Toronto’s Radiant City

An exhibition by Canadian photographer Jesse Colin Jackson recently showcased representations of Toronto’s Tower Apartment neighbourhoods the artist has been generating since 2006. There’s a melancholy sort of elegance to the images depicting one of the city’s most prominent housing typologies.



The exhibition borrowed its name from Corbusier’s “The Radiant City: Elements of a Doctrine of Urbanism to be used the Basis of Our Machine-Age Civilizations.”

Once iconic emblems of modernist ideologies and ideals for the future city-scape, many of these buildings are now falling into disrepair and nearing the end of their life-cycles.



Toronto is home to more highrise towers than any other North American city other than New York. Beginning with the City Park Apartments designed by Peter Caspari and built in 1954 (just 2 years after Corbu’s Unite d’Habitation in Marseille as Graeme Stewart points out in “The Suburban Tower and Toronto’s first Mass Housing Boom”) construction of suburban high rises continued into the 1970s. By 1966 apartments made up 40% of the city’s housing stock, accounting for a significant portion of Toronto's expansion which doubled the city’s 1940s footprint.



Today, these buildings are home to around 25% of Toronto’s population - many of whom are new immigrants and in need of affordable family housing. Although the communities who inhabit the towers are extremely dynamic, the limited 'residential only' zoning restricted the ability to provide retail, places of worship or other gathering spaces within these neighbourhoods. Until recently. As of June of 2014, a new 'Residential Apartment Commercial (RAC)' zoning finally replaces the car-centric, single-use zoning imposed in the 1950s and allows for the development of local businesses.While the maintenance and cost efficiency of these aging buildings remains an issue, this zoning change provides a foundation for these areas to develop into more vibrant and healthy communities. It seems like simple common sense: people walk more when amenities are within walking distance and eat fresher, less processed foods when it's easier to get to the store more often. However, it took years of detailed research and advocacy on the part of Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal, amongst others, to get the proposal for this zoning amendment approved at Toronto City Council.



This regulatory shift lays the groundwork for significant change within tower neighbourhoods, but it’s also important that the aesthetic of these structures is embraced and their value to the city’s architectural heritage is recognized. While the 'Radiant City' exhibit is now over, a show called 'No Flat City' features another photographer's take on the same subject matter. Located at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre until June 2015, photographer Chloë Ellingson’s images show a softer, more somber, but equally striking take on urban domesticity.

Visit E.R.A’s page on Toronto Tower Renewal for more information and links to publications on this subject.



Researched and written by Miranda Corcoran, a designer based in Toronto, currently studying Industrial Design and Digital Media at OCAD University.

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