Azure says Concrete Toronto is rock solid

By Mark Osbaldeston

Michael McClelland and Graeme Stewart asked architects, historians, engineers, journalists and architecture students to submit short essays and images on the topic of Toronto's concrete buildings from around the 1960s period. The result is an eclectic series of essays from a variety of perspectives on projects spanning the '50s through the '70s.

Appropriately, a number of the responses discuss new City Hall, including a good article by Marsha Kelmans on its specially designed concrete furniture (the mayor's desk, now gone, weighed 350 kilograms). Other topics include Robarts Library, at the University of Toronto; the Rosedale Ravine subway bridge; and Toronto's suburban high-rises - the last in a piece by Graeme Stewart, whose research draws attention to a unique and overlooked asset.

Although the book is described as a celebration of modern concrete buildings, it is not an uncritical one. McClelland himself offers some thoughtful suggestions on how two monoliths of the period, the Sheraton Centre and the CN Tower, could be better integrated into the fabric of the city. More than one contributor discusses some of the drawbacks of concrete as a finishing material.

Augmenting the essays are interviews, including one from 1999 with Uno Prii, whose exuberant high-rise apartment buildings brought Miami Beach glamour to the Lake Ontario shore.

Given the material's quality, it's frustrating to come across typos and, in two instances, spots where text has actually been dropped between pages or columns (one essay comes to an abrupt end mid-sentence).

Concrete Toronto's designer, Steven Ho Yin Chong, has his name on the cover along with those of the editors. Even a quick look inside justifies the decision: the layout and design are first rate, and contribute greatly to the reading experience. Running over 350 pages, the book is overflowing with photographs - all black and white - which seems suited to the subject.

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