Sunday, December 15, 2013
Toronto transformed into a city of towers
Of course, not all Torontonians are thrilled with what has become of the place; their fear of heights is well documented. Indeed, whenever a proposal comes along for yet another tall tower; they line up to register their objections. Tall buildings block the view, they leave us in shadow, they create wind tunnels, they loom over short buildings, they . . . well, you get the idea.
And it’s true. Towers don’t belong in every part of the city. But the tower is here to stay and in Toronto, they are taller and more ubiquitous that ever. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Perhaps one of the issues that must be acknowledged and dealt with is architecture’s failure to conceive towers that soar in our hearts and minds as they do on our skyline.
The fact is that tall buildings speak to something very deep within us — the desire to rise above our Earth-bound roots and reach up into the heavens. Going back millennia, we have constructed towers. They took the form of pyramids, cathedrals, spires. Historically, they were associated with kings and deities — most of them long forgotten.
Today, however, we can each have our own piece of the sky. Technology and democracy have given us the means to live up there with the gods, flying glass panels notwithstanding.
Little wonder than that cities, corporations and even countries compete with one another by building as tall as they can. Examples abound: there’s Paris, with its Eiffel Tower; New York, with the Empire State Building; and now Dubai with the Burj Khalifa. The list goes on and on.
Toronto is no exception. When the CN Tower was erected in the 1970s, its official purpose was to serve as a communications tower. Fair enough. But everyone knows the real reason we built it was so that we, too, could brag about having the “world’s tallest free-standing structure” in our very own burg. Though it has since lost its place in the Guinness Book of World Records, the tower remains a symbol of Toronto, the one globally recognizable piece of architecture in this city.
In the meantime, the skyline of Toronto has been transformed by glass highrises. Originally, they were office towers. These days, they are mostly condos. Though the discussion about the energy efficiency of these skyscrapers has only just begun — and many believe these transparent boxes are an environmental disaster waiting to happen — there’s no question they appeal on a very basic level.
Let’s not forget, either, that towers have enabled countless thousands of people to move into the city. They have brought with them economic, social and cultural vitality that is the envy of cities around the world. For the first time since the 1970s, growth in Toronto now outpaces that of the surrounding suburbs. The business sector has discovered that choosing where to locate involves more than simply property taxes.
Yes, there are problems: poor construction, undersized units and poor architecture mean that many towers will age badly and cost vast sums to maintain. But compared to, say, that archetypical 1960s housing complex St. James Town, contemporary development tends to be better integrated into the city, better designed and clearly more livable.
Only time will tell, but — no pun intended — things are looking up for Toronto. Though we have been reluctant to embrace our destiny as a highrise city, that is also only a matter of time.
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