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City

An Unfettered View From Atop the Canada Life Building

Posted by Jonathan Castellino / October 21, 2009

Canada Life buildingEver since I was a small child, when a trip to downtown Toronto seemed such a glorious affair, I have been drawn to the Canada Life building at Queen and University. Built in 1931, with its beckoning weather beacon installed in the early 50s, it serves as headquarters to Canada's oldest insurance company. Since its creation, a hideous modernist complex was erected to house the expanding organization just West, creating a very interesting contrast with the beautiful old building.

Compared to what has arisen in the city since, the 320-foot tall structure may not seem such a giant, yet it still offers a very impressive and unique view of the area just north of the business district.

South and West of the building is a rapidly changing area of the city - whether it be residential, business, or entertainment...Canada Life

University Avenue itself seems so peaceful from this height, the extra wide median in the middle creating a very interesting green area amidst the constant traffic...Canada Life

Canada Life

Looking East, city hall both old and new are in plain sight, their stark contrast somewhat less apparent from this vantage point...Canada Life

Taking a look directly South, the older buildings seem to seamlessly give way to more modern glass facades...Canada Life

I'm always one to complain about the improper, or at the very least minimal use of roof-space in Toronto, yet more and more, it seems that developers are seeing the recreational potential for these spaces...Canada Life

Many folks (Torontonians especially) are very critical of new city hall's architecture, claiming it incongruous with the rest of the city plan. Upon closer examination, however, it does seem to fit some sort of pattern - even if not the most aesthetically inspiring one...Canada Life

Even the design of the OCAD 'table-top' seems to make more sense from this view, appearing to be rising out of a great forest...Canada Life

Far from being one of my more challenging elevations, the view from atop the old Canada Life building was still an eye-opener for me. It served to show that even though dwarfed by its neighbours to the south, the old dog still has some neat tricks.

From an architectural point of view, I doubt it likely that the young condos and office towers will take any advice from granddad, but in the same manner that the Royal York stands firmly in front of them, the beauty of old Canada Life shines with an unmistakable glow.

From my vantage point, then, it was as if I were looking out onto an unfolding history of buildings - one that is necessarily ongoing. Viewing this slow yet steady growth of the urban entity, I must say, was only aided by standing on the shoulders of a giant.

(To see the rest of the snaps, as well as high res. versions of those above, you can check out my flickr slide-show below.)

Discussion

47 Comments

aou / October 21, 2009 at 09:40 am
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Interesting! Thanks!

How did you get access to the rooftop? I'd like to get there to shoot some panoramic photos.
Robert / October 21, 2009 at 09:49 am
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I grew up living in downtown Toronto. My bedroom was above my grandmother's grocery story on the northwest corner of Chestnut and Armoury Streets, across the the Armoury building. I could see the Canada Live weather beacon from my bedroom window and watched it every night. I never knew what the different patterns were until later, but it was a captivating and sometimes mesmerizing for a five year old. I have an City of Toronto archive photograph that shows my grandmother's store and the Armoury building, as well as other landmarks that are no longer there.
MelS / October 21, 2009 at 10:02 am
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I've got to agree with you there, i love ocad but the building is hideous. It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't a shoebox supported by crooked multi-coloured pencils. One of my favorite fall memories was sitting on the bench at city hall watching the weather beacon's reflection off the buildings. A beautiful sight, especially in winter.
Nick W / October 21, 2009 at 10:33 am
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"yet more and more, it seems that developers are seeing the recreational potential for these spaces"

True, and you can even see City Hall still preparing for its green roof in a couple of those shots:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathancastellino/3569189124/sizes/o/in/set-72157622607281132/
John / October 21, 2009 at 10:33 am
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The modernist complex is not "hidious".

Any pics of the top floor of the life bldn itself?

