Few are the buildings that look as if they were always there; as if they were formed by wind-erosion of the existing rock, or pushed up, perhaps, from the ground by geological forces.
Raymond Moriyama’s Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC) at 123 Wynford Dr., is of this rare species.
In North York’s Modernist Architecture, a 2009 reprint of a 1997 internal document used by North York planners, it was written of the 1963/64 building that it “appears like a geological artifact, ordered by its symmetry and bold rectilinear forms.” Even on a limited budget and with (some) standard components, Mr. Moriyama was able to create a delicate-yet-imposing, friendly-yet-strong, temple-like building of concrete, glass, and wood that sits gently on a rolling, lush ravine lot. A monument to the struggle of the “Japanese pioneers evacuated from the West Coast after the Second World War.”
And, even when the JCCC vacated the building and it was transformed into the Islamic Noor Cultural Centre in 2003, it retained those characteristics. Likely because the Lakhani family, in their wisdom, hired Moriyama & Teshima Architects to handle the subtle changes needed, but this author would like to think that the strength of the design played a role in its own survival.
“The building and the site again was regenerated,” says architect Ronen Bauer, a partner at Moriyama Teshima Architects. “So there’s this interesting story of how the building and the site responded to cultural societal situations, and now we have a third opportunity to revisit the site and regenerate it again.”
The regeneration, this time around, is a massive one. A development group that combines newcomer Originate Developments with Westdale Properties and Cameron Stephens Equity Capital is proposing two towers for the site, one sprouting from Mr. Moriyama’s building that will rise to 48 storeys, and the other, closer to Wynford Drive, that will top out at 55 storeys. And, unbelievably, these twins don’t diminish the monumentality of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.
No, with a generous setback, a floating storey of glass over the JCCC, and then seven storeys of flared, pagoda-like, wrap-around balconies with smaller windows, the dignity of the original building remains intact.
“We tried to pick up on that language and work it into the lower portion of the [new] building and then break it up with an amenity space,” Mr. Bauer confirms.
Even the upper portion of the building, where balconies break into individual units, sports an organic feel despite being made from concrete. But where Mr. Moriyama used quartz-pebble panels and board-forming to vary textures on the JCCC, today’s team is exploring glass fibre reinforced concrete in a modular/precast way to create a sort of basket weave starting at the 11th storey. These panels, which won’t allow for thermal bridging, will be raked for added texture.
The second, taller building’s lobby is almost an anti-JCCC, albeit a friendly one: where Moriyama’s building is opaque, this one is shimmering and transparent; where Mr. Moriyama’s wooden lanterns are blocky and bold, the bronzy/wood-coloured lanterns on every fourth mullion are slim and graceful. It all works due to the similar massing and the placement, which is kitty-corner to the JCCC.
To give the 1963 building further prominence, Tein-en, the stone sculpture designed by Mr. Moriyama, will be moved, slightly, to the east, and a few trees and a great deal of shrubbery will be removed (more trees will be planted elsewhere to make up for this). An intricate, curving ramp (at wheelchair grade) will cradle the sculpture, as well as point pedestrians to the walking trail in the adjacent ravine.
This, says Mr. Bauer, will “make it a bit more welcoming” by “getting a view from the street to the ravine …because, right now, as you drive along, the [original] building is hidden.”
And when Mr. Moriyama’s building is (re)presented to the public, it will “shine,” Originate Development’s Adam Sheffer says. “What’s super interesting is the building was all built out of precast [concrete], so pieces come apart, so there’s a significant portion of the building that we want to stay in situ…we’re able to pop pieces off.”
Which also means the rear façade, which won’t be retained, can provide donor pieces.
“That’s what’s going to give us the kind of flexibility to both build here and maintain more than the façade of the building,” Mr. Sheffer continues, “to maintain the intent, the interaction, of this building and the ravine, which is a really big part of [the composition] … and that’s where I think Ronen and Jason [Moriyama] have been the most thoughtful.”
And, yes, there are those who will argue that this plan has a lack of thoughtfulness, that a significant piece of Canadian Modernism is about to be sullied. To them, I say, wait. Do a walkabout in six (or seven) years when all is done. Come close enough to Mr. Moriyama’s bold building so the tower above doesn’t dominate your thoughts. Run your hand along the horizontal, concrete balustrades. Walk past the enormous concrete pylons on either side and look upon the four projecting eaves and their hanging rain chains, which symbolically connect earth to sky. Consider how the delicate wooden screens over the windows create shadow play inside … and then ask yourself if you’d rather live in a city where a treasure such as this might sit empty for decades, or a city that is so successful it becomes a cherished part of something much larger.
“How do we create housing in a connected area when it’s already so dense? You have to get really creative,” Mr. Sheffer finishes.
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