Art and Architecture

Art and Architecture, Toronto, Canada (A)

Toronto is an incredible architecture destination, with some of the most striking skyline additions housing the city’s museums and galleries. Dramatic modernist buildings have risen alongside stately older buildings. Architects including Norman Foster, I.M. Pei, Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Will Alsop, and Mies van der Rohe have all left their marks on Toronto’s streetscapes. Follow this tour to explore Toronto's dramatic arts architecture.
Image Courtesy of Aefa Mulholland.
How it works: The full article is featured in the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" on Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Download the app to your mobile device to read the article offline and create a self-guided walking tour to visit the sights featured in this article. The app's navigation functions guide you from one sight to the next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: Art and Architecture
Guide Location: Canada » Toronto
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 5.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.0 Km or 4.3 Miles
Author: Aefa Mulholland
Author Bio: Travel writer Aefa Mulholland has worked with the B.B.C., Irish national broadcaster R.T.E. and a plethora of print and online publications, including the Irish Times, Miami Herald and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She has been published or broadcast on four continents. She is currently Editor of Private Islands Magazine and is writing “The Scottish Ambassador”—a book on learning how to become Scottish in Scottish America.
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • The Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art
  • Royal Ontario Museum
  • Bata Shoe Museum
  • Graduate House, University of Toronto
  • The Art Gallery of Ontario – north
  • The Art Gallery of Ontario – south
  • Sharp Centre for Design
  • 401 Richmond
  • The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art
  • The Gladstone Hotel
The Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art

1) The Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art

The KPMB-designed renovation and expansion of the Gardiner Museum offers a more muted take on museum expansion than some of the showier architectural offerings in Toronto’s permanent collection. Local architect Bruce Kuwabara — the “K” of KPMB — was the mastermind behind this modest masterpiece on Queen’s Park and his 2006 pairing of an assured modern limestone front with the Gardiner’s original neoclassical façade is one of the easier such juxtapositions the city’s streetscapes have seen in recent years. In its redesign, the expanded Gardiner threw off its old school pink granite for a new coat of polished buff limestone with limestone louver flourishes and softly ascending terraces. Inside the museum, you’ll find over 3,000 ceramic artifacts — from Mayan to Ming to Meissen to modern.
Royal Ontario Museum

2) Royal Ontario Museum

It was Goethe who said that architecture was “frozen music” and nowhere does that sentiment seem more apt than in the icy spikes of the Royal Ontario Museum. Daniel Libeskind's iconic five-pronged addition to the ROM, Canada’s largest museum, is now as much an attraction as the more than one million artifacts within. The Michael Lee-Chin Crystal’s five interlocking crystalline glass and aluminum icebergs create a jagged balustrade on the corner of Bloor and Queen’s Park — and offer a sharp contrast to the ornate neo-Romanesque façade of the original museum building, wedged beneath this controversially cuckoo-esque expansion. The prisms, says Libeskind who is married to a Torontonian, were inspired by amethyst and quartz exhibits in the museum’s mineral gallery. Completed and opened to the public in June 2008, the Lee-Chin Crystal is now one of Libeskind’s best known buildings, along with the Jewish Museum in Berlin and his expansion of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
Bata Shoe Museum

3) Bata Shoe Museum

The Bata Shoe Museum stepped onto Toronto’s museum landscape in 1995 as a home for the more than 12,500 items of footwear in Sonja Bata’s collection. This outstanding array is now arranged to tell the history of civilization by way of the way we wore. Inspired by his first visit to his client’s collection and the sight of thousands of shoes neatly kept in shoeboxes, Raymond Moriyama’s deconstructivist design treads softly on Bloor Street with a building created to look like a shoebox with its lid propped slightly ajar. A copper-clad roof is offset from canted limestone walls and a protruding glass shard sits where the museum’s entrance lies.
Graduate House, University of Toronto

4) Graduate House, University of Toronto

Stroll through the University of Toronto campus to the Thom Mayne-designed Graduate House, completed in the year 2000. Marking the western boundary of the university campus, the student residence is the work of Los Angeles-based Mayne, winner of the 2005 Pritzker Prize. The most striking feature of this contemporary gateway to the campus is its cantilevered frame and green metal signage that spells out “University of Toronto” as it juts somewhat controversially over Harbord Street at its junction with Spadina. Mayne, a co-founder of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, works mostly on US federal projects and is, perhaps, most famous for the San Francisco Federal Building and 41 Cooper Square in New York.
The Art Gallery of Ontario – north

5) The Art Gallery of Ontario – north

Walk through residential streets lined with traditional Toronto bay-and-gable architecture to the art-filled Art Square café and sculpture garden for coffee. Admire the front, north side of the Frank Gehry-redesigned Art Gallery of Ontario from the café’s front patio. Gehry’s redesign was completed in 2008 and stands just blocks away from where the star architect spent much of his childhood. Features of Gehry’s first hometown commission include signature exterior elements such as the Douglas fir buttresses and gleaming wave of glass of the Galleria Italia that flows the length of the entire city block along Dundas Street West. If you have even half an hour of extra time, the sight of Gehry’s interior Baroque Stair alone is worth the price of admission. The spiral staircase rises from the Gallery’s Walker Court, creating one of the most beautiful and uplifting architectural interiors in Canada. The stair’s irregular widths were designed to allow the possibility of chance encounters. “It’s the kind of place,” Gehry is rumored to have said, “You might meet your future wife.”
The Art Gallery of Ontario – south

6) The Art Gallery of Ontario – south

Walk round the back to the south side of the AGO to see the titanium stairs that Gehry playfully wound up the back of the new four-story blue titanium and glass addition – creating a dramatic contrast with the elegant 1817 Grange building below. The Grange building was the first home of the Art Museum of Toronto. Built in 1817 for the Boulton family, this National Historic Site still boasts its original five-bay façade and central pediment and is a fine example of 18th century British classical architecture.
Sharp Centre for Design