Also - please please please stop putting effects on your photos. Ruins what could be good shots with novice dithering. Please! Like a writer using emoticons - it's cheap and distracting. If you're good you'll get the right shot and it will speak for itself. When you put effects on this becomes about you and your ego rather than the buildings/city. It ruins an otherwise excellent series.
Lu Galasso / October 21, 2009 at 10:43 am
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i like the ocad building but it would be nice if they utilized that rooftop.
Jonathan / October 21, 2009 at 11:07 am
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John: That is just my style, take it or leave it; and FYI, I don't spend more than 30 seconds editing, usually - I like to set things up in-camera; what you might be seeing as 'effects' may just be the lenses I'm using (as in the 'tilt shift' for the cars on the street shot).

And it IS about me, and my interpretation of the buildings; I am not documenting a building here, but rather giving my view of its view...haha. If I were documenting a building, I would be more technically accurate, and less playful - as you see in some of my other pieces on this site. Nevertheless, thank you for your input : )

I'll see if I can find you some shots of the roof / observation room for ya'.

Nick: That's awesome! I'm glad to see that kind of use of space...

jonathan@blogTO
mr hate / October 21, 2009 at 11:27 am
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The Canada LIfe extension complex isn't hideous. It is, however, imaginationless.

The OCAD box is amazing. Finally a building with whimsy, imagination and colour in this city full of the shittiest, blandest architecture of all time.

The true test of a building is if anybody wants to take a photo of it.
And noooooooooobody wants to take photos of any of Toronto's bullshit buildings.
We had many opportunities to create landmark buildings but dropped the ball every single time. Sydney Opera House? New Museum in New York? No, not in Toronto. Let's build garbage.
Uprising! / October 21, 2009 at 11:53 am
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I love all the condos.
Really adds to the city imo.
Andrew / October 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm
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Are the first and last photos in the series Photoshopped? Last time I checked The Village by the Grange condos had red bricks...
Dawn / October 21, 2009 at 12:19 pm
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Thanks for the story. Great photographs...again! Love your style.
Jonathan / October 21, 2009 at 12:33 pm
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Andrew: good eye! I partially desaturated that area (mask tool - I use lightroom as opposed to PS)in order to show-up the nice greenery in the area : )

jonathan@blogTO
fender / October 21, 2009 at 01:17 pm
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Great shots. Much of the inside is pretty nice as well - the lobby and some of the courtrooms.

Commenter / October 21, 2009 at 01:22 pm
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Your amateur writing is equal to your photography.

If something is interesting, tell us why, don't tell us that it's interesting, which says nothing. Excise the word "neat" from your writing vocabulary, for the same reason.

"Median in the middle" is redundant. A median, by definition, divides a road.

"City Hall" should be capitalized, "North", "South" "West" and "East" should not be when used as directions, as opposed to referring to places.

You tell us that the OCAD table top make more sense from altitude, but neglect to explain why you think this.

Why is the "stark contrast" between City Hall and Old City Hall less apparent from Canada Life? Once again, you neglect to explain why you feel this way.

You claim that many Torontonians feel that City Hall is incongruous with the city plan, then state that it "seems to fit some sort of pattern", but don't tell us anything about the city plan or the pattern you discern.

Both "claiming it incongruous" and "I doubt it likely" require the use of the verb "to be".

The phrase "Far from being one of my more challenging elevations" doesn't make sense, unless you were actually challenged by your ascent of the building and were then referring to that ascent; I suspect you took the elevator, so neither is true.

In the last three paragraphs of your 'article', you mix metaphors three times to describe the Canada Life Building: in the first, it is an "old dog"; in the second, a "glowing" "granddad"; in the third a giant.

I also agree with John that you should stop using effects simply for the sake of using them. The use of the tilt effect, in particular, seems silly in this context, given that you ascended the building for a view from altitude. Your retort that you apply these effects 'in camera' makes no difference to the point John was making and I reiterate, and your claim that you spend no more than 30 seconds on editing helps prove my point that you aren't putting enough thought into why you're applying these effects. One photo is colour, the next black and white, the next desaturated, the next sepia, the next tilt shift. There's no rhyme or reason, except your schizophrenic judgment.

