Essay Part 2
MISSISSAUGA, ONTARIO, CANADA, 1982
Mississauga lies on the north shore of Lake Ontario as a satellite city to Toronto on its east.
In 1982 Toronto’s Jones Kirkland Partnership, comprising the expatriate American architect, J. Michael Kirkland ( a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome in 1970) and his English partner, Edward Jones, were awarded the commission for Mississauga’s 400,000 square foot Civic Centre, following a national competition that had attracted almost 250 entries. I should mention that these two are personal friends: Edward Jones had been my First Year Student at the Architectural Association in London the early ‘60s, and both were adjunct members of my faculty at the University of Toronto in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
‘It was built in a cornfield with horses walking around,’ recalled Kirkland in 2012. ‘The complex was intended to be monumental, hence the relative lack of windows. It needed to resonate as a catalytic centre of what was to become a very large city.’ And indeed Mississauga is now the sixth largest city in Canada with a fast growing population of 715,000, and the Civic Centre is surrounded and overshadowed by the same pompously fat and ornate high-rises as are favoured by Dudley Webb for downtown Lexington.
A first impression of the building is of an informal if not loose aggregation of component parts, popularly interpreted as a tribute to Mississauga’s agricultural past, the administration building supposedly standing for a farmhouse, the Council Chamber a grain silo and the clock tower a windmill and so on, but one suspects that if the architects have had any hand in this silliness it has been merely to plier à la bourgeoise. The one overtly iconic gesture here is made by the clock tower to the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena.
In fact the design has a highly structured classical plan, direct and workmanlike and scholarly — and hence totally outside the ken of Antoine Predock and his unhappy armadillos in Austin — first taking guidance from ancient Roman precedent and then accepting cues and paying homage to such worthy precursors as Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Charles McKim of McKim, Mead & White, Erik Gunnar Asplund, Robert Venturi and no doubt several others. Just as competent lawyers are thoroughly familiar with the applicable case law and how to employ it, so good architects are thoroughly conversant with architectural precedent, and how to adapt it to present needs. Invention in architecture is largely incremental and cumulative, and has no need of armadillos.
So, for Jones and Kirkland the Campus Martius, Theatre of Pompeius in Rome, suggests a useful layout structure for the Civic Square with its central pool and light steel peripheral shelters, the amphitheatre on the east and the more intimate Jubilee Gardens on the west, all framed by a long loggia building mediating between the outdoor and the indoor facilities.
Models for its ‘stretched temple front’ profile, with its muted echoes of Greece and Rome, may be found in the work of Charles McKim of McKim, Mead & White, New York in 1886, who, frankly acknowledging the disparity between the long ground floor and shorter second floor accommodations of his ‘Shingle Style’ house for William G. Low in Bristol, Rhode Island,
and finding the customary solution of a two storey center pavilion with single storey wings inadequate to his purpose, perhaps on account of the resulting proportions or their diminutive scale in this landscape,
in an inspired little increment of invention, rotated the normally expected ridge line through 90 degrees to move the eaves to the narrow ends of the house and, with an enviable confidence in the integrity of his roofing system, paradoxically not shingles on this shallow slope, turned its 140 foot frontages into immense unifying gables.
There was also, of course this affirmation of McKim’s invention, made by Gunnar Asplund in his Lister County Courthouse in Sölvesborg, Sweden of 1919-21,
which terminates a four block long street running from the railroad station on the shoreline, originally intended to carry a continuous allee of trees, which could be expected to obscure everything but the entry. Jones and Kirkland seem to have been exceptionally drawn to Asplund: we shall see, among other things,
his beautiful deep, heavy-arched lunette entry to the courthouse reappear on the inside face of their loggia as the entry to the Residents’ Cafeteria
Should they have needed any further enticement, Asplund’s stretched gable roof and big lunette wall opening had already re-appeared in 1964 in the modest but monumental little Vanna Venturi House in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, designed for his mother by Robert Venturi as a clarion call for ‘postmodernism’ in architecture.
Like the Lister County Courthouse it sits in a clearing approached by a tree lined drive.
