“It's not often that architecture inspires a lasting conversation.” These are the first words a visitor sees when he's entering the Toronto Dominion Centre's website.
The TDCentre (1963-1968) was built by Mies
Van der Rohe (1883-1969) during his final years – he was 79 when he got the command for the project - and is an astonishing work where architecture meets urban planning and public space.
It is in many ways a
synthesis of the architect's earlier ideas and works in Europe and the United States wherein you can find the influence of the Barcelona Pavillion (1929) and the Seagram Building (1954-1958) in New York.
From another point of
view the design of the six towers and surroundings is - untill today associated with concepts as 'advanced' and 'hypeness'. These concepts play a crucial role in the owner's – the dominion bank – marketing to find tenants for some of the 4.3 million square feet (around 400.000 square meters) office space or some of the 150.000 square feet (around 14000 square meters) retail space. Architecture [of the Dominion Center ] has become an identification for the Toronto city center, for the companies located in one of the 6 blocks of the centre and for the more then 20.000 people who are working there every singel day. The introduction on the website continues: [...] “New buildings open and the conversation moves on. Yet architecture is the most public of all art forms, stamping a city with personality, demanding debate. It has the potential to create striking skylines and vibrant streetscapes and every once in a while, if both bold and timely, can infuse a city with needed confidence and unexpected sophistication. If right, it will change individuals, spark a sense of communicty and change a city for genereations.” “Welcome to Toronto. Welcome to Toronto-Dominion Centre.”
Mies' design for the Dominion Centre in Toronto is an unmatched story. The architect gived a - before nonexistent - public space to the heart of the Toronto city center in a way northern americans hadn't seen it before. A project equal to this – in times cities were changing with the speed of sound and every square feet was built-up - even hasn't been realised during the following decades, neither a bad copy of it.
Some things we still have to figure are for instance why a kind of project as
this hasn't been realised in Northern America during the decades following on Mies' Toronto design. Don't they need of public space? And why? And what about the fact that Mies was a European-born architect, does it had influence on this particular design or maybe on his later works in general? What about â€“ european projects of - urban planning of business districts related to public space in the following years upon the Toronto Dominion Centre. What we know for sure is that the architect during his american period never stopped thinking on architecture, public space and an entanglement of them while his collegues-architects â€“ in Europe and the U.S. - were designing architecture up to the limits of every singel parcel. Due to the gridiron pattern of New York City, for instance, people there hadn't known another way of building since the large-scale development of the city in the 19 th century.
To know how the idea of the design for the Toronto Domion Centre came into being you have to know the history of another masterpiece, built by Mies Van der Rohe a few years earlier. In 1954, the Joseph Seagram company wanted Mies to construct them a building for their head office together with some additional office space for renters at Park Avenue, New York City. The development of the Seagram site was based upon different factors: The first factor, the number of square feet of the building was calculated upon the need of space of the Seagram company and, for the additional rental space, a study of real estate consultants about the marketable retail space at that time and location. “The actual gross area built was equivalent to a floor area ratio of 10, in contrast to the subsequently constructed buildings on either side of the Seagram site which are in the region of 16.” said Peter Carter, autor of Mies Van der Rohe At Work.
