Toronto City Hall in Toronto

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The City Hall of Toronto, Ontario, Canada is the home of the city's municipal government and one of its 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. 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-1950's in preparation for a new civic building.

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.


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 had columns complimenting the eight columns of the Registry Building, with which it was aligned in facing the new public space.

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". 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 18 April 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. 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.


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 m) tall and the west tower is 20 storeys (79.4 m). 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 compliment the city hall with its original Modernist design elements.

Additions and changes

City Hall has changed over the last four decades:

  • Minor upgrades by Toronto architect Bruce Kuwabara to connect the two towers and upgrade council chambers in 1997-1998
  • Observation deck closed
  • 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

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

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. The city hall was seen in the ' episode "Contagion" as one of the possible destinations of an alien portal.

In the 2002 film The Tuxedo, the city hall was playing the role of "CSA Headquarters". In the 2004 film ', 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.


City hall is one of the main host of different festivals and events in Toronto. Great New Year celebration is held there every year including fireworks, sparkling & singing of different music bands. One of the other major festivals at Toronto city hall is the annual Cavalcade of Lights sets which is held from ends of November until 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.

See also

  • Mayor of Toronto
  • Toronto City Council
  • Old City Hall, next door, now a court house
  • Metro Hall
  • East York Civic Centre, Etobicoke Civic Centre, North York Civic Centre, Scarborough Civic Centre, York Civic Centre

External links