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The world’s most exciting cities aren’t always national capitals, Cityscape discovers.

October 2015

Toronto, Canada’s largest city and business centre, is to Ottawa, the capital, what New York is to Washington D.C. National capitals are seats of government and have their purpose and even charm, but they are not the most dynamic cities where artists and entrepreneurs thrive. Although less familiar globally than New York, Toronto is increasingly recognised as an exciting city attracting people from other countries as well as Canadians looking for brighter lights and better jobs.

Located on Lake Ontario, one of five Great Lakes on the border between the U.S. and Canada, Toronto benefits from a beautiful natural setting and a multicultural population drawn by Canada’s relatively simple immigration requirements and generous support for immigrants. The result is a city that includes ethnic enclaves like Little India, Greektown, Corso Italia, Chinatown, and Little Jamaica, all with groceries and outdoor markets, restaurants, and clubs featuring hometown specialties.

Museums and galleries

Some of the most architecturally interesting buildings in Toronto are museums and art galleries. For those who live in the city and surrounding suburbs or for tourists, observing the different styles of contemporary architecture represented by these public buildings is an enlightening experience.

The newest section of the enormous Royal Ontario Museum looks like glass triangles fixed at slopping angles. It was designed by Daniel Liebeskind and named for Michael Lee-Chin who donated USD 30 million for the project that started in 2002. The Royal Ontario Museum dates back to 1912 when it opened in the kind of majestic rectangular building typical of museums in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was expanded several times, but most dramatically in 2007 when the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal opened to the public.

After the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) was founded in 1900, it underwent evolutions and additions until native son Frank Gehry was commissioned to make sense of the accumulated changes and bring the gallery up to date within the building’s footprint. From 2004-8 when the renewed gallery opened, Gehry’s Transformation AGO renewed the façade with a glass and wood surface and united the interior with a spiral staircase, all for USD 276 million, much less than better known Gehry projects elsewhere.

An entirely different approach to a public building was taken by Pritzker Prize winning architect Fumihiko Maki in designing the Aga Khan Museum. Unlike with the Art Gallery of Ontario or the Royal Ontario Museum, Maki had no existing buildings to include. His task was to create a building for Islamic art and to incorporate Islamic motifs such as flowing water and natural light. The visitor appreciates that the museum is situated next to a pool that mirrors the building and reflects light on the granite façade and into the galleries.

Stimulating architecture

 Toronto’s City Hall is the fourth in the city’s history. It was completed in 1965 following the design by Finnish architect Viljo Revell who won the international competition to create a world-class building. City Hall consists of two unequal towers of 27 and 20 storeys with a low domed building between them – the council chamber. In front is the large Nathan Philips Plaza – named for the mayor who presided over the competition and the construction of City Hall – with a fountain and pool that becomes an ice skating rink in the winter.  The Plaza hosts the annual Cavalcade of Lights Festival from November– December and New Year’s Eve concerts and fireworks.

What used to be the Ontario College of Art & Design is now called OCAD. Founded in 1876 as the first school of art in Ontario, OCAD now has 6000 students. It has expanded several times including in 2004 with the completion of a dramatic piece of architecture, the Sharp School of Design at OCAD like a box or tabletop floating four storeys above the street on slanted slender tube-like columns. It was created by architects Rob Robbie and Will Alsop for USD 42.5 million. A view of downtown Toronto with buildings planted at street level and the Sharp School floating above is an unusual sight, definitely Cool Toronto.

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