Toronto City Hall’s well that ends well

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Toronto City Hall’s well that ends well

It landed like an alien spacecraft: the curviest and most innovative thing in a city of straight lines and Victorian brickwork. When City Hall opened in 1965, it instantly transformed Toronto’s image of itself.

Fifty years later, that building and Nathan Phillips Square are Toronto’s civic and symbolic heart. This summer, I saw the square packed with thousands of people for concerts during the Panamania festival; the newly renovated square felt like the city’s grand yet comfortable living room. Like all great design, it seems inevitable.

But as we mark the complex’s 50th anniversary – there is a public party there on Sunday – it’s worth remembering the truth: The hall and square, with their exuberant architecture by the Finn Viljo Revell, just barely came to pass. Toronto surprised itself, with the sort of bold leadership that doesn’t exist in the city today.

This month an exhibition, a series of talks, an online exhibit and a new book start to unpack some of this complex history – which has lessons for Toronto today. []

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