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10.22.2009
Stone's New Skin
Glass reclad for Edward Durell Stone's crumbling Toronto tower
The marble facade of Edward Durell Stone's First Canadian Place (left) is falling apart and will be replaced by a new glass system (right) (Click here to view larger).
Courtesy MDAS

In the late-19th century, cast-iron architecture was a fashion expedient: If your Greek Revival facade was outdated, you could melt down the iron, have it cast in another style, and then rebolt it to your building. More than a century later, Edward Durell Stone’s First Canadian Place is getting an analogous, albeit high-tech, treatment—a facelift in custom-designed, white-fritted glass.

Completed in 1975, the 72-story tower is covered in 45,000 slabs of Carrara marble that have fared poorly through 34 Toronto winters, with one crashing through a third-floor mezzanine in 2007. Aiming to address safety concerns while giving Stone a stylistic makeover, owner Brookfield Properties enlisted Moed de Armas & Shannon (MdAS) to reface the tower, which remains Canada’s tallest building.

A rendering of the new facade designed by Moed de Armas & Shannon.

Stone used a ten-foot module, with eight marble panels to every ten-foot-high section. As the marble aged and pitted, the monumental impact of the panels diminished, leaving a pixilated facade. Instead of replacing the horizontal bands of marble, MdAS worked with glass manufacturer Viracon to create a five-layer sandwich of fritted glass, the outermost layer imprinted with a pattern by graphic designer Stephen Doyle.

“We wanted to keep the strengths of the building,” said Dan Shannon, principal architect on the project. “We admire it, and wanted to retain the whiteness to contrast with its dark bronze bands. But we realized that if we just used light spandrel glass, we were going to lose something.”

So the firm turned to Doyle, who developed a pattern based on sexagons—six triangles that intersect at one point—to provide the depth and shadow of veined marble. In his research, Doyle worked to understand Stone’s use of pattern. “It’s not about decoration, as a lot of people think,” Doyle said. “He uses pattern to define the volume.”

A picture of the existing spandrel (top) and a rendering of its replacement.

His solution, Doyle said, “really came from getting on my bike and going to his house and asking myself, ‘What on God’s earth was he thinking to put concrete block in front of his window?’” The result, with one new glass panel for every eight marble units, retains Stone’s original proportions.

The project recalls another marble-clad Stone building—2 Columbus Circle—that raised epic controversy when redesigned by Brad Cloepfil for the Museum of Arts and Design. But it is Stone’s 1968 General Motors Building, reclad by MdAS in 2007, that has more in common with First Canadian.

“GM has a vertical patterning, the same richness of material, and the whiteness,” Shannon said. To accentuate that whiteness, the team decided to make the four recessed corners of the Toronto building from deep-bronze glass panels—a modern touch that will also highlight the tower’s verticality when the recladding is complete in late 2010.

Angela Starita