This could have been a much more interesting article, but you did the bare minimum of work necessary to post it and it shows. Speaking of posting, the interpolation of the photos in the text is also confusing, as you refer to University Avenue and then show a photo of Simcoe St.
AS / October 21, 2009 at 01:25 pm
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Congrats Commenter for winning the Douchiest Reply Award.
NW / October 21, 2009 at 01:35 pm
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Agreed. What is this, a National Post comments section?
Jonathan / October 21, 2009 at 01:52 pm
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Commenter: This was a photo-essay, relax...haha. It is a BLOG ENTRY, so my language was indeed appropriate. I hope you didn't write all of that while at a paid job ; P

I could respond to what you claim to be redundancies, but I'm not going to waste my time.

Thanks for the essay!

jonathan@blogTO

ps. thanks for backing me up, guys : )

Commenter replying to a comment from AS / October 21, 2009 at 01:55 pm
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You're entitled to your opinion. The guy's writing an article and getting paid for it. It's his job, in my opinion he could put some effort into it.
Mr. Hell / October 21, 2009 at 02:14 pm
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Commenter on October 21, 2009 at 1:55 PM , replying to a comment from AS

You're entitled to your opinion. The guy's writing an article and getting paid for it. It's his job, in my opinion he could put some effort into it.

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"It's his job, in my opinion he could put some effort into it."
-Sentence fail. This is a comma splice.

From your earlier giant pile of whine:

"You tell us that the OCAD table top make more sense from altitude'
-Conjugation fail.

"One photo is colour, the next black and white, the next desaturated, the next sepia, the next tilt shift."
-Sentence fail.

Speaking of posting, the interpolation of the photos in the text is also confusing, as you refer to University Avenue and then show a photo of Simcoe St.
-Formatting fail. Street should not have been abbreviated.


If you're trying to sound like some bloated gasbag know it all who corrects everybody's grammar, it helps to write in proper English.

cocoa / October 21, 2009 at 02:25 pm
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Commenter's got a point that the writing is sort of half-cocked. It's a photojournal, so you don't expect flourid insight, but Jonathan sort of attempts to do it, and it ends up being a bit less than useful.

Maybe it's best to let the photos speak for themselves? Both views are valid, so I don't think people should gang up on commenter.
2Clowns / October 21, 2009 at 02:27 pm
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Commenter is to Jonathan what Kanye West is to Taylor Swift.
Gloria replying to a comment from Jonathan / October 21, 2009 at 02:51 pm
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Jonathan: Seriously? The fact that Commenter took the time to reply, in length and detail, to your blog post is pretty awesome, whether negative or positive. A lot of writers would be ecstatic to know somebody *noticed* that much, and was provoked enough to speak.

Can't say I agree with those small grammar nitpicks, but mocking them is not entirely professional.

And I find it weird that bloggers are the first to denigrate themselves -- it's "just" a blog post -- and then get all up in arms when nobody takes them seriously. Do you want people to listen to what you have to say and respond earnestly, or do you want people to think of your writing as second-class? How are bloggers "just" so as opposed to writers?

I actually got down to the comment box to say I was also kind of confused on why there were so many different photo effects.
Alogon replying to a comment from mr hate / October 21, 2009 at 02:54 pm
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"noooooooooobody wants to take photos of any of Toronto's bullshit buildings". Really? I personally love 320 Bay St. as one example of a nice T.O. building.
You call all the buildings in T.O. garbage but I guess I can tell your level of building appreciation that you enjoy that piece of crap they tacked on the OCAD. Whimsical? A story about faeries is whimsical, that building is just stupid. It looks like part of a child's play set.
The One Who Is Not Hell replying to a comment from Mr. Hell / October 21, 2009 at 03:13 pm
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A comma splice requires at least two independent clauses, a typo does not a conjugation fail make, an implied subject does not obviate proper sentence structure and there is nothing wrong with abbreviations used appropriately. Critique fail.
mr hate / October 21, 2009 at 03:33 pm
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The One Who Is Not Hell on October 21, 2009 at 3:13 PM , replying to a comment from Mr. Hell
A comma splice requires at least two independent clauses, a typo does not a conjugation fail make, an implied subject does not obviate proper sentence structure and there is nothing wrong with abbreviations used appropriately. Critique fail.
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Those were two independent clauses. It was a textbook definition of a comma splice.

