From the Star:


Mar. 13, 2004. 01:00 AM

Scrap city hall walkways: Milczyn
Too costly to fix, few use them, he says

Architect decries budget panel decision


Nathan Phillips Square may be better off without the elevated concrete walkway that frames the square, city council's budget committee decided yesterday.

While a major part of late Finnish architect Viljo Revell's 1965 design for the new city hall, the slab-sided structure never caught on with the public and should be removed, said Councillor Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore).

At Milczyn's suggestion, the budget committee recommended spending $283,000 on a design competition exploring what if anything should go in its place. A final decision rests with city council.

Demolition would save the $1.3 million set aside over the next two years for repairs, including replacing support brackets that have rusted away.

"In my opinion, the walkways as a piece of architectural heritage have very little value," Milczyn told the committee. "If we got rid of them and had a more attractive square, we could save money and have a more beautiful city.

"The walkways are closed six months of the year," he said in an interview. "The remainder of the year, very few people go up there.

The structure served to frame the square when it opened, but the Sheraton Centre hotel now fulfills that role, said Councillor Kyle Rae, whose Ward 27 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) includes city hall.

"What I think it does now is it causes a more claustrophobic square," Rae said. "And it's not used."

Not so fast, said heritage architect Michael McClelland.

The structure is an integral part of Revell's vision of an open and accessible seat of local government, McClelland said.

A design competition to improve the square is a good idea, but council shouldn't pre-judge the results by arbitrarily eliminating a major feature, he said.

"In the end, a competition might conclude that you may want to remove one of the walkways, maybe on the west side, but we don't know the answer at this point," he said. "It's too important, as our public square, to just say, `Gosh, we don't like them.'"

While the city has budget problems, this is the wrong way to find savings, he said.

"You don't tear things down just because you haven't maintained them properly."

A final decision will be made by city council when the city's budget is finalized in late April.
Finally there's some talk about getting rid of those walkways. They're open 6 months of the year? I've never seen them open, even in the summer. It is truly claustrophobic. When you're inside the square you can't see the street scape and that really isolates you from the city. Even thinking about being inside that square makes me uncomfortable. They should tear it down and put in some plants. A nice grassy field or grassy strip, or decorative planters bordering the square would be a welcomed change.

And as for architectural and historic significance; many buildings get torn down to improve the look of the city. Sometimes only the most aesthetically pleasing aspect of the building remains. For city hall that means the actual buildings, not the walkway.
It would be great if these walkways go... hopefully the bunkers too. I think the walkways really detract from the beauty of City Hall and just make the whole area look really trashy. Who knows... NPS might actually be a respectable looking public space some day instead of a sea of stained and crumbling concrete. Great news!
oh, i hope they go ahead with this. those walkways are hideous
I love the hipocrasy among people. Lets save our architectural heritage! Lets tear down part of New City Hall! Which is it? NPS and city hall itself are extremely important to Toronto's history, and masterpieces of Viljo Revell. They should be saved.

My proposal is this. Fill them all up with soil. Then plant all kinds of things into them. Trees, vines, flowers, everything. It doesn't even need to have access. The walkways will be overrun by vines, with trees clearly visible. I think it would look amazing. No heritage would be lost, and the concrete (which people here seem to dislike) would remain, still giving enclosure to the square.
you should mention that to city council or whomever has any sway in the affair.
I hate the walkways. Yes, inside the square, they do help frame the area. From outside though, they block a decent view of City Hall.

Of course, they should leave them alone until entries from a design competition can be evaluated.
I used to occasionally enjoy walking around the square on the walkway, or going up the ramp, wandering around the rotunda and looking back down on the Square and beyond it to the city. It was also a great vantage point for enjoying the New Year's party. Experiences like that are no doubt part of what the architect intended. Just because an entire generation has no experience of the walkway is no reason to demolish it and prevent them from enjoying it in future if they want to.

The Square is in disgraceful condition and should be rehabilitated.

I don't think what we are talking about here is hypocrisy. We care only about saving architecture and heritage when it actually contributes to the city. The actually City Hall buildings are the heritage, the walkways aren't. Plus, I don't think that even the architect himself would mind if those walkways were torn down because I'm sure that wasn't his vision. Originally the buildings themselves were different but because of engineering restraints the windows on the back were eliminated for structural reasons. I'm sure the walkways were wonderful in thought, but most likely cost constraints couldn't allow for glass or whatever material plans there were.

