Skip to main content
urban renewal
Kevin Van Paassen for The Globe and Mail

7. Bar Raval


Yes, it’s just a bar, but what a bar: agreeably dark and woodsy, a curvy cavern with walls of computer-milled mahogany that evoke Gaudi and refer to the Wu-Tang Clan. Chef Grant van Gameren decided to build an institution; as I wrote this year, he’ll succeed. Troublemaking designers Partisans have created a space that’s truly innovative and yet timeless.

Shai Gil

6. Centennial College Ashtonbee Campus Library and Student Hub


How can contemporary architecture – which is devoted to the idea of the walkable city – speak to the suburbs, or even remake them? This academic building in Scarborough, by Toronto’ MJM Architects, provides an answer. It is a billboard, a bridge, a grand staircase, and part of a new urban square that’s still being born – savvy and surprising at every turn.

Tom Arban

5. Pan Am Athletes’ Village

KPMB, architectsAlliance, MJMA, and Daoust Lestage; Planning Partnership; PFS Studio

Toronto got many good new buildings this year, but few of them spoke to each other. The city’s murky planning process leaves developers constantly haggling for bigger, taller, more; in this process, continuity is lost. The Pan Am village, designed by a crowd of strong architects, planners and landscape architects, suggests what a more Parisian, coherent Toronto might look like. Each building is a bit grey and bureaucratic, but the ensemble makes music together.

doublespace Photography, Courtesy of Sweeny&Co Architects

4. Queen Richmond Centre West

Sweeny & Co Architects

Toronto does relatively little to protect its architectural heritage. But in this downtown office complex, the developers and architects stepped up to preserve two brick-and-beam loft buildings by suspending a new tower in the air above them. The result is a win-win: a preserved streetscape and a solid contemporary building, all at the same time.

Ben Rahn

3. Toronto Public Library Scarborough Civic Centre Branch

LGA Architectural Partners/Phillip H. Carter Architects in Joint Venture

This is a good time for library-building, as I wrote this year – cities everywhere are recasting those institutions as community centres and social hubs. Toronto Public Library’s 100th branch, which opened in May, is a fine example: essentially one open room, well-staffed, daylit, permeable and sociable. It is also, while inexpensive, a beautiful work of design: The library’s roof rests on a jaunty, irregular structure of glue-laminated spruce beams. All that softwood provides a warm counterpoint to the concrete of the 1973 Scarborough Civic Centre next door, and shows the grim new buildings in the area just how to be contemporary and friendly at the same time.

J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail

2. Queens Quay West revitalization

West 8 and DTAH

Landscape architecture continues to play an outsize role in reshaping the city. The 1.7-kilometre remake of Queens Quay shows the potential and suggests why landscape matters so much. By condensing car traffic into two lanes, it makes room for a grand avenue that caters to people on streetcars, on bikes and on foot. Harbourfront and the nearby area have, in a stroke, been made vastly nicer places to walk. That’s because the team of Toronto’s DTAH and Dutch landscape architects West 8 got the details right. The trees have the soil and space they need to grow; their species have even been selected to survive the effects of global warming. The rebuild also adds quality materials, such as granite pavers and custom ipe wood benches; all this helps send a message that the public realm matters. Getting cyclists and pedestrians to co-exist may take a while – a video this summer captured a pedestrian throwing a punch at a scofflaw cyclist – but those battles will take place in a more civilized setting.

Lorne Bridgman

1. Ryerson Student Learning Centre

Snohetta with Zeidler Partnership Architects

Architects and urban designers like to talk about “vitality.” This building takes the most vital district in the city, Yonge and Dundas, and adds a bright, provocative stage for all its human drama. The 155,000-square-foot tower is mostly study space, but Ryerson University has chosen to leave the doors unlocked to anyone for most of the day. Within, its seven levels offer a broad range of pleasant spatial and visual experiences – including a two-level-high “beach” unlike anything else in the city. Toronto-based architects Zeidler and Snohetta, whose rise to global prominence I wrote about this year, detailed it very well, and they got the broad strokes exactly right: This place is wild enough to stimulate creativity, just quiet enough in the streetscape to age well, and a genuine people magnet. I went there a dozen times this year and invariably found it raucously, comfortably packed. That’s vitality.