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Placemaking: Mississauga’s Marilyns

How a pair of curvy condo towers got Mississauga its groove back.

Placemaking tells the stories behind the buildings that define the GTA, beyond the downtown core.

Photo by {a href=}picturenarrative{/a} from the {a href=}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}

On March 28, 2007, a young Beijing-based architect was announced as the 905′s architectural saviour.

While the declaration was worded a tad more subtly, it was clear, at least, that ‘burb boosters had massive hopes for MAD Studio founder Yansong Ma’s winning design for a new Mississauga development—so massive that the win was announced from the CN Tower. Though Mississauga is the sixth most populous city in all of Canada, distinctive buildings (save for 1987′s award-winning City Hall building) had yet to make their mark on the city’s utilitarian skyline.

About a year prior to the CN Tower event, Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion had announced an international design competition for a new downtown residential development, knowing it would take something ambitious—even downright bizarre—to bring the ‘saug up to snuff. Ma’s design fit the bill.

Enter: the Marilyns.

Officially named the Absolute World towers, and visible from the 401, they’re tall, sinewy, and hive-like. Like their namesake bombshell, the towers’ curves taunt from a distance.

“I was imagining Mississauga as a city aiming to become Chicago or Toronto, with a lot of big towers, in the future,” said Ma in a 2011 New York Times interview. He thought that, in terms of architecture, North American cities needed “something more organic, more natural, more human.”

But translating Ma’s winding vision into brick-and-mortar reality proved tricky.

Marilyn models at MAD offices in Beijing. Photo by {a href=}picturenarrative{/a} from the {a href=}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}

As Toronto architect Sigmund Soudack, whose firm was hired to erect the residential towers, described it to the Globe and Mail:

Marilyn really got our juices moving. It required extraordinary effort from a creative, structural aspect. We had to do a lot of pioneering. I’ve been designing for 42 years, but I had never done [a tall building] like this. There was nothing in our history we could fall back on. What’s unique about this project is that every floor is different. Each floor is basically an ellipse that keeps moving.

Because of this, each floor’s walls and columns had to be designed separately in order to adjust for a constantly shifting centre of gravity. Most tall buildings require 10 to 15 load calibrations to determine the structure’s force-bearing capacities. The Marilyns required over 200.

Ma told Skyscraper News in 2006, prior to the announcement of his design’s win, that “suburbs around the world want to become metropolises, but we don’t think they should. They have their own character. They should create their own identity.”

As it happens, the solution can be twisted.


  • Anonymous

    Their slogan can be:

    “Mississauga, the city with those two neat and kinda tall buildings.”

  • E_and_A

    The separate but collaborative roles of architects and engineers are not widely understood. Their contributions, however, are definitely separate and distinct. While the media typically reports that engineers are summoned to assess catastrophic failures, they are also employed to design the systems that ensure buildings, and structures in general, stand up (i.e. do not collapse or fail) under different loading conditions – gravity loads, wind loads, earthquakes, etc. In Canada, engineers must be consulted to participate in the design process before a building permit is issued. While engineers are not required to participate in the design of all structures, an architect will know when – and where – an engineer’s knowledge and guidance is needed.

    Engineers and architects participate in a design fugue – each makes a contribution of a different pitch to the final composition; they engage in a dialogue throughout the design process. Each requires the full participation of the other to complete the envisioned work.

    While Sigmund Soudak & Associates are the engineers for the project, they are not the architects. While they calculated the loads and assembled load combinations to model the overall response and performance of the building and to design its structural elements, they did not calibrate the loads.

    Your article speaks to the complexity of modern design. It is because architects, engineers and builders do their jobs so well that we have urban forms that inspire and challenge us – and that stand the test of time.

    • Crimson Cass

      Well said, E_and_A !

  • Kidmecha

    I hope this sets the bar or some sort of motif that the new Mississauga downtown can follow or at least be inspired by.