According to the New York
zoning code at that time – second factor -, the minimum number of storages was 10, but – according to the NY zoning code again - it was permitted to built a tower of unlimited height if that tower only used 25% of ground space of the parcel. During the design fase, “the architect walked along Park Avenue and realised that one could not see any of it's buildings from the pavement” Carter described. “I set it back so that you could see it. That was the reason. If you go to New York, you really have to look at these canopies to find where you are. You cannot even see the building. You see only the building in the distance. So I set it back for this reason” Mies years later said in een interview, published in Conversations with Mies, edited by Moisés Puente. The design for the Seagram site came alife; a 39-storages tower, using 25% of the surface of the 1,4 acres parcel and moved backwards from Park Avenue for the vision from the pavement. A huge space in front of the tower was left; the plaza idea was born. It became possible for the architect to design a public space like it exist in Europe a long time before. In another approach, Jan Wijle, head of the departement Art in Public Space and Architecture of Stroom Den Haag in The Netherlands, described in his 2010 essay 'Dwars door de stad' public space as followed: [...] The space between buildings is used to move on an efficient way: by car, by bus, by bike or on foot. But it's also used to parade, to lose
one's, to run, to make a call, to smoke, to eat and to drink. To meet or come across someone unexpected, to flirt or just being alone ostentatious, to see and to be seen. The public space is a meeting place of private actions. The transition areas from private to public, between building and public space, from closed to open prescribe the atmosfhere of a city and if you're feeling you comfortable or just 'unheimlich', that you likes or dislikes a city. A city is more than a collection of building, and is mostly prescribed by what happens underneath, above, around or between in the public space.â€? There are a variety of actions that happen in public space, although there's only one kind of public space - designed as public space - in gridiron-pattern modern cities as New York, Chicago or Toronto; the park. Thinking of some New York City examples as Washington Square Park, Union Square Park, Madison Square Park or Gramercy Park, still Central Park is the most known of all. This unbalance between the variety of public actions and a singular public park-space was decisive and became a major point in Mies' Park Avenue design. Further, the 19th century New York buildings as the Public Library, the Post Office, the Town Hall or the Metropolitan Museum of Art are all build in BeauxArts style. A style that represented the power of the state while it's importancy in the city was emphasized through their position: they're all built with their entrance on a raised level from the street so it only was possible to reach them by climbing the many stairs in front of it. ( In 2005, Deyan Sudjic has written about this topic called De Power of Building). During the twenties, the masters of the modern movement in Europe, under which Le Corbusier, Gropius and Mies Van der Rohe destroyed the whole idea of an architecture as reflection of power. As a response to this phenomen, an architectural pure and orthodox language was been developped by them for a society of the 20 th century. After the second world-war , modernists as Mies Van der Rohe made their ideas more moderate than before and tried to make links with history. The raised plaza idea in front of the building as an architectural reflection of power became again attractive. It's one of the aspects allready present in the architect's fifties buildings that became more visible in his later project like the Toronto Dominion Centre. The Seagram building was set back from the street, and a large space in front of the building was formed. Mainly due to slight changes in level which were present at Park Avenue, the plaza was raised a few steps above the street where it became further detached from car and pedestrian traffic. It houses
two rectangular pools and contains a low boundary wall and could be used by anybody who wished to use it included the Seagram company employers. In reality the space was a great advantage for the neighbours. The boundary wall has been made out of green marble and travertin and was used for the floor surface. Those materials were also used in Mies' Barcelona Pavillion for the 1929 worldsfhere. Nowadays they are well-known as an identifying mark of the architect's design. Carter described the social act of the owner as a crucial factor in the succes of the company's headquarter building. Together with Mies, confirmating his position as inventive designer, the reconciliation of different aspects like the vertical proportions of a skyscraper and the human activity on the plaza level became a fact. The plaza-level visible activities of the bar and restaurant, in the lower wing of the building, were important for the proportion of the human scale just as the two groups of fountains in front of the main entrance. That's again the reason, the proportion of a skyscaper against the human scale, why Mies' introduced, as he did in his Dominion Centre project, singlestory pavillions on the plazas of his later works. The Seagram Building became an icon both on architectural and urban planning and very rapidly Mies' was asked to design some other projects like the Toronto Dominion Centre, the Neue Galery in Berlin and the Detroit Appartements. In Toronto, Mies got a whole traffic-free block in the gridiron-pattern of the city to realize his ideas. Located in the financial district of the city, just 5 blocks from the waterfront and with acces to al big streets in downtown Toronto and the underground metro, this command had all the opportunities to become one of the most influential cityprojects of Mies carrier. The 5.5 acres Toronto Centre confirms his central position within the city on different architectural and urban planned scales, all woven perfectly harmonious in each other. The Centre consists of 3 floors below street level under wich it is possible to access the public transport system. The lowest level of them is a parking space for around 700 cars while the 1st and 2nd level below street are used as a commercial centre including a number of bars and restaurants and a 700seat cinema open to everyone. Upon this parking lots and commercial centre, almost the whole site exists of a plaza where up the towers of respectively 23, 31, 32, 38, 46 and 56 levels are located. According to the development of the Seagram Building some years earlier and the architect's regard for human
proportions, a single story pavillion for the Domion Bank, the owner of the site, has created on the plaza and stands between the towers. The blurry boundary between interior and exterior, where almost every square feet of exterior space was given back to the people of the city, emphasizes one of the 5 points of modern architecture as Le Corbusier (1887 - 1965) described in his books Vers une Architecture (1923), Urbanisme (1925) and L'Art Décoratif d'Aujourd'hui (1925): 1. The 'Pilotis' as a replacement of supporting walls: a reinforced concrete grid structure is one of the most important points of modern architecture. Due to this pilotis the mass of the building is lifted up from the ground so the space underneath becomes free for anybody who wish to use it 2. A free design of the ground plan could be realised because of the absence of supporting walls 3. The free design of facade was possible due the structural function of the 'pilotis' 4.Horizontal windows 5. The flat roof could be utilized as a roof garden, for domestic purpose while also protecting the concrete roof.
