Placemaking: Mississauga's Marilyns
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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.