Pros and Cons of Big Architecture

Queen's Wharf schooner

Remains of a C19th schooner in Queen’s Wharf. It has been moved to Fort York

Last Spring the remains of the earliest ship to be unearthed in Toronto’s original port lands were discovered by an archeological team hired to do the mandatory survey of a site due to host yet another giant downtown tower. The ship is not intact but enough was visible to see that it is a schooner of the 1830s and possibly built in the USA.  This raises to four the number of historic lake boats to be revealed as a result of redevelopment of the lower downtown.

These discoveries are a side benefit to a controversial process of repopulating Toronto’s historic industrial waterfront with tall commercial and residential towers.  While this skyscraper bonanza allows the creation of attractive new park-lets and walkways beside the Lake, and builds up downtown residency to guard against the depopulation of city centres that became a mid C20th century curse for older American settlements, it also hides from view or even obliterates the historic street vistas that characterize the old city.

To quote Eric Reguly’s recent Report On Business magazine article on skyscraper mania in many of the great metropolises, Why skyscrapers are killing great cities, “Why are so many major cities hell-bent on becoming another Dubai?“. “Celebrity architects are in high demand and pump out designs apparently aimed more at attracting attention, like Renaissance codpieces, than enhancing a city’s traditional street-scape.” This month saw Frank Gehry, architect for the still controversial Mirvish high-rise structure on Toronto’s old King Street, winning the Getty award for his life’s work. We believe that on balance the rise of the rock-star architect has not been a benefit for built heritage preservation.

Gehry Mirvish Princess Theatre development

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Filed under archeology, heritage politics, shipping, urban design

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