Make should have been makes. Typo or grammar stupidity - you have no proof this was a typo. All there is is a sentence with the word make that should be makes. Not mkkake or maks or makee. Make.

Spelling out avenue but then abbreviating street in the same sentence is sloppy - and wrong.

I was pointing out the irony of a jackass making grammatical errors while nitpicking over grammar. Sorry that flew over your head.
mr hate / October 21, 2009 at 03:35 pm
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Alogon on October 21, 2009 at 2:54 PM , replying to a comment from mr hate

"noooooooooobody wants to take photos of any of Toronto's bullshit buildings". Really? I personally love 320 Bay St. as one example of a nice T.O. building.
You call all the buildings in T.O. garbage but I guess I can tell your level of building appreciation that you enjoy that piece of crap they tacked on the OCAD. Whimsical? A story about faeries is whimsical, that building is just stupid. It looks like part of a child's play set.
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You can count the beautiful buildings in this city on two hands. The rest are garbage.

The reason you hate OCAD is one of the reasons people love it. Oh well.
The One Who Is Not Hate or Hell replying to a comment from mr hate / October 21, 2009 at 03:44 pm
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Is it really necessary for me to point out the irony that none of your grammar critiques in your first post were grammatically correct? Epic fail.

Those are not independent clauses. Fail.

A spelling mistake is not a grammar mistake. Fail.

I think the point Commenter was making was that a professional writer should have more care with words. Your point - that you are an angry white man hiding behind his computer screen - is also well taken.
Jonathan / October 21, 2009 at 03:59 pm
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Gloria: I did not mean to mock him at all! I just don't have the time to properly address all of his concerns; I was at my work, and only have the time to reply quickly - his concerns/criticisms have been duly noted though, and I actually really appreciate constructive criticism - it really helps, for obvious reasons. Photography wise, I stick to my guns, as I think series photography of a same/similar style gets a bit dry/sterile at times.

By making the point that it is a 'blog' was merely to address his critique about my informal language choice, which is correct in this forum, as opposed to, say, a newspaper article.

Thank you for your response, though.

jonathan@blogTO

RichK / October 21, 2009 at 06:21 pm
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Daily (or more than daily) reader here, not so often I comment. This thread has piqued my interest, however.

Grammar nazi issues aside (I couldn't really care less about proper conjunctive clauses or whatever the NYT style book says - as long it makes sense), I have to agree partly with the original critique of some of the writing and photos.

Yes, this is a blog and traditional journalistic conventions may not apply. At the heart of Commentor" comments however I think there is merit and something to note. Telling a story is all about that. The idea for example that you make a point but fail to explain it is true. I would like either more depth (no research needed, just better writing) or to let the photos speak for themselves.


some good and simple advice from Kurt Vonnegut I think applies here-
http://literature.sdsu.edu/onWRITING/vonnegutSTYLE.html

Likewise about the treatment of photos. You may stick to your style, but I also find the random assortment of filters and LR treatments distract from the pics. If you want to pick one style to accentuate the photos for the article fine. As it is it looks like you spent 30 seconds editing them, which you did.

As "they" say the best edited photos are ones which you can't tell are edited. Certainly not the case here. Editing and filters should be used to enhance the shot and work into the story, not apply willy nilly. Good photos are good photos and don't need to be spiced up by editing alone. The true test of a great photo is one in fact that can stand without editing at all, I would think.

I'd consider approaching the shoot with a single concept in mind and if needed approach the editing with that in mind. If what you are trying to communicate, for example is history, then maybe ya, a septia tint to all the pics makes sense. If it is a sense of scale, then sure, maybe go the in camera tilt-shift effect. Mixing styles is like communicating a variety of concepts and it makes the overall work less cohesive and less apt to tell a single message. Communication of a single message is the bottom line of any good art, graphic, text or journalism work, I believe.

