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Canada

THE WAY WE WERE: Tribute to world famous architect graces T.O.’s skyline

Earlier this month the world lost one of its preeminent architects with the passing of Chinese-born, American architect Leoh Ming Pei.

Born in China on April 26, 1917, he was educated at MIT, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. After working with a highly successful architectural firm, Pei started his own company, I. M. Pei and Associates, in 1955.

On July 24, 1957, Toronto City Council approved Mayor Nathan Phillips plan to hold an international competition to come up with a design for our new City Hall and Pei’s company decided to enter the race. The architectural world was put on alert and soon submissions were rolling in by the hundreds.

I. M. Pei’s entry in the contest to select a new City Hall for Toronto was one of the eight finalists selected from more than 500 submissions. For his efforts Pei received a mere $7,500 from the city. But he’d be back and his new work would change the city skyline forever. (City of Toronto Archives/Paul Arthur)

A cash prize of $25,000 plus a 6% fee on the total cost of the project had done the trick. That plus an opportunity to be recognized as the architect of the new City Hall in Canada’s fastest growing city.

The next step in the competition was for five eminently qualified judges to select eight finalists from the works submitted by the more than 500 architects who had entered from all corners of the world, including one design entered by Toronto architect David Horne. As an interesting aside, a total of 20 architects from Russia were not among that huge number since all had been disqualified for missing the contest’s entry deadline.

Architect I. E. Pei (1917–2019)

On September 26, 1958, the submission identified simply as 006 was selected as the winner by a mere three votes to two. Sometime later it was attributed to 48-year-old Viljo Revell, an architect well-known in his homeland, Finland, but virtually unrecognized in the field of international building design.

The seven other finalists collected $7,500 each for their attempts and then left went on to work on other projects.

And what about I. M. Pei?

While his City Hall concept wasn’t to be part of the city’s 1965 skyline (the year Revell’s creation opened), Pei’s architectural prowess would return with the completion in 1972 of his glossy 57-storey glass and stainless steel Commerce Court — at the time the country’s tallest building.

The completion of the new Royal York Hotel (left) in 1929 would dominate the city’s skyline for only a short time. In 1931, the new 34-storey Canadian Bank of Commerce (now Commerce Court North) would be awarded that honor. (PortsToronto Archives)

— Thanks to longtime reader Victor Russell for suggesting the subject of this column.

WORTH A FLYBY THIS WEEKEND

The Withrow Common Art Gallery is proud to partner with the Canadian International Air Show (CIAS) and the Canadian National Exhibition Archives in celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the CIAS.

This exhibition will be featured at the Withrow Common Art Gallery as part of Doors Open Toronto from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Sunday.

Stop by and see rare archival images and film clips of the Air Show from the past 69 years! Take flight through fantastic amateur and professional photography from CIAS fans. Join in and learn from aviation specialists who will be leading presentations about aviation and opportunities within the aviation industry.

The Withrow Common Art Gallery is located in the Queen Elizabeth Building, Exhibition Place, 200 Princes’ Blvd.

See also: torontosun.com/author/mike-filey

mfiley@postmedia.com

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