This Toronto building is getting a shining new exterior but some call it a crime
An aging office building in Toronto's Financial District is getting a new lease on life, but some voices in architecture circles aren't happy about the Bell Telephone Building shedding its original Modernist style for more of the shiny glass that has become ubiquitous on our skyline.
The 16-storey office building at 76 Adelaide Street West has been a busy construction site for much of 2021, part of a re-cladding and modernization effort designed by WZMH Architects for owner Bell Canada.
The tower's exteriors are being replaced with panels of concave curtainwall glass measuring five metres high by three metres wide, shipped all the way from Spain. With these panels now covering a few floors, photos are beginning to reveal the building's modern new look.
Recladding is underway at 76 Adelaide St. West. The façade will incorporate innovative design features to elevate the presence and aesthetics of this important @Bell asset. Double-glazed bent curtain wall panels spanning floor to floor manufactured by @cricursa in Spain. pic.twitter.com/01kgY3jnN4— WZMH (@WZMHarchitects) December 27, 2021
But not everyone is happy about this modernization, and if there's one word more controversial than facadectomy in Toronto architecture circles, it's the dreaded re-cladding.
Not seeking any new height or density for the building, these re-cladding projects aren't subject to the city's development review process and skip right to the building permit approval stage. Basically, city planning lacks the teeth to prevent such projects from going forward.
Mid-20th century buildings rarely have heritage protections in place, meaning there is little stopping a developer from drastically altering the look of these buildings, as was the case recently with the controversial re-skinning of 401 Bay Street.
When the exterior of the 1965-built office tower started to come down this past summer, many took notice. One early voice of dissent was Globe and Mail architecture critic Alex Bozikovic, who called out the project on Twitter as both a "crime" and "vandalism."
I find this very frustrating. Toronto heritage planning is highly interventionist. Yet a beautiful building, by important architects, for a major client, with a highly visible piece of public art, is not on the heritage register. 4/ https://t.co/FfAoWublXA— Alex Bozikovic (@alexbozikovic) June 18, 2021
Though the original facade is being replaced, one element of the building's original design will live on.
Wonderful mosaic. 5 panels representing Communication: writing, drawing, music, voice, & satellite. My 2016 photo of a detail. pic.twitter.com/74zTWMCnSN— Marta O'Brien (@archhistory) June 18, 2021
A five-panel mosaic by famed Canadian artist York Wilson is being retained, though it will be obscured behind glass panels. An earlier design had the mosaic fully exposed, but this appears to have been scrapped for an enclosed version.
Update on this: apparently the mosaics are going behind glass (??) pic.twitter.com/lwDWRTV0c6— Alex Bozikovic (@alexbozikovic) December 27, 2021
Re-cladding projects have proven controversial in the past, though they aren't always a bad thing.
The 2012-completed re-skin of First Canadian Place not only gave Canada's tallest building a refresh faithful to its original design, but it spared pedestrians below from the danger of falling marble chunks.
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