Also, we shouldn't wait for a new design to come up because the mere act of destroying those walkways will improve the look of the entire area. So there's no need to replace them with something better looking.
If the walkways were never in fact constructed as the architect envisioned, and have since come to be viewed as detracting from the success of the square, then I see no reason why they are untouchable.
I sometimes sneak up to them and sit there contemplating the square from above, looking at people skating or watching the fountain in the summer.

But I do agree that they should go. At least make them more transparent. Get rid of the concrete walls and replace them with glass or stainless steel horizontal bars.

What really needs to go are those bunkers, the "temporary" stage (which seems to be permanent), the broken concrete planters and... the homeless people!
the homeless people!

Getting rid of homeless people is very easy. Just use the square at night.When skating is heavy into the evening, the homeless folks tend to sleep under the north and west walls where the noise makers aren't.
"We care only about saving architecture and heritage when it actually contributes to the city."

I have two things to say about this.

1. It is very debatable that the elevated walkways don't contribute to the city. Several of the responses thus far indicate that they provide a unique experience for some. Maybe we just don't take advantage of them as much as we should. I would argue that they play a vital role in the experience of the square itself.

2. This statement really scares me. The reason being that what does not contribute today can contribute tomorrow. So much of Toronto's architectural heritage has been lost in the past because it stood in the way of progress. t seemed like a laudable goal; modernising the city, replacing the old with the new, improving the streetscapes, etc. But the problem with this mentality is that architecture is cyclical. Many of us would trade all our modern buildings to get our demolished heritage back. Preservation should not just be about saving what is currently fashionable, it is about saving everything.

In the case of the walkways, we have a unique piece of modernism in the heart of the city. A component of a project that launched Toronto into a modern era. They serve to create a refuge in the city, and a vantage point for quiet observation of the activity below. They deserve better than to be demolished because of budget shortfalls and forgotten.
Preservation should not just be about saving what is currently fashionable, it is about saving everything.

This is a statement that scares me. Nobody is talking about destroying NPS, their talking about improving it, making it more open to the citizens of Toronto. Currently those walkways house homeless underneath them at night, and are a place where garbage and filth gather.

I guess you disagree with the demolition of the newer wing of the ROM to make way for Libeskinds 'Crystal', since even though it doesnt work now and is outdated, who knows, we might like it again someday.

I guess what I'm asking is, by saving everything, do you really think you would be doing the city a favour, or would you be letting it stagnate?
The NPS walkway, as the article states, is in Viljo Revell's vision for Toronto City Hall. Revell's City Hall design is meant to reflect democracy in Toronto. For example: it is easily accessible from NPS, the interior is very open to the public, the free plan of the office space, etc. The plan of the City Hall towers plus the Council Chamber form the shape of an eye, to kind of show that people should be watching over the municipal government. I think that the walkways around NPS reflect that kind of democracy: an official, ceremonial space surrounded by an elevated public walkway symbolizes the fact that the municipal government should put the people of the city ahead and above itself.

But, like with many architectural projects, the architect's vision is not the same as the building owner's vision, and the owner often makes changes to the building to suit needs and wants. Another example of this is at First Canadian Place, where the roof of the podium was originally designed to be a roof garden, all covered with grass, plants and seating. Today there's nothing on the roof. Similarly, at NPS the walkway has lost its function because the city wants it closed.

I used to be a purist when it came to this topic: I didn't want it taken down, period. Now, I don't really care if it stays or goes. The heritage architect talked about respecting Revell's design, but how is the city respecting Revell if the public walkway is kept closed? I think a design competition for redeveloping the walkway is a good thing. The City of Toronto has changed a lot since Revell's design of City Hall, especially in the last few years. If a competition is to be held, the design of the walkway should be a reinterpretation of Revell's idea of a democratic and accessible city hall, with respect to today's Toronto. It doesn't have to follow Revell's modernist style for City Hall; in fact it could even be contrasting and controversial (like I. M. Pei's glass pyramid for the Louvre).