Its front achieves a monumental scale by the careful arrangement of solids and voids within its double square geometry, in particular the broken pediment device, the elongated beam over the entry opening and the ‘dado’ rails whimsically brought outdoors to stretch between the windows.
Note the echo of the courthouse lunette applied over the entry to herald the large lunette opening for the upstairs guest bedroom on the rear facade.
A sectional model looking to the rear wall of the house.
On leaving the Civic Square and passing through the loggia to one side or the other of the Cafeteria one arrives at a tall, square atrium,
faced in the opulence of verde antique marble (or something very like it) detailed with such a vulgar ‘Post-Modern’ stridency as to make Vanbrugh’s Great Hall at Castle Howard seem quite tame.
Left, an entry to the atrium from the plaza and, right, a view of the street entry on the northern boundary of the building.
Views to the Residents’ Cafeteria and the council Chamber.
The glazed roof of the atrium seen from the mid-level terrace of the administration building, with the upper drum of the Council Chamber beyond.
The cross axis of the atrium leads east to the Council Chamber and west to the grand staircase ascending up through the publicly accessible municipal services offices in the lower floors of the administration building.
The long flight of false perspective stairs clearly finds its origin in Sangallo’s Scala Regia in the Vatican, restored by Bernini in the mid seventeenth century.
But one suspects that if further enticement to adopt this Vatican device were needed it was once again to be found in these modest little drawings of Gunnar Asplund:
Left to right: Stockholm City Library, stairway from the main vestibule to the Lending Department Hall, 1921; Stairs in the Skandia Cinema, Stockholm, 1922; Steps alongside a Stockholm apartment building, 1939.
One might also note in passing that Jim Stirling, who was a member of the Civic Centre competition jury in September 1982 (seen here wearing spectacles, second from left) was known to have adopted the same strategy of a long continuous staircase ascending through the section of his scheme for the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard, first published in 1981, and not lost on the agile minds of Jones and Kirkland.
Having decided on a drum form for their Council Chamber, and seeing little purpose in re-inventing the wheel, Jones Kirkland returned to Asplund.
The central courtroom in his Lister County Courthouse is a shallow drum, close to two storeys high, containing the functions of the court in one half and public seating in the other. It is a plan not entirely dissimilar from that of Jones and Kirkland, but their need for stepped public seating and their desire for an imposing institutional loftiness lead them to adopt, instead the proportions of Asplund’s great drum for the Stockholm City Library of 1921-28. And not merely its proportions: the string course beneath the clerestory windows, the rhythm of the windows, made partially blind to reduce the amount of glazing but preserve the proportions of the original openings, and the square section of the lid-like cornice, are not simply little homages to Asplund but a direct, close to verbatim quotation, Stockholm reincarnate in Mississauga.
Jones and Kirkland were not the first to admire and replicate Asplund’s rotunda. In 1932 Charles Holden (1875-1960) had completed two ‘tube’ stations for the expanding London Underground system in which the ticket halls were rotundas: Chiswick Park, opened in April, in which the glazing in the drum exceeded the brickwork by about 2 to 1; and Arnos Grove (seen above), which opened in September and exhibits something more like a 1 to 1 relationship of glass to brickwork. This station, Holden volunteered, was inspired by the Stockholm City Library.
It has been persuasively suggested that Asplund, himself, found the inspiration for his Library in Claude-Nicolas Ledoux’s Barrière Saint-Martin (1784-88) which terminates the Basin de La Villette, in what is now called the Place Stalingrad in Paris. Reduced to its essentials, the Barrière Saint-Martin is a flat topped cylinder that is twice the height of the square structure whose center it occupies. Asplund was in Paris in the Fall of 1913 and cannot have failed to include it in his itinerary.
He was also in Rome for the first six weeks of 1914, and I like to think that he wouldn’t have missed seeing the fourth century church of Santa Costanza, built under Constantine I as a mausoleum for his daughter Constantina, also known as Constantia or Costanza, who died in 354 AD.
That would give the Mississauga Council Chamber an even more venerable lineage: Liberal-Democratic Stockholm; late Enlightenment Paris; Early Christian Rome.
Mississauga Council Chamber
The 8,000 square foot ceiling painting, The Great Bear and the Seven Hunters, based on an Ojibwa constellation legend, was designed by Sharon McCann and executed by Lynda Gaelyn Smith.
