In 1964, Raymond Moriyama got a big break. Commissioned to design Toronto’s Centennial Museum of Science and Technology, the young architect designed a science museum like no other. Emphasizing tactility and interaction, the Flemingdon Park complex introduced a bold new paradigm for public learning. “When you hear, you forget; when you see, you remember some; but when you touch and do, it becomes part of you,” said Moriyama. Completed in 1969, the museum now known as the Ontario Science Centre became a Canadian icon — one that influenced the design of inclusive and democratic educational spaces the world over. As part of the Ontario government’s controversial plan to redevelop Ontario Place, however, the museum is now poised to be moved to the lakefront, and the building is slated to be demolished.
The provincial government’s recently announced plan has been met with swift and vocal opposition, with government critics questioning the cost-effectiveness of relocating, as opposed to refurbishing, the museum. Moreover, the notion of centralizing cultural amenities near the building’s downtown has also been debated. Fundamentally, the Science Centre plan also forms part of the thoroughly misguided privatization of Ontario Place, which has emerged as a key political issue ahead of Toronto’s mayoral by-election.
For all that, the Ontario Science Centre also remains an architectural landmark, and a key part of the city’s mid-century heritage. It is also a building whose program — and spirit — is rooted in its Don Valley site. And the architectural community has been quick to respond. Below, open letters from Moriyama Teshima Architects (MTA), the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO), and the Toronto Society of Architects (TSA) outline principled opposition to the Ontario Science Centre’s demolition and relocation. — Stefan Novakovic
“Design an institution of international significance.” That was the brief given to Raymond Moriyama by the Minister of Public Works in 1964. The brief would become the Ontario Science Centre (OSC), and when it opened its doors in 1969, it instantly achieved its simple, maybe even naïve, but indisputably ambitious goal. Every Torontonian remembers the hair-raising feeling of an electric current running through their finger while on a school trip.
Science is the study of structure and behaviour in nature. The Ontario Science Centre is a landmark building, purposefully nestled into the natural ravine of the Don Valley, where it has succeeded in bringing that joyful study to the masses for over fifty years. The purpose of the Science Centre is inseparable from the site it currently inhabits. At Moriyama Teshima Architects, we believe the science is unequivocally telling us that we need to be preserving and regenerating our buildings. The carbon embodied in these structures is too valuable to discard.
We all grew up with the Science Centre, and in turn, the city grew up around it. Toronto is not the same city it was in 1969, and Ontario is not the same province. There are millions of more people who call this province home, and many thousands who now live in the Flemingdon Park neighborhood. Our collective memories and the future memories of those yet to discover the OSC are too precious to discard.
This is precisely the moment where we need to be investing in more public institutions. If there is a need for the Science Centre to modernize and evolve, the goal should be to regenerate it in a way that builds on its heritage, celebrates its unique architecture, and restores its commitment as an amenity to its neighbourhood. When Raymond Moriyama was designing the OSC he told the administration the programming should change every eight years—“If it didn’t change, it would die.” A regenerated Science Centre should continue its legacy of education, and can accommodate other uses such as community space, or even housing, if deemed appropriate.
Likewise, if there is a need for a new public institution along the shores of Lake Ontario, let’s expand the mission and the footprint of the Science Centre, and explore a new facility that celebrates and explores that site’s unique surroundings.
ACO Toronto urges the Province of Ontario to repair, restore, and care for the Ontario Science Centre instead of moving it to Ontario Place. This important landmark building is currently listed on the City of Toronto’s Heritage Register, and we request that the City of Toronto designate the building under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act as it meets multiple criteria for cultural heritage value under O.Reg. 9/06.
The Ontario Science Centre, originally known as the Centennial Centre for Science and Technology (CCST) at 770 Don Mills Road, has significant cultural, social, architectural, and environmental value. Opened in 1969, the Ontario Science Centre was designed by architect Raymond Moriyama as an Ontario project for the Centennial. It was one of the first interactive science museums in the world and received an OAA Landmark Designation Award. The Imax dome was added by Zeidler Roberts in 1996. In 2017, ACO Toronto hosted our Annual Heritage Symposium “150+” on Centennial projects at the Ontario Science Centre, where award-winning architect Raymond Moriyama spoke about his experience on the ideas behind the building.
