toronto buildings

These are some of the most beautifully designed new buildings in Toronto

So much is being built and designed in Toronto, and it can be tricky to spot the gems hidden among a monochromatic sea of glass towers.

New and proposed buildings and public spaces are honoured each year with the annual Toronto Urban Design Awards. This year’s awards showcase 170 projects, including many exciting buildings and spaces hidden off the beaten path.

2021’s submissions span across nine categories, recognizing everything from small human-scaled objects and art installations up to tall buildings that stand out from the pack. Also included are conceptual projects like master plans and student design ideas.

The “Elements” category shines a spotlight on small-scale, standalone objects or sections of a building that stand out. Among the eye-catching picks from this year are open spaces you can explore, like the new St. James Park Pavilion, a permanent timber structure shading a play area.

No longer viewable but worth an honourable mention, “re-” was a temporary installation for Toronto’s 2020 Temporary Parklet Competition. This artful statement on recycling, made of PVC piping, was placed along the King Street Transit Priority corridor.

Perhaps one of the most well-known entries on this list is the CF Toronto Eaton Centre Bridge, a helix-shaped pedestrian link over Queen Street West that has become an Instagram favourite since opening a few years ago.

The “Private Buildings in Context” category is broken down into three subcategories: low-scale, mid-rise, and large-scale buildings.

In the low-scale subcategory, the Proper TV building at Bloor and Dovercourt is a colourful example from the list. Formerly a sorting and distribution depot for Canada Post, the second storey is a recent addition. 12-foot-tall triangulated fins of orange perforated aluminum give the relatively small building a vibrant jolt.

Small homes also make the list, like the South Kingsway Ravine Residences in Etobicoke. Set against a natural ravine, what appears to be a typical architectural magazine dream home is actually a two-unit alternative to the single-family detached homes that dominate the surrounding blocks.

At 142 Westmount near Dufferin and St. Clair, a crumbling building received a facelift when its mismatched windows were enlarged and unified. The refreshed building is now home to an architect’s studio, a co-working space for creatives, a marketing agency, and a coffee shop.

Stepping up in scale, the mid-rise subcategory highlights buildings in the 5-11-storey range. This group of candidates includes a mix of residential buildings plus a handful of commercial and industrial entries.

Buildings with rebuilt or restored heritage attributes are well represented here, one example being the West Block Est. 1928 building at Bathurst and Lake Shore. The carefully reconstructed facades of the 1928 Loblaws Groceteria building look better than ever, after decades sitting soot-covered and abandoned.

Nobody will be surprised to find dozens of condos included in this year’s submissions, though many of these set themselves apart from the bunch like Enigma on the Park in the Brockton Village neighbourhood. Zig-zagging chevron patterns give the nine-storey mixed-use condominium a sense of motion unlike any other condo in the city.

The biggest and tallest submissions in the Urban Design Awards come in the Private Buildings in Context, Tall subcategory.

River City Phase 3 has had a big visual impact on the West Don Lands area, its geometric design attracting plenty of attention on Instagram over the past couple of years.

The Massey Tower on Yonge north of Queen is another recent win for the city. Its skyline impact is pretty substantial, but it’s what this building does for Yonge Street that really makes a difference, incorporating a heritage bank building that sat abandoned for years.

Awards are also shining a light on new public buildings with the “Public Buildings in Context” category, covering a range including education, health care, recreation, cultural, community, and civic buildings.

The Tower Automotive Building / Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto breathed new life into an abandoned 10-storey historic warehouse in the Lower Junction. Now home to Canada’s newest public gallery and new employment space, the building has given back to the immediate community and the broader art scene citywide.

Ryerson University’s Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex brings a new student residence and educational facility under one roof. A highlight of the project is the green roof/urban farm that serves as an elevated ‘quad’ for students.

The 2021 Toronto Urban Design Awards winners will be announced at a Virtual Awards Ceremony on September 14.

Lead photo by

Jack Landau


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