MISSISSAUGA, ONTARIO, CANADA, 1982
An extensive and highly successful local government complex, scholarly, eclectic, and though militantly postmodern, highly competent and substantial.
- Distinct civic presence in the core of the city
- Vibrant city plaza
- Accommodate a variety of public and private events indoors
- Facilities to promote employee health and wellbeing
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.