Ontario Place, Modernist Icon in Need of Urgent Action
In response to the Government of Ontario seeking international proposals to redevelop the Toronto landmark, World Monument Fund, Daniels Faculty at the University of Toronto and Architectural Conservancy of Ontario form coalition to protect Ontario Place and its legacy.
New York, NY, October 1, 2020 — Recognizing the global significance of Ontario Place as an extraordinary example of modernist architecture and landscape design — and a valuable resource to the city of Toronto, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) in collaboration with the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto (Daniels Faculty), and the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) have launched The Future of Ontario Place Project — an initiative aiming to both grow awareness of the cultural landmark’s importance, and to protect its future.
The Future of Ontario Place Project aims to safeguard the site’s landscape and built heritage from demolition and privatization, through a web portal and social media campaign that will foster broader public recognition of the site. The website Future of Ontario Place is the first consolidated public resource on Ontario Place, and includes archival images and information, stories about the site collected from the general public, and interviews with architects and urbanists about the significance of the development. With a mission to influence the government’s decision to redevelop the site, and create a more open and productive dialogue between stakeholders, the project will also host a series of live debates on the current issues facing Ontario Place, facilitate an extensive letter writing campaign, and host a Canada-wide design challenge calling for alternative proposals for the site’s future.
“The Future of Ontario Place Project will gather and study the history, evolution and possible futures of Ontario Place. By highlighting the rich multi-layered narrative of this unique development, and by sharing stories about the public’s relationship and connection to Ontario Place, we are hoping to secure its protection and longevity,” says Aziza Chaouni, Associate Professor at the Daniels Faculty.
Ontario Place was commissioned in 1969 by the Ontario Department of Trade and Development as a showplace for the province’s identity and culture. Designed by architect Eberhard Zeidler and landscape architect Michael Hough, the comprehensive 63 hectare site comprises a series of artificial islands and lagoons along Toronto’s waterfront, weaving architecture and landscape into a uniquely integrated environment for entertainment, education and recreation. When it opened in 1971, Ontario Place served as a symbol of post-war prosperity, showcasing the province’s rapid economic growth and urbanization, and its newfound optimism and changing cultural life. Its landforms and visionary architecture were considered remarkable achievements, particularly its steel-and-aluminum “pods” which are suspended over the water, and its signature geodesic dome called the “Cinesphere” which houses the world’s first IMAX theatre, for which Ontario Place received numerous local and international awards.
However, by 2012 steadily decreasing revenues led the provincial government to close large portions of the site. Subsequently, in 2019, the provincial government launched a global call for developers to submit proposals to “comprehensively develop and reinvent the site,” opening up the possibility of privatization, reinvention and demolition. As such, Ontario Place has been included on the “World Monuments Fund 2020 Watch”, a biennial selection of at-risk cultural heritage sites that combine great historical significance with contemporary social impact.
According to Bénédicte de Montlaur, WMF President and CEO, “We are proud to support this important project for Ontario Place — a significant cultural heritage site included on the 2020 World Monuments Watch. We hope that this campaign will bring international attention to the challenges facing modern architecture, such as neglect, deterioration, and demolition, and demonstrate the tremendous benefits that the preservation of sites like Ontario Place can offer local communities.”
Kae Elgie, Chair of Architectural Conservancy Ontario said, “ACO is delighted to collaborate in this initiative to expand public awareness of Ontario Place as a globally important work of 20th century architecture and landscape design. It is critically important to protect this iconic site for the benefit of diverse population groups in Ontario and beyond.”
The Future of Ontario Place Project calls on the public and community of architects, urbanists, and city builders to join the initiative in advocating for the protection of Ontario Place. Visit https://futureofontarioplace.org/ to share stories and experiences, and sign the letter to the Ontario government urging immediate action for the site’s protection.
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About World Monuments Fund
World Monuments Fund is the leading independent organization devoted to saving the world’s treasured places. For more than 50 years, working in more than 100 countries, its highly skilled experts have applied proven and effective techniques to the preservation of important architectural and cultural heritage sites around the globe. Through the World Monuments Watch—a biennial, nomination-based program—WMF uses cultural heritage conservation to empower communities and improve human well-being. In partnership with local communities, funders, and governments, WMF seeks to inspire an enduring commitment to stewardship for future generations. Headquartered in New York City, the organization has offices and affiliates worldwide. www.wmf.org
About The Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto
The Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto offers graduate programs in architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, forestry, and visual studies — as well as unique undergraduate programs that use architectural studies and visual studies as a lens through which students may pursue a broad, liberal arts-based education. Its mission is to educate students, prepare professionals, and cultivate scholars who will play a leading role in creating more culturally engaged, ecologically sustainable, socially just, and artfully conceived environments. www.daniels.utoronto.ca
About Architectural Conservancy of Ontario
Architectural Conservancy of Ontario is a charitable organization whose mission is to encourage, through education and advocacy, the conservation and re-use of structures, districts and landscapes of architectural, historic and cultural significance, to inspire and benefit Ontarians. Over its 87-year history, ACO has helped save hundreds of buildings in communities across Ontario, and raised awareness of the benefits of heritage conservation. In addition to the historic value of older buildings, ACO promotes the social, cultural, economic, and environmental benefits of preservation over demolition. www.acontario.ca
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Judith Walker, World Monuments Fund
Elyse Clinning, Kriss Communications