I'm commenting here because I enjoy BlogTO and hope it can always improve. The photoessays for places like this are always interesting but time and time again I find the amateur photography and filters distracts. I don't know if the others I'm thinking of are also you work, so I put that out there as a general comment and specific one to this post.

R
Jonathan / October 21, 2009 at 06:46 pm
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RichK: Thank you for you criticism/opinion; since it is always a short post, I like to provide a multitude of angles/takes, but all within my own view of/from a place. Again, though, I stick to my guns about my photography; it is always evolving, but for a view such as this one, each angle really had a different spin, in my own mind; this series used to be entitled "rooftopping Toronto", and that is all I seek to accomplish.

jonathan@blogTO
Commenter replying to a comment from RichK / October 21, 2009 at 07:12 pm
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I also enjoy BlogTO and it was in that vein that I made the original criticisms, perhaps overly harshly.

Jonathan, I enjoyed your expose of Thomas Meredith House last week so much that I made a trip there myself to see the area with my own eyes. I admire your willingness to get into unique places to bring these shots to us. Nobody else is doing this.

As I stated earlier, I don't think you did a good job this week. Hopefully, next week you will bring us new and improved perspectives. I'd like to think you're open-minded enough to take your readers' comments to heart and not simply dismiss them. One of BlogTO's best assets is that it (currently) has readers who care.
Christopher / October 21, 2009 at 07:17 pm
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Interesting thread everyone. I think the issue with Commenter, and with blog comments in general, is the unnecessarily nasty tone. Maybe it's just my own character here, but why do we have to be so nasty about it? I think the cardinal rule to follow here should be Would you say this, like this, to the author's face?

He/she does make good points (and I would LOVE for him/her to slash one of my pieces on this website apart - I'm sure they could use it), but they are very difficult to digest when they are shot out in such a blunt and tactless way.

Kudos to Jonathan for sticking to his guns on the photos. I like the mishmash.
N / October 21, 2009 at 07:18 pm
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"One of BlogTO's best assets is that it (currently) has readers who care"

Based on the comments in this thread, I'd say one of BlogTO's best assets is that it has more readers than commenters.

Now, can someone please tell me how to unsubscribe to a comments thread? I have more that enough pompous, self-righteous bullshit in my sent folder; I don't need it in my inbox as well.
mr hate / October 21, 2009 at 07:21 pm
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The One Who Is Not Hate or Hell on October 21, 2009 at 3:44 PM , replying to a comment from mr hate

Is it really necessary for me to point out the irony that none of your grammar critiques in your first post were grammatically correct? Epic fail.

Those are not independent clauses. Fail.

A spelling mistake is not a grammar mistake. Fail.

I think the point Commenter was making was that a professional writer should have more care with words. Your point - that you are an angry white man hiding behind his computer screen - is also well taken.
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Christ, you don't even know what an independent clause is: a group of words containing a subject and a verb that can stand alone as a sentence. Maybe you should back to school.

My ONLY point remains: you look like an ass if you nitpick over grammar when your post has a bunch of grammatical errors in it. If I'm an ass for trying to point out Commenter is being an ass, then whoopdee whoop I couldn't care less.
The One Who Is Not Hate or Hell replying to a comment from mr hate / October 21, 2009 at 07:33 pm
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Notwithstanding that a writer paid for his words should be held to a higher standard than Joe Commenter or that your grammar criticisms were both incorrect and grammatically-flawed, your point that a nitpick is an ass when he nitpicks grammar using grammatically-incorrect nitpicks is well-taken, Ass.
mr hate replying to a comment from The One Who Is Not Hate or Hell / October 21, 2009 at 07:44 pm
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YAWN

Yes he should write better but a jackass who nitpicks about the guy's grammar shouldn't have grammatical errors in his nitpick.

