It’s what’s inside that counts. Starting May 23, Doors Open Toronto grants two days of free access to the city’s most impressive architecture, including buildings that are usually off-limits. Here are five must-sees.
This year’s list of participants includes more than 155 buildings. Visit the Peter Gilgan Centre, shown above, to see cutting-edge research laboratories built inside of a sculptural downtown skyscraper. Or circle the vats and learn about proprietary beer production – with free samples – at local breweries. Schools, television studios and police stations are also offering tours to curious explorers.
Below, we highlight five destinations definitely worth visiting during the weekend-long event.
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1 See where sports stars break a sweat
Design-loving gym rats are sure to fall for the state-of-the-art facilities at the University of Toronto’s recently completed Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport. Patkau Architects and MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects found an inventive way to fit an international competition–grade field house onto a tight site: sink it below grade. But the lower level “sports bowl” – which can be divided into two courts for simultaneous basketball and volleyball games, or seat crowds of up to 2,000 for major events – is no dark basement. The bottom portion of the facility’s glass facade lets light pour down during practices and allows passersby to look in and observe the action from street level. Above, stepped rows of workout equipment look onto the football field across the street. And if you think wearable activity trackers are magical, check out the weight-training room, where high-tech sensors in the floor plates measure how much force a weight lifter exerts. 100 Devonshire Place, Saturday and Sunday 10-5.
For those with extra stamina: Other sports facilities to check out include the cedar panel-roofed Regent Park Aquatic Centre; Joe Rockhead’s, the first climbing gym built in Canada; and the Downsview Park Sports Centre, which turns a building once used for plane assembly into an athletic facility complete with squash courts and soccer fields.
2 Discover what’s on the drawing boards of busy local architecture firms
If there’s any office worth going into on a Sunday, it’s the downtown home of Hariri Pontarini, the busy architecture firm behind everything from Toronto condo towers to a shell-like temple in Santiago. Employees will be on hand to offer a glimpse into the practice’s creative process, presenting renderings and scale models created for past projects like the luxe Shangri-La Toronto. HP’s headquarters is no drab office tower full of cubicles, either. Instead, the industrial loft-like work environment is housed within the Edwardian Classical-style Parisian Laundry Company Building, built in 1902. 602 King St W, Sunday 10-5.
For a comprehensive studio crawl: The digital design pros at Denegri Bessai Studio will be offering live 3-D printing demos, while DTAH, Diamond Schmitt, gh3 and others are also inviting architecture-lovers to tour their spaces. The Toronto Society of Architects has created a useful map (PDF) outlining all of the city’s participating practices.
3 Brush up on your history at off-the-beaten-path museums
Doors Open provides the perfect excuse to finally visit some of the city’s newest cultural institutions. Chief among them is the Aga Khan Museum in Don Mills, which offers free admission throughout the weekend. The Fumihiko Maki-designed building, clad in Brazilian granite, is a true stunner. The atrium is soaked in natural light, with captivating shadows created by patterned glass walls, while galleries display 10-century-old art and artifacts that reflect Islamic culture. The neighbouring Ismaili Centre‘s prayer hall, housed inside of a frosted glass dome, will also be open. 77 Wynford Drive, Saturday and Sunday, 10-5.
For more history lessons: Head to Fort York for an architecture tour of the military property’s 18th and 19th century buildings. Afterwards, be sure to stop by the national historic site’s newest addition: a modern visitors’ centre designed by Kearns Mancini and Patkau Architects. Elsewhere in the city, the MZTV Museum offers a more offbeat experience. Not usually open on weekends, the institution holds an extensive collection of retro televisions – everything from tiny tubes to a triangular statement set from the Space Age.
4 Tour top utilities and factories
For a water treatment facility, the R.C. Harris plant certainly breaks the utilitarian mould. There’s a reason it’s nicknamed the “palace of purification” and remains one of Doors Open’s most popular destinations: the art deco-style complex is impressively grand, with many opulent features to be found inside. In the filter building’s rotunda, for example, visitors can monitor reservoir levels via a grandfather clock-shaped meter reader. The pump house will also be open, and plant staff will be present to offer insight into the treatment process – inspiring a whole new appreciation for that next glass of tap water. 2701 Queen St E, Saturday and Sunday 10-4.
For more industrial facilities: The Portlands Energy Centre, a natural gas power plant, will also be open for tours, while anyone with a sweet tooth should pay a visit to Redpath, Canada’s oldest sugar producer.
5 Experience how architecture fosters community
Designed by LGA Architectural Partners, the Centre for Native Child and Family Well Being is the downtown headquarters of a social services agency that supports aboriginal children and families. The organization’s welcoming, four-storey office space thoughtfully communicates aboriginal culture with its graphics and wood-heavy palette. Other areas replicate traditional architecture, like the honeycomb-framed room shown above, which is a contemporary reimagining of the community longhouses used for ceremonies and meetings. During the weekend, the space will host elders invited to share their experiences and knowledge of spirits with visitors. An aboriginal artist market will also be set up. 30 College St, Saturday and Sunday 10-5
For another community-minded destination: Transformed from a public school in 2013 by Teeple Architects, Artscape Youngplace is now a thriving cultural hub. Artist studios will be open to showcase the wealth of creative talent now based out of the 101-year-old building. Also, be sure to catch “Housing Toronto,” a panel discussion – moderated by Azure’s Catherine Osborne and featuring architects Meg Graham, Heather Dubbeldam, Prishram Jain, Stephen Teeple and Brigitte Shim – exploring housing-oriented architecture in Toronto, from dormitories and condos to home renos and convents.