This iconic building has been featured in numerous national publications. In the book Canadian Modern Architecture: 1967 to the Present it is argued that “of all the projects completed under the auspices of the Centennial Commission, Raymond Moriyama’s, ‘CCST’ best represents what critic Peter Buchanan described as the “heroic period of Canadian architecture.”
Despite this, the building has experienced a severe lack of maintenance in recent years. The pedestrian bridge which links exhibit buildings was deemed unsafe in 2022 and closed. There are no plans in place to repair or replace this structure and visitors are currently moved around the museum via shuttle bus.
Even more concerning is the recent announcement of plans to move the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place. While a satellite expansion of the Centre could be explored, moving the entire program from this building puts both the building and surrounding neighbourhoods at risk. The Ontario Science Centre serves as an important community hub in North York and removing it would directly contradict efforts towards sustainable and equitable city-building. The Flemingdon Park, Thorncliffe Park, and larger Don Mills area is already at risk of losing access to another important cultural space: 123 Wynford Drive, another landmark building designed by Raymond Moriyama, originally the Japanese Cultural Centre now the Noor Cultural Centre, which is planned for redevelopment that will demolish much of the building. We believe through stewardship, care, and community collaboration, additional housing and new amenities can still be provided elsewhere on this site and in the area, while allowing the Ontario Science Centre building to be restored and maintained as a vibrant cultural hub in North York.
Stephanie Mah, CAHP, President — ACO Toronto
The Toronto Society of Architects, in fulfillment of our role as advocates for the built environment in Toronto and the surrounding region, calls on the Province of Ontario and Premier Doug Ford to reconsider plans to move the Ontario Science Centre and any potential demolition of this significant architectural landmark.
We take this position on the following principles:
Opened in 1969 and originally known as the Centennial Centre for Science and Technology, the Ontario Science Centre is a building of national architectural and cultural signiﬁcance. Representative of an era of heroic civic buildings looking to establish a unique Canadian architectural identity, it is part of a select group of landmarks across the country built to mark Canada’s centennial. Designed by the celebrated practice Moriyama Teshima Architects, the complex has been speciﬁcally built for its site, responding to the changing levels of the Don River ravine and forging an irreplaceable relationship between building and landscape. Its spaces engage all senses, encouraging exploration and physical interaction — a reﬂection of the science centre’s role as a pioneer of hands-on science education.
Demolishing the Ontario Science Centre would demolish an irreplaceable part of the province’s and country’s history. As caretakers of this landmark, the Province must invest in the repair and maintenance of this facility.
The building and construction industry represent 40% of greenhouse gases emitted in the province. Similarly, a signiﬁcant portion of the waste ﬁlling landﬁlls is caused by the construction and demolition of our built environment. The demolition of the Ontario Science Centre and its replacement with a new structure would generate unnecessary waste and require signiﬁcant energy and material resources. The climate crisis we face today requires us to acknowledge our collective responsibility to change how things are done and demolition should be a last resort after all other options are exhausted.
Should the Province proceed with moving the Ontario Science Centre, the existing structure should be re-used and adapted to new uses that continue to serve the community. Our city is ﬁlled with examples of adaptive reuse projects that have converted much more challenging existing structures to new uses including community spaces, theatres, museums, and more.
The Ontario Science Centre is an important cultural institution and community resource for Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park, dense neighbourhoods that have historically been underserved. This institution plays a vital role as a community hub and is among the few large-scale cultural institutions outside of the city centre.
While our city and province have an urgent need for housing, this should not come at the expense of cultural institutions and community spaces which are essential for the health of neighbourhoods. There are other places better suited for additional housing development.
As a place belonging to all Ontarians, any decision to move the Ontario Science Centre should include extensive public consultation. We have not been made aware of any previous consultation sessions on this topic and urge the Province to allow Ontarians to participate in a debate on the future of the Ontario Science Centre.
The Ontario Science Centre is a shared place of signiﬁcance for many Ontarians. We ﬁrmly believe in the importance of not only retaining, but repairing and celebrating this important architectural landmark and cultural institution and call on the Province to rethink its plans.
As always, we make ourselves available to work together for a better Toronto and Ontario.
On behalf of the Toronto Society of Architects,
Ana-Francisca de la Mora, OAA, FRAIC, ARQ, Chair — Toronto Society of Architects
Lead image by Ian Muttoo via Flickr Commons.
Moriyama Teshima Architects, the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, and the Toronto Society of Architects outline principled opposition to the Ontario Science Centre’s demolition and relocation.