Toronto City Hall Revell

What City Hall might have looked like in Toronto

Completed in 1965, City Hall remains one of Toronto's most iconic structures. The futuristic-looking building designed by Viljo Revell that currently sits to the northwest of Bay and Queen streets was, however, one of many possibilities that were proposed for the site. In fact, ideas to expand Old City Hall began as early as 1925, and were followed by an array of proposals for a new place to house Toronto's municipal government and courts. For the sake of brevity, I'll focus on the years immediately leading up to the selection of Revelll's design, but for a more nuanced overview of the many plans leading up to this point, see Mark Osbaldeston's Unbuilt Toronto: A History of the City that Might Have Been.

Toronto City Hall Alternate Design

Before the international design competition that would eventually result in the selection of the winning plan, Toronto city council asked citizens in 1955 to vote on a decidedly less modern design put together by architectural firms Marani & Morris, Mathers & Haldenby, and Shore & Moffat. Perhaps not surprisingly, the complex (depicted above) was widely criticized for its drab and boxy design. Particularly vocal was the architecture department at the University of Toronto, and even Frank Lloyd Wright surmised that the plan was "a cliché already dated" (he didn't like Revell's work either). Thankfully, the public wasn't enthused with the design either, refusing to support it at a plebiscite in December that year.

Toronto City Hall Design Competition

After the 1955 proposal was shot down, council decided to open the process up to a competition, which the electorate also supported. After the competition conditions were published in 1957, bidding firms had until April 18, 1958 to submit their proposals. There were over 500 entrants, the models of which filled the CNE's Horticultural Building. These would eventually be reduced to eight finalists by a panel that included Eric Arthur, a professor at U of T and later author of Toronto: No Mean City.

Toronto City Hall Design Competition

It is difficult to evaluate the quality of the other submissions in hindsight, but looking at them now, I certainly don't get the sense that a regrettable choice was made. Quite the opposite. Revell's City Hall — which, alas, he didn't live to see — was Toronto's first truly iconic modern building (preceding Mies Van der Rohe's TD Centre by a few years), and eventually drew international acclaim (including, much later, that famous Star Trek appearance!).

Other shortlisted proposals

I.M. Pei and Associates:

Toronto City Hall


David E. Horne:

Toronto City Hall


Halldor Gunnlogsson and Jorn Nielsen:

Toronto City Hall


John H. Andrews and Macy Du Bois:

Toronto City Hall


Perks and Will:

Toronto City Hall


Frank Mikutowski with Rafferty & Rafferty:

City Hall Toronto


William Hayward:

Toronto City Hall


The winning design:

Toronto City Hall


City Hall under construction

1961:

Toronto City Hall


1962:

Toronto City Hall


1964:

Toronto City Hall


Photos from the Canadian Architectural Archives at the University of Calgary and the Toronto Archives


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