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The Design of Toronto City Hall: the Finnish influence on Modern Toronto

by Peter Macnaughton

(Photo above shows Don Westwood pointing out some features from drawings he worked on during the design and construction.)

Thanks, Don, for your fascinating description on November 17 of the origin and development of the Toronto City Hall (which is celebrating its 50 years of service this year), its Finnish “foundation”, and your own personal contributions to its development.

Don Westwood is a long-time member of CNS, and in the early 1960’s was employed as an architectural assistant (read “draughtsman”) by the Canadian architects hired to implement the design for the new city hall in Toronto conceived by the Finnish Architect Viljo Revell.

The need for a new city hall was identified back in 1943, but the project kept getting postponed until Mayor Nathan Philips created an international competition in the mid 1950’s to select a design. Over 500 entries from 42 countries around the world were submitted. A 5-member panel of distinguished architects selected the winning design from 8 semi-finalists. Interestingly, each entry had to include a model built to a specified scale, so that it could be placed in a model of then downtown Toronto and viewed from many directions.

According to Don, the concept of the two curved towers with the pedestal council building in between was originated one evening by several associates of Revell and was presented to him the next morning for his acceptance. Revell tried to ensure the originators received strong recognition for their inspiration, but unfortunately passed away before completion of the building.

The towers sit on top of a parking garage, which presented challenges in the design of the supports for the towers to leave nice rectangular spots for cars beneath. One of Don’s contributions was calculating, by hand, slide rule and adding machine, the location of every support, down to a thousandth of a foot, or about 0.3 mm. Later his calculations were verified using the “big” computer at the University of Toronto, and the results were found to be off by 0.003 feet, or about 1 millimetre.

Other challenges that existed included the need to study the aerodynamics of the structure including wind tunnel testing, resulting in some design changes at the ends of the curved towers to ensure that the towers wouldn’t shake to pieces in strong winds.

Don was also involved in the design of the precast concrete wall panels forming the outside of the towers. The standard construction material in vogue at that time was limestone blocks so the use of concrete panels was a radical innovation.

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