Mainly used during the twenties and thirties as an exact science, the 5 points of modern architecture were still known by architects working in post-war decades nevertheless used in a non-orthodox approach by keeping the living conditions, the human proportions and the demands of the building-users in mind more than the design of an architectural expression or symbolic character of the building. Despite this fact the reproach nowadays against the modern movement is that all buildings looked very simular without any form of identification. An unfair remark following Mies; “But take the medieval cities – that is a good example. All the houses are really the same . All plans are really the same. But who could afford it put it in a fine entrance hall; you might buy and put on a fin door knocker; and if somebody could afford a bay window, he did that. But the plans are the same, and how rich is the medieval city!” Comparing the 5 points with the design of the TD Centre some things can be seen very clearly: because of the use of pilotis (1) the surface of the site became available as a public space. Moreover it was possible to realise a free ground plan (2) and a free design of facade (3) for the towers built on the site. According to Fritz Neumeyer: “The new construction image of a skeleton with
its minimum of mass that touches the earth only by means of a few points of support called for a new definition of space and volume.” If we look back to the design of the Seagram building it has to be seen in my opinion as one of the earliest dualistic works of the architect. On the one hand it's the first skyscraper built in the international style - with glass and steel and was for a long time one of the most modern towers in the world. “Mies' glass skyscrapers had freed themselves from the straitjacket of historical style imitation” Fritz Neumeyer described. On the other hand Mies' is trying to redefine moderne architecture, by making links towards history, and setting his architecture in an historic architectural approach. Even more accurate was the statement that has been made by the architect according to the Seagram building; during the building boom that reshaped almost every city center in the world, expensive building land was used as an (outdoor) space for the well-being of the working population of the Seagram company or other surrounding companies. And if people ten years later allready got over this statement, Mies had worked out again to perfection the Toronto Domion Centre. A new - even harder - statement was made according to building developpers, city planners - whether the authorities required a project as that -, architects and building owners. Within the gridiron pattern of a city, still the legacy of the democratic Americas, Mies designed a whole complex including parking space, a shopping center, a cinema, restaurants, bars and an immense office space. It's mainly due to the public facilities of the complex like the transport system underneath the site, the historical approach of architecture as identification of power – as was done in 19th century beaux-arts buildings were the entrance was raised from the street level – and the idea of a central plaza reffering to the craddle of every European village or city that the architect became the absolute leader of architecture and urban planning. The design of the earlier built New York Seagram Building with the plaza in front of it was the beginning of Mies' urban interventions in gridiron pattern cities. And when they knew that the Dominion Centre in Toronto was realized on a private area, the whole american architectural scene was booming on his foundings. The architect's historical approaches can find their origins – like said before – in the non-orthodox way of building the post-war modern movement where regard for humanity became a central point in the design fase. A non negligible fact are the roots of Mies Van der Rohe; he was born in Aachen, Germany, left his natal city as a young boy and went to Berlin, where he
became interested in Schinkel, and from where he moved in 1940 - during the nazi-regim - to the United States, his new home basis untill his death in 1969. European cities and villages have a long history of civilization. The existence of their plazas, the major place in town, fore more than 2 millenia, wasn't the reason why Mies realized a space like that in his Toronto project, he strongly believed ther was a need of such space in their 20 th century civilization: “I'm not intested in the history of civilization. I am interested in our civilization. We are living it. Because I really belive, after a long time of working and thinking and studying, that architecture has, in fact, only to do with this civilization we are in. That is really what architecture is about. It can only express this civilization we are in and nothing else. There are certain forces that are in contrast to each other. But if you really look at it, you'll find leading forces, sustaining forces, and you'll find superficial forces. That is why it is so difficult to give a definition of civilization and to give a definition of our time. In older civilizations the superficial foces are gone. Only the deciding forces become historical forces, the exceptional foces.” He brought the international style together with historialized ideas of architectural identification and answered on the question; “What about the way Schinkel places his buildings on pedestals?”, “I think that is a good way of doing it, in spite of the fact that it is a classic way of doing it.” If we think about the fact that the architect's project wasn't able to stimulate the debate about and the repetition of such project's we have to find an explanation for it. If we compare routines between Brussels living people and New Yorkers it has to be said that the american model of 'taking-a-starbuckscoffee-on-the-corner-and-walking-further' doesn't excists in Europe that way. American people just doesn't have the routine to sit down when they're drinking or eating something and that is probably the major factor why they apparently - don't have need of public space and plazas. And that's from both sides: if we see those american-inspired business districts in european cities, developped during the seventies and eightees, for instance the Noordwijk in Brussels, a lot of them have failed totally. One of the major points is the lack of plurality in space. Another is a lack of public space!
