Look How This Toronto Building Was Transformed Into A Skyscraper: Façadism Done Right

facadism
The Concourse Building in the background showing its Thunderbird, circa 1935. (Photo courtesy of City of Toronto Archives)

Over the past 10 years Toronto has seen an explosion of high-rise construction. So much so that it seems every time you turn the corner a massive new skyscraper has taken the place of a parking lot.

Some of these new constructs are façadism at its worst: bland, cookie-cutter glass and steel boxes. Others are designed with some thought to the landscape and neighbourhood in which they reside.

While not completely numb to the new city that’s slowly replacing the Toronto of my youth, it’s been a while since I’ve been really excited about a new skyscraper in downtown Toronto.

This new-found excitement is sparked by a building that embraces all my desired elements: a building that encompasses art, history and design.

Façadism at its best: EY Tower combines old and new seamlessly. (Rendering courtesy of Oxford Properties)

Opened May 2017, the 40-storey EY Tower (Ernst and Young for its primary tenant) at 100 Adelaide West is a perfect melding of 1920s art deco design and 21st-century technology. This, thanks to Kohn Pedersen Fox and WZMH Architects.

What makes this “new” structure outstanding is how it was structured.

Rather than tear down the original, 16-storey Concourse Building, erected in 1929, its entire brick and tile façade was saved to be integrated into the new 40-storey glass and steel EY Tower.

Erected in 1929 the Concourse Building a stunning example of Art Deco design (Photo courtesy of City of Toronto Archives)

While this sort of “façadism” which saves a façade of a historic structure isn’t new in Toronto, this is one of the largest projects of its sort in our city.

Façadism isn’t to everyone’s liking. But how I wish more of this was done in the past, rather than the complete and utter annihilation of our once impressive 19th and early-20th-century architecture that once dotted the downtown core.

The melding of the Concourse Building façade into the EY Tower. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Bell)

A few years back I visited an office in the old Concourse Building. I remember thinking there was nothing art-deco about the interior including the lobby, the elevators, the doors, the floors, the corridors, the light fixtures … Everything had been modernized and updated over the decades. The only art deco I saw was on the exterior.

In 2013, the Concourse Building was demolished with every brick and tile of its original façade meticulously numbered and put into storage.

This included the unique front entrance with mosaics designed by Group of Seven member J.E.H. MacDonald with his son Thoreau.

The original lobby in 1928, with ceiling panels by J.E.H. MacDonald. (Photo courtesy of City of Toronto Archives)

So still intact, you’ll find three massive thunderbirds made of black and blue tile (that at one time dominated the top of the eastern side of the building.) Also saved was the striking multi-coloured parapet surrounding the top and all the stunning art deco architectural carvings that made up the exterior eastern wall.

A few surprises were unearthed during the demolition.

The Concourse Building underwent numerous renovations over the years with its original art deco lobby being updated to reflect a more modern look a few decades back.

The building’s original ceiling art on the display in the lobby of the EY Tower. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Bell)

Underneath the drop-ceiling, in the lobby the original ceiling art that was hidden was discovered.

These new-found ceiling treasures by J.E.H. MacDonald are now protected under glass and hang in the lobby of the new building.

The mosaic Thunderbirds were removed from the top of the building and now are on display on the lower level at the entrance to the parking garage.

Such meticulous thought by Oxford Properties the Concourse’s new owners makes me think of all the great lobby-art that was thoughtlessly destroyed during the urban renewal destruction of the 1950s and ’60s in downtown Toronto.

It’s too late to save all that was destroyed in the past but the Concourse Building is a fantastic example of what can be done to preserve the handful of historic buildings we have left even if it’s only the façade.

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