It has been a long while since the Tuscan rock face of Canada's tallest office tower actually sparkled.
Dulled and greying from 35 years of exposure, dangerously warped by the temperature swings, moisture and pollution of a Toronto climate, the Carrara marble of First Canadian Place is not exactly known for its beauty. Lately, its fame owes more to the $100-million that owner Brookfield Properties Corp., is spending to shed it from the building's exterior.
But stripped from the heart of the financial district, the slabs' damaged edges shorn away, little bits of the skyscraper are beginning to be turned into pieces of art. Repurposed as Willow in Winter by Canadian sculptor Francisco Castro Lostalo, the marble glitters like clean snow.
"It's so important that we use what we have," Mr. Lostalo said, cradling a curved branch he has plucked from the top of his willow tree - each section is carved from the flat panels using a grinder with a diamond blade, and assembled to form a three-dimensional whole. "It's dug out of the earth, and it shouldn't be just thrown away."
Indeed, the renovation of First Canadian Place has a heavy byproduct: 45,000 marble slabs weighing 4,000 tons that Brookfield has no use for any more. The company decided to recycle the marble, requiring the firm it has contracted for the project to sell it and donate the proceeds to charity.
The best pieces are kept whole for use in architectural projects; the ones that are more warped are broken up into tiles; and the most heavily damaged are ground up to be used as the base product under roads or even potentially in cosmetics.
But a pile of the best slabs are being set aside for a local group of artists, including Mr. Lostalo, who wants to return them to the function they had before skyscrapers ever existed: Michelangelo used Carrara marble to carve his David, and Toronto Art Visions will now use the discarded face of the skyscraper to once again make sculptures.
"[First Canadian Place]is this iconic structure on the skyline … it's been part of Toronto for so long and it's a great opportunity to allow artists to repurpose that," said Brookfield spokesman Matt Cherry.
Mr. Lostalo is currently showing a small amount of sculptures at the Leonardo Galleries in Toronto, but the bulk of the work is yet to come: since the re-cladding is top-down work, only the most weathered stone has been liberated so far. Less than 25 per cent of the marble is still in pristine condition, and most of that is better shielded, on lower floors.
"This white marble is so soft. That's what makes it advantageous for sculpture work," said Sam Trigila, vice-president of Clifford Restoration Ltd., which is in charge of the project and of selling the marble. "It's a great material. It wasn't really a good material to put on the outside of a building, but, well!"
Mr. Lostalo does not have a permanent studio, so Mr. Trigila's team has also donated a corner of their yard in Scarborough to store the marble - each panel measures a little more than two feet by four feet - and as a workspace.
The first bits of sculpture were put on display this summer outside of the First Canadian Place parkette as part of a symposium of artists' work that Toronto Art Visions held on the theme "Our fragile planet." In 2012, the group will invite 18 sculptors from around the world to use the marble for their work and will hold a larger show.
Even at the early stages, the project has been noticed in the country Mr. Lostalo left 21 years ago to come to Canada. The Bank of Costa Rica, which is currently renovating its building in the capital, San Jose, has asked about donating its black marble for other art projects.
In the gallery, Mr. Lostalo lifts a polar bear the size of a shoebox. As higher quality slabs come in, he hopes the group will sculpt larger pieces, "the size of a real polar bear."
The creature has brownish seams running across its white face where Mr. Lostalo laminated the slabs firmly together with special glue, to create a traditional sculptor's block for carving.
"[The marks are]part of the beauty, because it shows the recycling," he said.
"A lot of the things Francisco has done so far represent Canada more than Costa Rica," teased Tony Magee, one of Mr. Lostalo's partners at Toronto Art Visions. Mr. Lostalo smiles, placing the polar bear gently back on its feet.
"Yes. I'm going to have to make a palm tree."