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Toronto City Hall

Toronto City Hall
General information
Architectural style Modernist
Location Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Address 100 Queen Street West
Construction started November 7, 1961[1]
Inaugurated September 13, 1965[1]
Cost $ 31 million[1]
($235 million in 2016 dollars[2])
Owner City of Toronto
Height 73.76 m (242.0 ft)
Design and construction
Architect Viljo Revell
Structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel
Awards and prizes Ontario Association of Architects 25 Year Award (1998)
Renovating team
Architect Bruce Kuwabara
Designated 1991

The Toronto City Hall or New City Hall is the home of the municipal government of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and one of the city's most distinctive landmarks. Designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell (with Heikki Castrén, Bengt Lundsten, Seppo Valjus) and landscape architect Richard Strong, and engineered by Hannskarl Bandel, the building opened in 1965. It was built to replace Old City Hall, which was built in 1899.[3] The current City Hall, located at Nathan Phillips Square, is actually Toronto's fourth city hall and was built in order to replace the former city hall due to a shortage of space. The area of Toronto City Hall and the civic square was formerly the location of Toronto's Old Chinatown, which was expropriated and bulldozed during the mid-1950s in preparation for a new civic building.[4]

In 1958, an international architectural competition was launched by Mayor Nathan Phillips in order to find a design for the New City Hall. This competition was won by Finnish architect Viljo Revell whose winning proposal came first amongst submissions from forty-two countries. Revell's design consists of twin towers surrounding a white disk-like council chamber which is mounted on a raised platform, with entrances located below that are open to the public. There is also a ramp from the square that connects to the podium green roof and also leads to the council chamber. The two towers are of unequal height as the east tower is taller than the west. The City Hall is nicknamed "The Eye of the Government" because it resembles a large eye in a plan view. Revell died a year before the New City Hall was completed.


  • History 1
    • Design competition 1.1
  • Design 2
    • Council Chambers 2.1
  • Additions and changes 3
  • In popular culture 4
  • Festivals 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Fireworks at Toronto City Hall (2008)

Toronto had been looking to build a more modern city hall to house its growing municipal government since at least 1943, when a report to city council recommended a new city hall and square in the block bounded by Queen Street West, Bay Street, and Chestnut Street. The recommendation was rejected by the electorate in a referendum on New Year's Day in 1947. However, in October 1952, a panel of citizens appointed by city council made the same recommendation. In 1954, a partnership of three of Toronto's largest architectural firms was selected to do the design: Marani and Morris, Mathers and Haldenby, and Shore and Moffat. Presented in November 1955, their design proposed a conservative, limestone-clad building in the Modernist style. It was symmetrical and faced a landscaped square. Unlike the design that would ultimately be built, it retained the stone Beaux-Arts Registry Office on the western part of the site and also included a landscaped public space in front of it. The podium of the new city hall was to house the council chambers, and was given columns to complement the eight columns of the Registry Building, with which it was aligned across the new public space in front of it.

Official opening of City Hall, 1965.

Yet the plan did not satisfy Mayor Nathan Phillips, who called for an international design competition. A joint letter was sent by all classes of the University of Toronto Faculty of Architecture condemning the proposal and calling for an international competition. Frank Lloyd Wright called the design a "sterilization" and "a cliché already dated", while Walter Gropius criticized it as "very poor pseudo-modern design unworthy of the city of Toronto".[5] It died when voters rejected plans for a new $18 million city hall in a December 1955 referendum, though the design was adapted and built as the Imperial Oil Building elsewhere in the city.

Design competition

Led by Mayor Nathan Phillips, Toronto city council decided in 1956 to have an international competition to choose the new design under terms drawn up by the International Union of Architects, which itself caused some controversy as some felt the work should be done by a Canadian. A five-person panel of judges was drawn up with some of the world's greatest architecture experts. Eric Arthur served as advisor. Over 500 designs from 42 countries were submitted by the deadline of April 18, 1958, from which eight semi-finalists were selected. In September 1958, Viljo Revell's design was selected by three of the judges, though it had almost not made the short list. Eero Saarinen, as member of the panel of five judges, arrived a day and half late and chose Revell's design from the other judges' list of entrants that could summarily be rejected. He convinced two other judges on the panel that Revell's unique design should be the winner.[6] One of the two dissenting judges was William Graham Holford, who was skeptical that the design could be built within the $18 million budget set by the city. Revell received a $25,000 prize plus what was estimated to be $1 million in fees to supervise construction. He complained that not enough credit was given to his design collaborators, Heikki Castren, Bengt Lundsten, and Seppo Valjus, and asked that all names be listed as the architects. Construction began in 1961, and the building was completed four years later. Revell died in 1964 before the project was finished.


Toronto City Hall at night

While the building's base is rectangular, its two towers are curved in cross-section and rise to differing heights. The east tower is 27 storeys (99.5 metres (326 ft)) tall and the west tower is 20 storeys (79.4 metres (260 ft)). Between the towers is the saucer-like council chamber, and the overall arrangement is somewhat like two hands cradling the chamber. The outer concrete surfaces of the towers have been ribbed, to prevent collapse of the fabric as a result of the expansion of the exterior surfaces, and the tearing apart of the fabric as a result of differences in air pressure on the two sides of each wing-like tower during the high winds characteristic of the Great Lakes. The north, west, and east elevations are more abstract and sculptural in contrast with the extensive glazing of south elevation facing the square; each presents a view of concave panels of concrete textured with split-faced strips of Botticino marble. To the east of the square is Old City Hall which is now a courthouse. From the air, the building is seen as a giant unblinking eye, thus the building's original nickname of "The Eye of Government".

When finished, the building generated controversy among many people, who felt that it was extremely futuristic, too futuristic for the city. Even half a century later, it still appears very modern.

