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cityscape

Proposed TD Centre Billboards Hit a Nerve

Local architecture historian rallies to halt development of two massive billboards on the Ernst and Young tower.

Photo of the TD Centre towers by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/produzentin/162953693/sizes/z/in/photostream/"}produzentin{/a} from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}

The announcement that two giant billboards may soon grace the north- and south-facing sides of the Toronto Dominion Centre’s Ernst and Young tower, officially known as Tower Five, has prompted a call to arms among local architecture aficionados.

Cadillac Fairview, the owners of the Toronto Dominion Centre complex, put in an application to the City on September 21, a proposal to allow for the erection and display of “two illuminated wall signs (expressed as a logo or corporate symbol), each with static copy and each 19.81 metres wide by 2.08 metres long” on the outside of the 12-storey office building. To OCADU professor and architecture historian Marie-Josée Therrien, the implications are concerning.

“What I want to argue is that if we create a precedent here, there is a risk that they will allow such signs on the other towers,” says Therrien of the potential development. “The sign that would be put there would be so large that it will create light pollution, but it will also affect the visual integrity of the complex of the TD Centre as a whole. And it’s very important that we prevent that.”

The trouble is that, while the late 1960s-era complex is a heritage property, as a whole, its individual towers are not. As such, the potential for what Therrien and others consider to be de-facto defacement by way of advertising display is a real threat.

Therrien has started a Facebook campaign to rally community awareness and support in opposing the development. She also is encouraging members of the public to join her at City Hall on December 13, where she will be appealing the decision before the City of Toronto’s Sign Variance Committee [PDF].

Therrien speaks passionately about preserving the building’s integrity, and keeping true to TD Centre architect Mies van der Rohe‘s vision of a clean, elegant design. “Tower Five is on top of the Design Exchange, a museum devoted to design,” she says. “We have a responsibility to maintain a practice of excellence of design, and if we are adding a sign to the complex, we are not maintaining a quality that has been maintained for decades now.”

Therrien sees the building as part of Toronto’s heritage skyline, and she notes that people have reacted to the sign proposal with great emotion. “People are really upset, and find [the billboard proposal] grotesque.”

Ultimately, the outcry stems from sheer principle. As Therrien neatly puts it, “We’ve got one of the best examples of modern corporate architecture in the world, and it’s important we preserve that.”

Cadillac Fairview did not respond to our requests for comment on this story.

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