THE END
Adam Sobolak / October 21, 2009 at 09:18 pm
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Count me in with those who *don't* think Canada Life's additions form a "hideous/imaginationless modern complex"--the 70s block with the gargantuan multidecker bridges plugging into the old building is actually one of Toronto's most impressive and underrated Brutalist-era works, and is only ugly/imaginationless/disrespectful if you're a hardcore Tom Wolfe/From Bauhaus To Our House adherent. It, together with the restrained 90s Postmodern block to the south and KPMB's new skyscraper along Queen, makes for an impressive best-of-several-eras ensemble--sure, one may quibble about a few things like the KPMB tower's jarring contrast with low-rise Queen to the west; but by and large, Canada Life succeeded as an architectural patron over the past 40 years just as it did 80 years ago. And if any of it seems at all cold and officious, hey--it's a huge insurance company, it's to be expected.
Tim replying to a comment from N / October 21, 2009 at 10:13 pm
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When you initially subscribe to a comment thread on blogTO you should receive an email that has a link you can click on should you wish to unsubscribe at some point in the future.
Alex replying to a comment from Commenter / October 21, 2009 at 10:27 pm
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Why can't people just take the time to appreciate others' opinions and perspectives instead of shooting them down? Quit reading if you're so offended. If you don't like the way someone did something and you obviously can do better, then why not contact the nice people at BlogTO and do something about it? I can't wait for your article to be posted. I want to see your perspective of John's adventure. I especially can't wait for someone to make unfair, condescending comments about your work.

Personally, I think you're a failure instead of a professional. You critiqued the sh*t out of John's piece. You obviously feel a need to belittle those who are trying to share something nice with others. Jealous much?

Bravo to John for these pieces. He does a great job and let's remember people, nobody is perfect. Well, except for Commenter.
*rolls eyes*
Bloory / October 21, 2009 at 11:31 pm
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Why is it that so many comment sections of articles on this blog turn out to be grammar discussions rather than discussions on what was actually written?
Porcine replying to a comment from Alex / October 22, 2009 at 01:48 am
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There are some serious babies on this forum. The OP made a good point, albeit roughly, and all the tears come out. Get over it, this is the Interwebs. Put stuff out there and you will get feedback... if you're lucky.

IMHO, the photog's effort *was* amateur, less for grammar than for dull observations of what he saw through the lens. I'm enjoying the brighter comments pertaining to architecture. More please.
seanm / October 22, 2009 at 10:20 pm
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I am curious about the supposed people who feel that New City Hall is "incongruous with the rest of the city plan." If you're going to create an article about architecture, it's best to present opinions and facts from outside of your social circle (and to also not confuse opinions for facts). I say this because I'm not sure that I've ever seen a city plan stating that New City Hall is not fitting with Toronto's planning.

Also 190 Simcoe Street (the "hideous modernist complex") is a Brutalist building, and not a Modernist one. Though influenced in part from the Modernist movement, the two are distinctly different styles of architecture.
Jonathan / October 22, 2009 at 10:38 pm
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seanm: This was NOT an article about architecture, to start - it was about a rooftop view. My social circle, for the most part, doesn't give two sh*ts about architecture. Brutalism is part of the modernist movement, and ...gah. Look, it was my view from a rooftop, take it or leave it - but don't be rude, ok : )

jonathan@blogTO
Brutus Maximus replying to a comment from seanm / October 23, 2009 at 08:39 am
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Jonathan, I don't share your opinion that seanm was being rude in his post. Whether this was an article on architecture or simply a "rooftop view" is irrelevant. You wrote that many Torontonians feel that City Hall is "incongruous with the rest of the city plan". That's a clear statement that obviously some of your readers don't agree with or are, at least, curious about. I would count myself in that group.

Who are these Torontonians? What "city plan" and is it available online? How is City Hall incongruous with it?

If you made that statement 40 years ago, it might be self-evident, but this is 2009 not 1965.
Adam Sobolak / October 23, 2009 at 10:13 pm
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Personally, I wouldn't split hairs over stylistic terminology re the Canada Life 70s addition; in effect, Brutalism is a subset of "Modernism", which in a grand sweeping sense can be construed as virtually everything post-revivalist, pre-Postmodernist. And if one *were* to split hairs, this is probably as Modernism/International-Style-inflected as Brutalism got, i.e. skybridges notwithstanding, it's not nearly as self-consciously "sculptural" as potboiler favourites such as Robarts Library (nor does it have to be)
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