Viljo Revell’s Breath-taking New City Hall

1965

Toronto City Hall

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Two university architecture students saved Toronto from a bland, boxy new city hall. Peter Richardson and Harvey Cowan campaigned for an international competition and after the proposed design was defeated in a plebiscite, city council agreed. Over 500 designs were submitted from around the world. When the winner was announced, it sparked controversy and amazement. Mayor Nathan Phillips called the design “breath-taking.”

Finnish architect Viljo Revell at the Toronto City Hall construction site, c 1964 (courtesy Didrichsen Art Museum).

The winning architect was Viljo Revell, who was born in 1910 at Vaasa, a town on the west coast of Finland. Rugged and physically imposing, Revell was a modest man. His unique design featured two curved towers embracing a central council chamber and opening into an expansive public square—one of Canada’s, and indeed the world’s, most recognizable buildings.

Mayor Nathan Phillips turned the first sod for the new City Hall on November 7, 1961. The surrounding square had already been named in his honour for he had been a tireless advocate of the project. His Excellency Governor General George P. Vanier formally opened the new building on September 13, 1965, in the presence of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, Ontario Premier John Robarts and some 14,000 onlookers.

As picturesque in its way as E.J. Lennox’s sandstone old City Hall, Revell's building is a fitting neighbour and unmatched symbol of a confident city. Unfortunately, Revell died of a heart attack before his masterpiece was completed.

By James Marsh

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on architectural competitions.

New City Hall under construction June 22, 1964. The classical Registry Building was a necessary casualty (photographer: Panda Associates, City of Toronto Archives/SC 268, Item 462). View the image gallery