Below are a few images of the Civic Centre in use.
A Chinese community celebration and an event in the amphitheater
The Civic Square when quiet
The Jubilee Garden
Electoral vote counting and a Christmas market in the atrium
The Residents’ Cafeteria
The Mississauga Civic Centre was a $60 million project. It was designed as an organizational catalyst to other civic services such as a new Central Library and the Living Arts Centre. After thirty years of use the facility appears to have proved itself tough and resilient in responding to the city’s expanding needs. A renovation plan to better accommodate the emerging needs of Civic Square was embarked upon in 2009.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS, 1988
This is the first of my cautionary tales.
Corpus Christi, present population about 320,000, has a thirty year old city hall designed by Taft Architects (an acronym for a Houston firm with no connection to the Taft family of Cincinnati). This city hall could be said to be another economical cube, like Como, but quite plainly, it ain’t no Como!
The location of the building embraced the automobile and the concomitant notion of its own hermetic self-sufficiency with such unrepentant vigor that its remaining urban and architectural gestures have been rendered meaningless. It sits the best part of a mile from the city’s downtown and Ocean Drive, occupying the midpoint on the north side of its four-block parking lot, amid a small-scale industrial wasteland that appears to have been persistently indifferent to its presence, content meanwhile to extend allees of trees out among its automobiles as though they were the colorful parterres of some shiny new formal garden, the Villa Medici of Corpus Christi.
Its relationship to downtown.
Its frontal prospect is this blighted little street, which it terminates as though it were some grand boulevard in the ‘City Beautiful.’
Tacitly acknowledging that in this location an intervening apron would be superfluous, an equally superfluous flight of steps ascends to the unused street entry directly from the perpetually deserted sidewalk. The flagpole invites no gathering of the citizens on July 4th, no celebration of the city’s name day, no public event of any kind, whether joyful or in protest.
The building’s other three sides provide the same monumental access to the surrounding parking lots, even to identical ‘City Hall’ marquees. This provides the rationale for the cruciform symmetry of the plan and the vertiginous light shaft raised above the crossing. This shaft, by the way, they refer to as ‘the atrium’.
And maybe one needn’t bother with any further consideration of a facility that is so clearly less than ideal, but bear with me because it provokes a few additional thoughts that one hopes may be useful. First, let the buyer beware of loose architectural language, whether drawn or spoken!
We have already seen a lofty atrium in Mississauga, and in Camo the heavily structured central space roofed with glass block to temper the northern Italian sun, also an atrium. Here is a Frank Fox illustration of an early atrium, open to the sky. As with preceding Mediterranean cultures, the domestic life of the Romans throughout their empire was arranged around atria, as here at the house of the Vettii in Pompeii, where the likelihood is that the intensely cultivated gardens within the columns created ornament largely with plants that were aromatic, edible and medicinal
In our own times the more splendid of the grand hotels, such as London’s Ritz, have atria with the lightest of glazed roofs, commonly called ‘palm courts’ or ‘garden courts.’
San Francisco’s pre-earthquake Palace Hotel had a vast atrium which was first used as a glazed courtyard for horse-drawn cabs and then as a lofty dining room. After the great earthquake, its 1910 replacement also has a grand atrium.
And so does this fine old Romanesque Revival structure, formerly the Federal Building and now the City Hall in Rochester, New York — its front once again affirming Siena’s republican grip on the iconography of late nineteenth century American public architecture. It, too, has a fine atrium.
Corpus Christi, on the contrary, has a narrow, octagonal and vertiginous five storey shaft raised above its entry lobby. The glazed smoke screens suspended from the ceilings around its perimeter to appease the local fire marshal would appear to be doing double duty as fluorescent light fittings, because there cannot be much daylight admitted from above: this they call ‘the atrium’?
Then, confronted by the busy exterior of the building one has to assume that the candid expression of such potentially powerful things as squares, octagons and cubes must have been a little too direct for the taste of Taft Architects: why else did they feel constrained to complicate the building’s profiles and differentiate the colors of its masonry skin? One might imagine that the idea was to erect a monument to their one idea, the quadrilateral symmetry of the plan but, by the inadvertent irony of ironies in a now heavily secular Corpus Christi, the resulting forms also carry the strong implication the nave, choir and transepts of some distressed little church trapped and squeezed between buttressed cubes.