The design for the public space in front of the new city hall, Nathan Phillips Square, was part of the competition. The square's reflecting pool and concrete arches, fountain, and overhead walkways were thus also part of Revell's submission. It has since seen several monuments, sculptures, and other works of public art added, and is undergoing a renovation, but it continues to complement the city hall with its original Modernist design elements.

Council Chambers

The City Council chambers is a semi-circular room located on the second floor. On the main floor of the chambers are the seats for the 44 members of council in a horseshoe-shaped arrangement.

In front of the councillor is the podium and seat for the Speaker of Toronto City Council. To the right and left of the Speaker are two long tables for Commissioners (i.e., department heads).

In front of the Speaker is the desk for the City Clerk and Clerk staff.

The mayor, formerly seated in the front where the Speaker now sits, is now seated amongst councillors in the first row.

Behind the councillors is the public seating gallery with ascending rows of seats. The gallery can accommodate 250 visitors.

Outside City Council chambers are two committee rooms, as well as the offices of the mayor and city councillors.

Two sets of elevators provide access to the floors below (ground floor and to the parking garage below).

Additions and changes

Added in 2009, the Toronto City Hall's podium is home to the largest publicly accessible green roof in the city.

City Hall has changed over the last four decades:

  • Hester How Daycare Centre opens 1990 and named after a Toronto teacher Hester How who help turn around delinquent boys in the second half of the 19th Century.
  • Minor upgrades by Toronto architect Bruce Kuwabara to connect the two towers and upgrade council chambers in 1997-1998
  • East Tower Observation deck closed - has been opened during Doors Open
  • Gift shop closed
  • City Hall library reduced in size
  • The ice rink is still used for skating during winter, but people cannot use the pool/fountain area to wade in during summer
  • A green roof was added late 2009 and opened to over 10,000 visitors on Doors Open Toronto weekend in May 2010. The site now contains largest publicly accessible green roof in the city.[7][8]

City Hall was designated as a property of historical and architectural significance under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1991. In 2005 the building celebrated its 40th birthday.

In popular culture

Even as early as 1969, the building (or one just like it) appeared as an futuristic alien building in a Star Trek comic; it was later seen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Contagion" (Season 2, episode 11, 1988) as one of the possible destinations of an alien portal.

In the 1980 film The Kidnapping of the President starring William Shatner and Hal Holbrook the city hall and Nathan Phillips Square provided the location for a protracted hostage scene.

In the 2002 film The Tuxedo, the city hall was playing the role of "CSA Headquarters". In the 2004 film Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the building portrayed the City Hall in Raccoon City. It was destroyed by a neutron bomb blowing up over the building. In the 2006 film The Sentinel, an assassination attempt takes place at a Group of Eight summit meeting in Toronto's city hall.

In the 2007 novel Consolation by Michael Redhill, Toronto's city hall is described as an ice cream cone with a tumour in between.

The Devon Corporation headquarters in the popular Pokémon anime franchise bears a striking resemblance to Toronto's city hall.

The 2011 film Red featured Toronto City Hall and various other city locations.[9]

The TV series Flashpoint also features Toronto City Hall in various episodes.


City hall is one of the main hosts of different festivals and events in Toronto. Great New Year's celebrations are held there every year which includes fireworks and musical performances. One of the other major festivals at Toronto city hall is the annual Cavalcade of Lights which is held from the end of November until the end of December.

Various locations inside the building are accessible to the public during Doors Open Toronto; council chambers, the Mayor's office, and 27th floor were included in 2009.

360 degree panorama of the lobby, during Doors Open 2009.
photo of the Council Chamber, Toronto City Hall, during Doors Open 2014.

See also


  • Osbaldeston, Mark (2008). "11: Toronto City Hall, 1925-1955 / Built to Different Plans". Unbuilt Toronto: A History of the City That Might Have Been. Toronto: Dundurn Press. Retrieved June 4, 2011. 
  1. ^ a b c "Toronto City Hall tour - a brief history". Retrieved August 15, 2011. 
  2. ^ Canadian inflation numbers based on Statistics Canada. "Consumer Price Index, historical summary". CANSIM, table (for fee) 326-0021 and Catalogue nos. 62-001-X, 62-010-X and 62-557-X. And Consumer Price Index, by province (monthly) (Canada) Last modified 2015-09-08. Retrieved September 22, 2015
  3. ^ Ian Chodikoff "Days of Future Passed." The Canadian Architect. Vol. 50. Iss.8 (2005):26-27. Print. City of Toronto Archives. Toronto's New City Hall. n.p. , n.d. Web. September 17, 2010.
  4. ^ Yee, Paul (2005), Chinatown: An illustrated history of the Chinese Communities of Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, Toronto, ON, CAN: James Lorimer & Company Limited 
  5. ^ Osbaldeston 2008, p. 91.
  6. ^ Osbaldeston 2008, p. 94.
  7. ^ "Toronto City Hall Podium Sprouts a Green Rooftop Park". Inhabitat. Inhabitat. Retrieved June 27, 2013. 
  8. ^ "An oasis at the top of City Hall". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved June 27, 2013. 
  9. ^ "". Reel Toronto. January 27, 2011. Retrieved January 15, 2012. 

External links

  • City of Toronto's history page
  • Historical photos: Viljo Revell, the design competition, construction, and opening
  • Emporis database listing
  • Contemporary photo gallery
  • A grand design: Toronto City Hall and Square competition - submissions from architects for the 1958 design competition
Preceded by
Seat for the Municipal Government of Metro Toronto
Succeeded by
Metro Hall
Preceded by
Old City Hall (Toronto)
Toronto City Hall
Succeeded by
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