Toronto is probably not one of the first cities that comes to mind when thinking of great architecture destinations. But it should be. Ever since 1976, when the 1,815-foot CN Tower became North America's tallest freestanding structure, the city has been quietly rising to greater and greater architectural heights. And now a fresh crop of bold buildings has sprouted up, pushing the envelope with dramatic modernist designs. The most striking of these structures are Toronto's newest museum additions.
It seems fitting that when the Art Gallery of Ontario planned its major expansion it turned to one of the city's native sons. World-renowned architect Frank Gehry grew up only blocks from the illustrious institution, yet the new AGO, which was completed last November, is his first building in Canada.
In sharp contrast to the architect's trademark sculpted metal (as seen at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, or the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago), the Toronto gallery's face, which shields the original Walker Court and Grange buildings inside, is made up of glass arcs and warm Douglas fir buttresses. Stairs twist and soar from the stately Walker Court into the new titanium and glass Contemporary Tower, seeming to tie themselves in knots. Look up from the artwork to see the city framed perfectly outside.
Glass walls offer compelling views of brownstones and streetscapes, the downtown skyline, the CN Tower, and Ontario College of Art and Design's distinctive Sharp Centre for Design, a checkerboard marvel finished in 2004, perched on 12 steel stilts, 10 stories above ground level.
It's an easy stroll from here to the city's other recently improved museums. The venerable Royal Ontario Museum, with 2008's addition of five Daniel Libeskind-designed prisms, juts into glitzy Bloor Street. Just 200 feet away sits the respected Gardiner Museum of Ceramics, now featuring an assured modern limestone front alongside existing neoclassical facades, after undergoing an expansion in 2006. Whichever direction you look, Toronto puts on quite a show.