The above elevation happens to face the east side parking lot, the street being off to the right. Given its surroundings, the prospect has to be equally depressing from any of the apertures in this building, but why is there no accommodation of the movement of the sun, no acknowledgment of the profound difference between facing north and facing south? But let’s return to the question of what they failed to think about once we’ve finished looking at what they did think about.
What they thought about was stripes. Perhaps in an effort to pull all the pieces together again, they reverted, like modern day John Hannafords, to drawing mindless pilasters (some light, some dark), skinny uniform string courses and and even vacant clock faces ( or blind rose windows, maybe?!) on surfaces that might actually have defined calm, generous volumes — like Gunnar Asplund’s Stockholm City Library, say, which we saw Jones and Kirkland re-employ as Mississauga’s council chamber — if, as then, given a little rhythm and then left alone?
But if simple volumes were too boring for them and more elaborate volumes just had to have pilasters, stripes and non-clock discs then the Romanesque period would have offered them endless captivating models, as here at the charming little baptistery in Saccargia, Sardinia, built in 1116. Too much for a parking lot?
Well, if the Romanesque were too raw and robust for their taste, then one of the period’s great revivalists was William Butterfield, for whom stripes were de rigeur, and who banded everything he built, inside and out, as here at All Saints, London, of 1850-53. It might be amusing to note in passing that Butterfield’s pediment disc is inscribed with a cross which closely resembles Taft’s simple minded and ill-advised plan, all too inescapably emblematic of the 500 year-old origins of a now heavily secular settlement.
But if all this were deemed too Eurocentric, then closer to home there is H.H. Richardson, who employed banding with powerful intelligence to delineate elevational relationships and to imply sectional and volumetric relationships, as here at the Woburn, Massachusetts, Public Library of 1876-79.
And if, finally, Taft Architects were loath to dirty their hands with any history at all, they still might have learned something had they given a little attention to the work of their contemporary, the late Sir James Frazer Stirling who, with no such squeamishness, developed an affection for Romanesque banding and used the thin veneers afforded by recent stone-cutting technology with wit and irony in several of his later projects. These photos show his extension to the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie, opened in 1984, some years before Corpus Christi.
Finally one must observe that the lugubrious landscape surrounding Corpus Christi’s hermetically conceived city hall might best and most consistently have been dealt with by turning its back on it and looking inward instead, as for other reasons, did the medieval monks in their urban cloisters and colleges. Below is Johannes Kip’s early eighteenth century engraving of the College of Gonville and Caius in Cambridge, illustrating an architectural tradition that this college has maintained into modern times.
Gonville & Caius’ Harvey Court, designed in the office of Professor Sir Leslie Martin in the late 1950s, presents a deep wall of stairs and utility spaces to the street and has views to the outside only where the prospect is controlled by the college. Its raised court, which surrounds an atrial refectory, was inspired by Alvar Aalto’s Saynatsalo Town Hall of 1952, which we saw above.
Given a large enough city hall program forced out of the urban core to the cheap land of the automobile in the suburbs one could readily imagine a re-enactment of the Roman creation of the city with a city hall urban services campus, not unlike this Stirling and Gowan submission in the Churchill College, Cambridge, competition of 1959. In those days, the site for this project was on the far limits of the University’s academic residence area, joining the long isolated Girton College for women out in the fields on the maximum three mile radius from the Senate House. The two bunkers outside the walls are for student bicycles and the little fauxburg clinging to the right hand wall contains college support services.
The Pentagon. of course, quite unable to make any long-term demarcation of departmental territory and not primarily concerned with making anyone’s life more livable in any case, carries the idea of the institution as auto-dependant walled city to an extreme, closing off so many views to so many occupants as to be indistinguishable from a gigantic prison.
KITCHENER, ONTARIO. CANADA, 1989-93
Kitchener’s new City Hall is another workmanlike building.
While it took lessons from the recently completed Mississauga Civic Centre it is not a postmodern building, nor is it overtly eclectic, being more relaxed about such things as symmetry, axiality and so on.
