architecture of Toronto

architecture of Toronto

Image 1. Toronto Cityscape as one of the best architectures in Toronto

As with everywhere else, the architecture in Toronto is highly influenced by the city’s geographic variables, historical and cultural background. Toronto is built in an area surrounded by plenty of lakes, rivers, and creeks that dictated the growth of the city horizontally and vertically.

The most abundant material was clay which made brick an especially inexpensive and available material, making it the most used material throughout the city buildings.

Among the wide range of buildings orienting this pioneer metropolis, in this article, we are only focusing on the residential architecture in Toronto to achieve a good understanding of how architecture in Toronto has changed thought out the ages since its establishment:

The Old Architecture in Toronto vs New Era

At the very beginning of the residential establishments in Toronto, the Georgian style dominated the preferences of elite Torontonians’ homes. This style was especially favorable among Toronto’s wealthy population, explaining the abundance of Georgian-style homes in downtown neighborhoods. The Georgian style of homes can be characterized by rigid symmetry in building form, windows and doors placements, Local reddish-brown brick, hip roofs, and window decorative headers. This style remained popular among Upper Canada predominantly, but eventually, it had fallen out of style in the late 19th century but remained one of the most noticeable styles in the old architecture in Toronto.

Image 2. Georgian Style as an old architecture in Toronto

After this, the old architecture in Toronto welcomed the rise of Victorian architecture, which was thought to be more modern, unique, and creative. Victorian Architecture is most distinctively characterized by a mix of brick and sandstone, turrets, domes, and decorative ornamentation. This style lent itself well to narrower lots, and thus it was used in the city’s traditionally middle-class neighborhoods where individual properties were smaller.

In the period after the First World War, Canadian nationalism led to a unique architecture in Toronto, distinct from that of Britain and the United States. One style promoted as distinctly Canadian was the Château Style, also known as Railway Gothic. This style first appeared in the late nineteenth century which is a mix of Victorian Gothic with French castles.

Back then the railways were symbols of Canada, and the mix of French and English ideas was also considered distinctly Canadian. During wartime, the Château style was used in several prominent public structures and was a defining element of the architecture in Toronto, such as the Supreme Court building.

Image 3. Victorian Style as an old architecture in Toronto

In the wake of the recession of 1990–91, economic stagnation marked the beginning of the longest period of sustained economic growth in Toronto since the end of World War II. As a result, the development of architecture in Toronto quickened over the years with contemporary projects. With the rise of the global impact of the “Bilbao Effect”, cities were reinventing themselves through high-profile architecture. The long-existing design communities joined the movement with a critical mass of high-profile projects from 1992 onward stimulating clients and the public, to demand excellence in the design of their city projects.

The architectural developments, especially those in the United States, were not ignored. The architecture in Toronto closely followed Chicago and New York styles as the home of skyscrapers employing new steel framed construction and elevators. In the latter half of the twentieth century, Toronto's influence on other Canadian cities became filled with lesser versions of their counterparts in Toronto.

Image 4. Downtown Skyline as the best architecture in Toronto

After the Second World War, Canadian styles slowly replaced the International Style that came to dominate Canadian cities. Many of the most famous Canadian projects of this period were designed by foreign architects, who won open contests. Modernist architects like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and I.M. Pei designed major projects in Canada and reshaped the architecture in Toronto as well.

The architecture in Toronto changed in this era entirely, starting a new era of residential architecture by introducing large housing projects, even though these projects were more successful in Canada than in the United States. While the glass towers of the International Style skyscraper were at first unique and interesting, the idea was soon repeated too much and was no longer interesting.

Image 5. Toronto Dominion, one of the best architectures in Toronto, Canada

In the late 18’s architecture in Toronto and the other big cities of Canada went through a lot of different architectural styles, from Brutalism to postmodernism that left their marks around the Canadian cities, but in recent years architecture has changed according to the changing world, modern and best architecture in Toronto is now focusing on social, economic and environmental sustainability more than anything else.

Image 6. Royal Ontario Museum | Toronto, Canada

Among the most recent, contemporary, and thriving projects, The King’s residential complex designed by Bjarke Ingels Group can be a very good example of bridging the past, present, and future of architecture in Toronto. The King complex project is by far one of the most anticipated projects in the city which sure can get a place in the annual list of the best architecture in Toronto.

Set in a transitional area of Toronto, King Street West is located at the meeting point of three 20th-century neighborhood parks and a wide range of different types of architecture, From the tall towers of the Central Business District to the low-rise neighborhoods in the Northwest, the skyline is a mark of the architecture in Toronto progress.