If we think about the fact that the architect's urban planning never has been hasn't been
Mies But why is thist kind of urban development not used anymore But maar waarom is er dan geen andere project as dit gedaan in the us? Voer voer discussie voor architectuurhistorici
The eproject of mies can be seen as a synthesis of his earler works although it was his time fzr before. The grand places like you can find in almost every city in europe are an identification of different things: first of all the identifiction of the power of the government - the town hall is located there - but also , and this idea comes from the ancient greeks and romans, e idea of a central plaza in the city to meet each other, to discuss things, to deal different things etc. All those things Were developped during e past 2 millenia but doesnt excist in the new world like it was developped in tge fiftient century b the european ontdekkingsreizigers. It has to be said that the way of life in a city as at is different than in medieval cities as known in europe. The way european and united,states- citizens do thongs is diferent: For instance the idea of drinking a cup of coffee on the way to your work: europen people will sit down for a time while they are dirnking their coffee. When the new yorkers buy something in a starbucks around the corner - you can find them on almost every corner of the street and walk ahead. Whe, they re hungry they buy somehting - on anothzr corner - and they just walk further away to their work. Something doesnt excist in that way in how european cityzens lives, walks, eats or drinks. So the infuence of the - european born - mies van der rohe on a north american city is that way that way because it wasnt be done before. But was it necessary? Maybe the people wo lives in a modern need dont feel it necessary to have a cetral plaza where ey do things like the europeans dit it for the past 2000 years . What said mies aout this urban project an tthe ideas behind it ? In converstionz with mies we dont really find an answer on is question. He propably didnt reached the meta stadium of what he was thinking or hzd bee, thought. So its a question were architectural historians have find or formumate an answer on. After he architects interventions ther were some fpsiegelingen vn zijn project for instance on downtown miami where you can see directly the influence of mies kn those works , but afterwards there werent projects that reacbed the deisng of mies works on an urban scale. You can call it european and that a modern city dozsnt need such places. But also in europe in cityprojects of parts of cities that were been developping during the lastnfifty yearw there are less projects like this of mies,in a same noveau. No, its a good question but it is,t the main issue. Ground space is still the business as usual for building devrloppers.
Untill today He can learn alot pf the dominon centre for new cities of the 21st century.
Besluit - werk voor architectuurhistorici - toronto dominion centre als synthesis van his vroegere werken tot in de puntjes uitgevoerd The toronto dominion centre built by mies van der rohe ( 1883 - 1969 ) during the years 1963 - 1969 is one of his latest and bestest projects in different ways: on both archiectural and urban scale, also the vervlechting in rhe stad is zeer goed uitgewerkt. Mies was in is in his late seventies whe he designed the dominion centre. You can call this project a synesis of his earlier work in america and some of his projects in europe in the twenties like the barcelona pavillion for the world exhibition in 1929 and the villa tugendhat in brno, designed between 1928 and 1930.
What was so special aout this project?
So there s a duality in bulding the international style: from the one hand its totaly the opposite of what ones was the leadingstyle. On the other hznd there s het teruggrijpen naar ideas from the past like the identity of e buildings. For that reason and those ideas were invented during the twenties by mies. The podiumn for the barcelona pavillion in 1929 was one of the first examples of that. Afterwarts he designed it further and workednit out. So the plaza or the plint were the buildings arz built on is not only a plaza its a contrzst between the massonry and the lightness of the construction upon its a form of identity of the building in different ways W. THĂ–NER, The Bauhaus Life. Life and Work in the master's houses estate in dessau, Dessau Bauhaus Foundation, 2002. D. HANDLIN, Amerian Arhitecture, Thames and Hudson, NY, 1979. P. CaRTER, Mies Van der Rohe at Work, Pall Mall Press, 1974 London. B. BERGDOLL, Mies In Berlin, 2001, MOMA, NY.