Toronto is already bracing itself for the G20 summit and what’s likely to be the largest lockdown the city has ever seen, but this summer need not be remembered solely for fenced-in security zones and a tourist-free CN Tower. This weekend (May 29 and 30), Torontonians can liberate themselves from traditional public-private demarcations by taking part in the annual Doors Open festival, where they’ll get a chance to uncover the very foundations of some of their favourite edifices in the city. That’s because the theme of this year’s Doors Open is “Architecture”: most participating locations are offering architecture-themed tours and talks, shedding light on the intricacies of greening roofs, LEED certifying buildings, and repurposing historical landmarks.
With that in mind, many perennial favourites—such as 401 Richmond, the Wychwood Barns, and the Redpath Sugar Refinery—are back this year, along with a host of new and intriguing offerings. Here, in no particular order, are some of the buildings we’re most excited about.
In 2009, the Archives of Ontario moved from a cramped downtown office building to this new, palatial home on York University campus. The archives are massive; the textual records alone would stretch almost one hundred kilometres if lined up in a row. Thankfully, housed in this glass Bregman and Hamman–designed building, they’re not, so there’s no need to be frightened of the guided tours offered in addition to exhibits of blueprints and diagrams for many of the other buildings you’ll be visiting over the weekend. Consider this a good historical priming for what’s ahead—or one-stop shopping for those who don’t have a whole weekend to devote to exploring.
While Daniel Libeskind likes to brag that his design for the ROM Crystal began as a sketch on a cocktail napkin, most buildings of public admiration begin with more carefully conceived diagrams. It’s fitting, then, that the architecture firm of Diamond and Schmitt—the firm that brought you the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Varsity Stadium, and the upcoming Evergreen Brickworks redevelopment—has its offices in an old stationery factory. Walk into the Ellis building this weekend and you’ll find blueprints for some of the world’s most ravishing buildings, as well as architects on hand to give audio-visual presentations on each of them. See the schedule for presentation times, and the list of Doors Open buildings for other architectural firms, including Moriyama and Teshima and Levitt Goodman.
This list is mostly made up of buildings you can’t access on a regular basis, but an exception has to be made for the new City Hall podium roof. After years of decay followed by renovation, the roof officially opens this weekend. More than thirty-six-thousand square feet of roof have been transformed into lush gardens, with pathways and benches and lots and lots of plants. Come at 11 a.m. on Saturday for the opening ceremony, or anytime after to stroll the winding paths at your leisure.
Founded in memory of SNL great Gilda Radner to support people living with cancer, the organization’s Toronto location is almost as impressive as the charity itself. You’ll find it in the Lombard Street Fire Hall, which you probably remember as the Old Fire Hall—the first home of Toronto’s Second City, where Radner honed her craft. Gilda’s Club, which moved into the building in 2001, was designed collaboratively by a group of local designers including HGTV baroness Kimberly Seldon. Walk through the bright red doors this weekend and take a tour with information on the history of the fire hall and how the building helps the organization fulfill its mandate.
Technically the John Street Roundhouse, as operated by the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre, is a museum, and will be open on weekends after this. But since the roundhouse (which is actually on Bremner Boulevard) has been sitting mostly empty until now (remember last year’s Doors Open?), this is a pretty exciting opening event. For everyone who’s ever had a model train in their basement, a trip down to the now-operational roundhouse (yeah, that’s right, the turntable outside can actually turn!) is a must. Check out relics from the Grand Trunk Railway, a miniature steam railway set, and a bunch of old engines and cars. Forget beer and sofas: this is what this building was built for.
After much maligning by Toronto residents (and resident bloggers), the King Edward Hotel is finally opening its doors to the public. Sort of. Built in 1903 by George Gooderham and his infamous architect buddy E.J. Lennox, the King Edward was one of the first luxury hotels in the city. This weekend you can take a tour of the ballrooms where Al Capone once danced (or, more probably, didn’t dance) and the lobby John Lennon once walked through. But if you want to go even further into the depths of the building, you’ll have to stay overnight. The King Eddy is offering a special Doors Open package that, for $250 a night, gets you dinner and a special “Behind Closed Doors” tour. OK, so it’s not completely free. But then, George Gooderham would never have wanted it to be.
Part of the ongoing revitalization of Regent Park, 501 Adelaide Street East is one of Toronto Community Housing’s latest landmark buildings. The brand-new building boasts 180 units of mixed-income living as well as a green roof and inner courtyard. Visit the main floor of the building and chat with Adam Feldmann of Architects Alliance about the building and how it contributes to the revitalization of the area.
It’s no secret that we at Torontoist have a bit of a thing for all things TTC. But haven’t you ever wondered where the buses go when they’re not being used? Well, they go to one of seven places like the Mount Dennis Bus Garage, which opened in 2008 and costed almost one hundred million dollars to build. So now that it’s here you can watch how they repair buses (on hoists!) and ogle at how big 250,000 square feet is. The best part though? They’ll let you ride a bus through the bus wash!
The new Rogers studios behind Dundas Square. Photo by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.
Okay, so the whole Olympic Spirit thing never quite worked out, but the space overlooking Dundas Square is still pretty cool. Now home to OMNI and Citytv, you can wander the recently retrofitted studios, meet the architects who redesigned the building, and listen for the dulcet tones of Mark Dailey that, we can only imagine, perpetually echo through the halls.
While there are many religious locations on this year’s list, the Pape Avenue Cemetery—Toronto’s first Jewish cemetery, established in 1849 by some of the handful of Jews living in the city at the time—is one of the only outdoor locations never open to the public. The cemetery, now maintained by Holy Blossom Temple, has had its mysterious ivy-covered wrought iron gates closed for years for “security reasons.” This weekend, though, tours will be conducted by volunteers from the Ontario Jewish Archives, offering a unique glimpse into the history of the city.
Of course, these are only 10 of almost 146 buildings opening their doors this weekend, so be sure to check out the full list of buildings for yourselves. (There’s also an iPhone app, created by Brian Gilham.) Now get out into Toronto while it’s wide, open, and free.