Image 7. King Residence site as one of the modern and best architecture in Toronto

King residential complex, as a direct response to the architecture in the Toronto context, is a mixed-use development with a public plaza that creates a new center for the community and connects the various pedestrian pathways around the area. The project consists of two important parts; the building, which is organized as a traditional perimeter block, and a public plaza in the center.

The plaza itself also covers two different concepts: a lushly landscaped forest paired next to an urban courtyard. The main factor while designing this project, based on the architects was to define a balance between these opposites that is also able to reflect the current best architecture in Toronto with its rapid redevelopment: interacting the old and new architecture in Toronto, with an open community in an intimate setting, next to a calming green scenery within the urban context.

Image 8. Lushy landscape next to the urban view of king project as one of the best architectures in Toronto

Around the plaza, King Toronto rises as sets of extruded pixels to create space for housing, retail, and boutique offices. Each pixel as large as a room rotates 45 degrees from the street grid axis to increase exposure to light and air circulation and rises above the old architecture in Toronto in a beautiful and intelligent combination.

As we get close to the base of the building, pixels lift from the site to provide access to the courtyard, while allowing sunlight to penetrate the entire building and creating space for green terraces for each unit.

Image 9. Concept Diagram

Inspired by Moshe Safdie’s revolutionary ideas in Habitat 67, BIG designed the King complex naming it Habitat 2.0, in the heart of Toronto to find an alternative to the typical architecture in Toronto’s residential towers, and experiment with modern utopian ideas. By respecting the old architecture in Toronto, the architects created an undulating façade as a connective topography that allows increased circulation through the neighborhood while embracing an abundance of green space normally reserved for the suburbs.

Image 10. Inspired by Safdie’s Habitat 67

The topographical design of the King’s complex is gathered around a central courtyard, and the roofscapes create four mountains pointing towards different directions, and overlooking different parts of the city while combining with the existing architecture in Toronto. The interiors of these penthouses are reflecting the mountain’s views and were designed to be distinct and unique.

Image 11. Connecting the city’s pedestrian pathways in one of the best architectures in Toronto

Each penthouse has its special features that work perfectly with the architecture in the Toronto context, the west penthouses include a spiral staircase, an arched wine cellar, a double-height bookshelf, and a sumac tree growing inside, while the penthouse located in the east is inspired by modernist Scandinavian architecture and is intended to have a theme of warmth.

The North penthouses are rooted in the industrial heritage of the neighborhood. These details are highlighted in the use of raw materiality of steel contrasting with refined, light glass. On another hand, the south penthouses are centered on the north-south axis connecting to the waterfront. Their design was inspired by Brazilian and tropical modernist movements, to build a natural shelter.

Image 12. Different penthouse designs

Ingels, Leading architect of BIG, describes King as a "boxilated landscape" with glazed construction which was chosen as a response to the area's red brick buildings along the length of King West. He also explains that in the process of design, they wanted to make a dialogue with the old architecture in Toronto and also, Local materials. They tried different types of bricks but at last, they ended up using glass bricks.

This translucency as well as the vegetation that will grow on exterior walls and terraces make the project more involved with its surroundings and the building's pixelation fed into the different types of floor plans that follow the interior compositions.

Image 13. Tribute to the site by adding the local greenery

Cabinets in each unit come in different types of wood options, in addition to corrugated textured glass with a mirrored backing. Flooring comes in a range of wood and terrazzo tiles, resembling the project in a flattened form. The pieces of furniture are designed by B& B Italia in collaboration with BIG.

Corrugated concrete panels also feature on elevators in the lobby, and the building's pool will be made of graphite and basalt, inspired by Nordic design. The complex will also include cafes, shops, and restaurants at the ground level.

Image 14. Unit Interiors as one of the best architectures in Toronto


The architecture in Toronto has changed a lot through the ages and tried its best to keep on with each trending style, but this is not always a positive thing. Since the early days of its establishment, Toronto has had many types of projects which were just based on the trending styles, without paying attention to the context for each project, including the environment, the function, and even the energy usage. Unfortunately, this fact led the cityscapes into a somehow unpleasant view of different unrelated towers and buildings next to each other which do not belong to the site, the culture, or even the function.

The new wave of sustainability in architecture is rightfully wiping away all the other concepts and movements, because we live in a very critical time of human existence on planet earth and we, as architects and also as humans have to take each of our steps very carefully and accordingly to the dire needs of every living species on planet earth.

Toronto is considered one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Canada and the world, because of its multicultural roots and the cultural heritage and diversity of the city itself. The main reason behind the extreme variety of styles of the best architecture in Toronto is the cultural diversity that affects the people’s needs and tastes in every aspect of social life, including the places they choose to live, work or spend time in.

In any case, there is no doubt that Toronto is one of the most flexible and time-conscious cities in the world and that makes the architecture in Toronto very unique and worth studying.