Roy Thomson Hall

The top 10 Toronto buildings from the 1980s

The 1980s were an up and down decade for Toronto architecture. The rise of the modern Financial District that started in the late 1960s continued with major additions like Scotia Plaza and BCE Place, and the city was bestowed one if its great icons in the form of the SkyDome, but beyond these highlights, it was a transitional period for local architecture.

Here are my picks for the top Toronto buildings from the 1980s.

Roy Thomson Hall (1982)
Is it me, or is Roy Thomson Hall one of Toronto's most overlooked buildings. The circular concert hall designed by Arthur Erickson with Mathers and Haldenby is instantly recognizable and helped to establish this section of King West as the Entertainment District. The building's acoustics were upgraded in the early 2000s, but it's always featured a stunning interior from an aesthetic standpoint.

SkyDome Toronto

SkyDome (1989)
The most enduring bit of architecture from the 1980s came at the very end of the decade when Rod Robbie's state of the art sports stadium dazzled a city accustomed to aged venues like Maple Leaf Gardens and Exhibition Stadium. The stadium seemed to fall out of favour through the 2000s, but as the Jays fortunes have turned, so too has our admiration for their home.

Skywalk Toronto

SkyWalk (1989)
SkyWalk was built to help ferry people from Union Station to the CN Tower and SkyDome, but it's more than just a covered bridge. The curved metal and glass roof has caught the attention of just about anyone who ever walked through here, and made the ritual of attending a game at the Dome all the more memorable. The Union Pearson Express now uses the structure.

Scotia Plaza Toronto

Scotia Plaza (1988)
Scotia Plaza was the most significant skyscraper built in the 1980s, and it's aged very well since then. It's an elegant building with a major heritage element in the form of the preserved Beaux-Arts Bank of Nova Scotia Building, but it's the 14-storey atrium and Red Napoleon Granite exterior that are the real show stoppers. Credit to WZMH Architects for a masterpiece of an office tower.

Queens Quay Terminal Toronto

Queen's Quay Terminal (1983)
This adaptive re-use project from Ziedler Architects in 1983 was a big deal coming on the heels of two decades where historic buildings were treated with considerable disdain. Formerly known as the Toronto Terminal Warehouse and functioning as a cold storage warehouse, it was converted to a mixed use building with four extra storeys as part of the early revitalization of Queens Quay.

Sun Life Centre Toronto

Sun Life Centre (1984)
We may not love those angular lines so much these days, but the fact that photographers still flock to the Sun Life Centre to capture intriguing reflections and near-abstract images is a testament to WZMH's design chops here. One suspects that if it were taller, we would class it up there with the major offices surrounding King and Bay.

Exchange Tower Toronto

Exchange Tower (1981)
Another one from WZMH Architects who really dominated the Financial District over this decade, Exchange Tower is noteworthy for its restraint. This is a classic glass office tower that recalls the modernist designs of the 1960s. In a decade that produced some monstrous buildings, its understated beauty is worth kudos.

Standard Life Centre Toronto

Standard Life Centre (1984)
Designed by Arthur C.F. Lau, this 26-storey modernist office tower also tends to fly under the radar, but that's a shame because it's one of Toronto's finest examples of the form at this height range. The various rectangular segments and criss-cross window frames provide just the right amount of ornamentation to catch the eye.

35 Esplanade Toronto

35 The Esplanade (1988)
The location of the building is a bit strange as it would have more presence if the street to its south had more traffic, but nevertheless, it's a rare example of a modern building made in a historical style that doesn't completely fake. This Flat Iron-style structure was built right before Toronto was consumed with glass condo, and it's throwback style is all the more refreshing for it.

Citibank place Toronto

Citibank Place (1983)
One of the late buildings to come out of John B. Parkin and Associates, Citibank Place (now Citigroup Place) hovers between modernism and postmodernism. In fact, you might be inclined to put it in one group or the other depending on what angle you look at it from. From the north is my favourite, where it shows off the glass centrepiece that bridges both sides of the steel-coloured building.

What did I miss? Add your suggestions in the comments.

Photos by Ben Roffelsen, Lori Whelan, PJMixer, twurdemann, Zeidler Architects, Oxford Properties, Cameron MacMaster, and the Toronto Archives.


Join the conversation Load comments

Latest in City

Presto is finally getting rid of the $10 minimum online load

Toronto police hand out $880 tickets at huge house party in Scarborough

The second wave is coming and this is what Toronto is doing to prepare

This is what TTC buses used to look like in Toronto

The history of Sunnyside Amusement Park in Toronto

Mail delivery suspended in parts of Toronto after Canada Post depot closes due to COVID

Beer Store donating $2.3M from empty cans to Ontario hospitals and food banks

Ontario announces the largest flu shot campaign in Canada's history