City's Sign Variance Committee votes down signs proposed for the Ernst & Young tower, thanks in part to a local architecture historian's passionate campaign.
Following her impassioned Facebook campaign in protest of proposed signage on two sides of Bay Street’s Ernst & Young building—also known as Toronto Dominion Centre Tower Five—OCADU professor and architecture historian Marie-Josée Therrien has achieved a victory. On Tuesday morning the City’s Sign Variance Committee voted against a proposed variance to allow for the construction of two large, illuminated wall signs on the tower that would exceed the signage size limits currently in place.
The tower in question is a later addition to the TD Centre complex designed by noted Modernist architect Mies van der Rohe, but it was built with Miesian design principles in mind. Representatives from Cadillac Fairview insist that the proposed signage will not impact the rest of the development and that larger signage is becoming a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses necessity on Bay Street, while Therrien thinks any sign at all would be a stain on the complex.
Members of the North York Community Preservation Panel and the Toronto Society of Architects both back Therrien’s appeal with their own endorsements. “The TD Centre is one of Toronto’s few examples of truly iconic architecture and currently has very little signage, certainly nothing of the scale and texture of what is being proposed,” reads a letter from Heather Dubbeldam and Richard Witt, co-chairs of the Toronto Society of Architects, urging the Sign Variance Committee to “consult with architectural and heritage exports prior to making any approvals.”
Toronto Heritage would not comment on the sign application, but did confirm that the heritage feature of Tower Five is limited to a portion of the old stock exchange facade, located toward the tower’s base.
“We agree with the opinion that there’s no cultural heritage value or interest in the tower above the stock exchange building, [which] exemplifies non-Miesian philosophy, contrary to his less-is-more vision,” argued Tonu Altosaar of B&H Architects, representing TD Centre owners Cadillac Fairview in defence of Tower Five signage. Altosaar cited the building’s street-level ornamentation, stock exchange incorporation, and upper-level pedestrian bridge as evidence of the tower’s divergence from the iconic TD Centre architect’s trademark style.
“The proposed signs are not contrary to public interest,” said Altosaar, arguing that the proposed signs’ positioning would not block natural light, nor would their lighting scheme contribute to light pollution.
Therrien remained unconvinced. “I request that we reconsider the entire signage issue, and do not allow for any signs because of the integrity of the building. Think of it as a copyright for an artist—would you put a logo on a monumental work of art? This is how I perceive the situation.”
“We have a lot of creative people in Toronto,” noted Therrien. “Maybe we can think about other ways to express your corporate identity.”
Though the vote against Cadillac Fairview’s proposal for larger-than-standard signage does not necessarily mean that Therrien’s wish for no signs, period, will be fulfilled, she remains hopeful.
“Will they go forward now that they say [standard-size signage] will look silly?” she asked doubtfully, referring to the sign proponents’ argument that larger signage is essential so as to fit in with the tower’s Financial District neighbours. “Will they contradict themselves? We’ll see.”