Kitchener is presently a city of 220,000 people. This is the last of its former city halls, built in 1924 and demolished in 1973. Municipal affairs were conducted in leased space for the next twenty years, but in the late 1980s, during the mayoral term of Dom Cardillo the city decided that it should operate from a dedicated, modern building again. It purchased a complete block in Kitcher’s downtown, bounded by King, College, Duke, and Young streets, and held a competition for the design of the building in 1989.
It was a two-stage invitational competition for a building of 212,000 square feet, with eleven participants in the first stage and five in the second. The initial project cost was $32 million CDN.
The competition was won by the Toronto firm of Kuwabara, Payne, McKenna, Blumberg, Architects, an exceptionally talented and intelligent partnership whose members have also been either long-serving members of the adjunct faculty or returning visiting critics in the School of Architecture at the University of Toronto.
Bruce Kuwabara was the partner in charge and found the purposes and aspirations of the project to be similar to that of those of his 1971-72 design thesis proposal. ‘The goals were to revitalize the city’s main downtown street by providing a new focal point and heart for the community. In addition, this would reinforce the urban character of the downtown, its economy and public life, and help encourage the development of high quality design in the downtown.’
The site climbs the equivalent of one full floor level from King Street, the city’s main street on its southern boundary to Duke Street on the north. The principal formal element is the inverted U-shape, or more properly the paired inverted L-shapes, of the publicly accessible municipal offices – two storeys high at Duke Street and elevated to three storeys at King – which defines three street edges and embrace the City Hall and its Square. The major functions of the building are accommodated within three principal volumes: the Council Chamber in the rectangle to the upper left in the site plan; the Civic Rotunda in the center; and the Administrative Office Tower casting the long shadow on the right. The tower’s spire is an illuminated weather beacon visible to all parts of the downtown. Note the unlabeled Gaukel Street terminating at King from the south.
The Rotunda and administrative office tower and seen from Gaukel Street.
King Street is the primary level of public access and activity. Major components of the scheme, the Civic Square, and what are known as the Interior Square and Civic Rotunda are all accessible on the ground floor level.
Access to below grade parking is from College and Young Streets. A protected drop off area is provided on Young. The Square is accessible at all four corners, inviting entry to the space and offering several choices on movement through the site. A pedestrian extension of Gaukel Street provides access up the steps and through the building to Duke Street. While the Civic Square accommodates outdoor public assembly the Rotunda is used for indoor assembly. These elements are transparent allowing those in one space to see activity in the other. The Interior Square containing the Rotunda is bordered on the left by a large committee room and those parts of the Clerk’s Department requiring prompt public accessibility, and on the right by the information desk.
The second floor at the Duke street level overlooks the Interior Square and Civic Square. The Council of Chamber, the offices of the Mayor and Council members, the Council lounge, committee meeting rooms, a day care center and administrative meeting rooms are found on this floor, thus consolidating the building around the rotunda and providing convenient connections between the public, the Council and departmental staff.
The balcony overlooking the Civic Square toward King and Gaukel Streets.
The model of the project viewed from the northwest corner and showing the small formal garden and the outdoor play area of the day-care facility forming a verdant edge to Duke Street.
An aerial view from the west of the completed project.
The Civic Square from King Street.
The reflecting pool, a year-round attraction to Canadians.
The Square at night.
Civic Square from the corner of College and King.
The small upper level formal garden facing Duke Street.
The Duke Street entry to City Hall.
The outdoor play space for the day-care facility.
The day-care garden from Young Street.
The building seen from Young Street, the upper end containing the entrances to the service area and the public parking.
The cladding of these publicly accessible offices and the Rotunda is a split face red sandstone imported from India. Domestic stone is used for the outdoor and indoor paving in the public areas of the building.
In the Council Chamber.
A wedding party on the steps.
‘Strings Attached’, one of the ’Between the Ears’ week-long music festival events in Civic Square.
A summer concert.
Project by a local sculptor.
The reflecting pool becomes a popular skating venue from November to March.
And in both the Square and the Rotunda the Chris Kringle market is a regular festival in December.
To continue with the next part of this essay, click HERE.