A Kinder, Gentler Pug Awards
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A Kinder, Gentler Pug Awards

Once focusing on the worst, architecture awards now highlight public's choices for the best new buildings in Toronto.

Once upon a time, awards were established to celebrate the worst in Toronto architecture. The snarky, insulting name of the prize said it all: the Fugly. Time passed, and the awards gradually shifted from hurling abuse at the bottom of the barrel to celebrating the public’s choices for the best new architecture that the city has to offer. With the shift came a slow evolution to a respectable name: the Pug Awards; this year’s were given out last night.

Some, like Globe and Mail columnist John Bentley Mays, miss the snarky spirit of the Fuglys. In a panel discussion yesterday before the awards were distributed, he asked awards co-founder Gary Berman if the shift away from dumping on the worst had dulled its edge. Berman admitted that, like Toronto’s architecture, the awards were gentrifying. Not that respectability is bad: the pre-teen students who won substantial monetary prizes for projects developed as part of the Pug Ed program exemplified the work that’s being done to inform a new generation about the issues surrounding their urban landscape.

Anyone hoping to revel in the worst of the city’s buildings in 2011 had to squint to see which projects were at the bottom of the list in each category; they were shown after the awards were handed out. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though: only five of the 43 nominees in the residential category were actually on the positive side of the ledger; the rest came in for harsh words.

Mays was part of a panel with Star columnist Christopher Hume (who was introduced with Mays as the “Siskel and Ebert” of local architecture) and former city councillor Kyle Rae. The hour-long discussion about the state of Toronto’s architectural design touched on the highs and lows each had seen over the past few decades, and how the awards could work beyond being a popularity contest. Rae felt that the energy with which some commenters praised buildings on the Pug site, for instance, could be directed into appearances at public meetings for new projects, to balance the NIMBYs and nitpickers who usually show up. (It was fascinating to watch Hume’s face fill with disgust when Rae suggested Toronto had a lousy architectural heritage.)

As far as future issues were concerned, Hume felt that suburban areas like Scarborough are where our next set of architectural problems will arise, as people priced out of living downtown will be faced with structures that appear to be designed with less care than those in the core.

Check out this year’s Pug Award winners, along with the last-place finishers, in the gallery.