, designed by Daniel Libeskind, juts far out over the street in manners that Moriyama and Teshima were restricted from doing.

John Street Roundhouse 

John Street Roundhouse in Toronto Canada

The best way to enjoy a building is to use it—not just look at it. In downtown Toronto, near the city’s waterfront, is the historic John Street Roundhouse, which served as a repair facility for the steam locomotives of the Canadian Pacific Rail company from 1929 until 1986. In the mid-1990s, a section of the historic roundhouse was deconstructed (to allow for the building of the Metro Toronto Convention Center) and then reconstructed, brick by brick, and turned into the home of, among others, my favorite microbrewery, Steam Whistle. The high ceilings and ample glass windows provide a beautiful setting for the brewery’s operations and are open to the public year round, save for Christmas and New Year’s Day. Even if you’re not a beer drinker, the $10 tour fee is worth the cost to explore the building before a baseball or hockey game.

Of course, in a city as large as Toronto and with as many new building going up as there are, it goes without saying that there are more than three beautiful buildings in the city. The above are my favorites, but my short list also include the new Four Seasons Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Diamond and Schmitt Architects and home of the Canadian Opera Company and venue for the National Ballet of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario, which was recently renovated by the offices of Frank Gehry.

What’s your favorite Toronto building? Add it to our list in the comments section below.

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