Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Review: A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto

A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto by Margaret Goodfellow and Phil Goodfellow
D&M Publishers, 2010
Paperback, 192 pages

Toronto's so-called "Cultural Renaissance" -- part of a carefully orchestrated 21st-century political plan that guided development in Ontario's capital city towards making it the Creative City (PDF link) -- produced a plethora of high-profile architecture with big-name designers, but also less striking additions to the cityscape in and beyond the city's core. The second includes houses, public spaces, offices, retail, medical and educational facilities, the bread and butter of the city's diverse neighborhoods; the first includes notable buildings like the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) by Daniel Libeskind, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) by Frank Gehry, and the Gardiner Museum by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects. Bruce Kuwabara, of the last, is part of an interview that begins this excellent guidebook to recent architecture in Toronto, a book that compiles sixty buildings and places completed between 1992 and 2000.
The guidebook breaks the projects down into fourteen neighborhoods, most circling the downtown just north of the waterfront, but reaching into post-amalgamation Toronto. A consistent framework is followed for each neighborhood section and entry: a map with building footprints, street names, notable buildings, and public transit shares a spread with the buildings in that section and a description of the neighborhood. Each entry is a two-page spread with description, three or four photos, in most cases a drawing (plan, elevation, section), and the requisite data (designer, consultant(s), client, year of completion, address, streetcar route, extent of public access). All of it is bound into a small-format paperback that is easy to carry around the city. Extras include the aforementioned interview with Kuwabara, Larry Wayne Richards (University of Toronto), and William Thorsell (ROM); an essay by Spacing's Shawn Micaleff; a timeline to the projects in the book graces the front cover's flap and a key map is conveniently located on the back cover flap.
Quibbles with the book are minor and focus on navigation: Why aren't the entries numbered for easy referencing? Why doesn't the key map's color coding extend to the neighborhood sections, potentially making it easier to find the different neighborhoods within the book? Otherwise the descriptions give a short but thorough background on the projects, while describing the formal merits of each; the color photographs are excellent; and the quality of architecture (most in the public sector) would make other cities jealous. Overall the guidebook is optimistic and positive, celebrating Toronto's recent architecture as a part of the city's larger embrace of culture and creativity. 

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