7) Sharp Centre for Design

The striking spike of the 1,815 feet high CN Tower has dominated the city’s skyline and postcard selection since it rose over Lake Ontario in 1976, but it has competition when it comes to soaring, spindly structures. As you walk across the Grange Park or saunter south down McCaul Street, you’ll see British architect Will Alsop’s gorgeous, gangly Sharp Centre for Design. This startling 275 feet long checkerboard addition to Ontario College of Art and Design perches on top of twelve steel stilts and sits ten stories — or 85 feet — above street level. While you can’t go into the building unless you’re enrolled in the school, Grange Park, the AGO, and McCaul Street all offer great vantage points.
Image Courtesy of matt6234.
401 Richmond

8) 401 Richmond

At the start of the 20th century, the 401 Richmond Building was the home of the Macdonald Manufacturing Company — the first company to do fine lithography on tinware in Canada. By 1994, when the building was one step away from the wrecker's ball, the Zeidler Family stepped in and turned this former factory into a vibrant mixed-use arts building. Today 401 Richmond is a thriving 200,000-square-foot center for the arts, home to creative spaces used by more than 140 artists, designers, milliners, architects, filmmakers, galleries, musicians, magazines and arts organizations. Visitors are welcome to stroll the hallways, visit the galleries, stop for coffee on the ground floor cafe or, if it's open and you can find it, step out onto the secret hidden rooftop garden — one of the loveliest places to picnic in Toronto in the summer.
The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art

9) The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art

Saunter along busy Queen Street West admiring the wealth of galleries that dot the street as it transitions into the Art and Design District. The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art is set back off the street, just after Shaw Street. More a gallery than a museum, the works inside the otherwise unremarkable building are usually as eye-catching as the photographic pieces chosen for display on the museum’s one-story high exterior photo wall. Unlike the rest of Toronto’s major museums, which charge entry fees, MOCCA operates a Pay What You Can admission policy.
The Gladstone Hotel

10) The Gladstone Hotel

Finish your tour at the 1889 Gladstone Hotel, a boutique hotel where you’ll find 37 artist-designed rooms, artists-in-residence, and eye-catching artworks behind the traditional red brick Romanesque façade. Stop for a coffee, snack or meal in the Ballroom café and inquire at the front desk about current exhibitions. Originally established opposite the now demolished Parkdale railway station, the Gladstone is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Toronto. The Richardsonian Romanesque hotel was designed by George Miller — a successful local 19th century architect, but the redbrick railroad hotel fell on hard times, eventually becoming little more than a rooming house. The Zeidler family bought and lovingly restored the hotel in 2002. The hotel’s cupola was removed in 1930, but make sure to inspect the meticulously restored elevator — one of the last few remaining hand-operated elevators in Toronto.

Walking Tours in Toronto, Canada

Create Your Own Walk in Toronto

Create Your Own Walk in Toronto

Creating your own self-guided walk in Toronto is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Toronto Introduction Walking Tour

Toronto Introduction Walking Tour

Sprawling on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, the capital of the Canadian province of Ontario, Toronto, is a major metropolis renowned for its dynamic pace and high-rising skyline, incorporating both ultra-modern skyscrapers and historic architecture.

The area of present-day Toronto has been inhabited for thousands of years. Its first known settlers – the Wyandot (or Huron) people –...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Toronto's Waterfront Walking Tour

Toronto's Waterfront Walking Tour

It is more than obvious that the locals of Toronto, as well as visitors, cherish and admire the alluring views of Lake Ontario on the shores of which the city is located. Toronto's waterfront is one of the most picturesque places for walking, but it is also a great destination for those in search of entertainment.

At the heart of this waterfront area stands Queen's Quay Terminal, a...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles
Cabbagetown Walking Tour

Cabbagetown Walking Tour

Once a small community of Irish immigrants east of downtown and one of the poorest neighborhoods in Toronto, Cabbagetown is also one of the city's oldest districts, established in 1840. In 2004, it was declared a historic district and presently claims to be "the largest continuous area of preserved Victorian housing in North America". Attesting to this claim are the picturesque...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles
Toronto Islands Walking Tour

Toronto Islands Walking Tour

The Toronto Islands, otherwise simply known as “the Islands,” are a chain of islands in Lake Ontario, just off the coast of downtown Toronto. They include three major islands (namely: Centre Island, Algonquin or Sunfish Island, and Olympic Island) and several smaller ones. Collectively they are a great natural retreat set in a peaceful and joyful environment, which, apart from the panoramic...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
Distillery District Walking Tour

Distillery District Walking Tour

Toronto's Distillery District is a trendy neighborhood and an architectural treasure dating back to 1859. Once the largest distillery in the British Empire, today this former industrial complex is a National Historic Site of Canada and a unique pocket of Victorian-era architecture, featuring the continent's best-preserved collection of cobblestone pathways and historic buildings housing...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.8 Km or 0.5 Miles
Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Once an Anglo backwater, today's Toronto is the cultural and economic hub of English-speaking Canada. The city's architectural beauty is supplemented by its historical richness, with some of the buildings dating back as far as the late 18th century. This self-guided tour invites you to explore the most prominent structures making up the historic heritage of Toronto.

The Gooderham...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

The Epic Toronto Pub Crawl

The Epic Toronto Pub Crawl

There is no better way to see Toronto’s many different neighborhoods and get a literal taste of the Distillery District, the Esplanade, downtown, the Entertainment District and Yorkville. Plus you’ll learn a little about the bar and get its highlights at your fingertips so you’ll be in the...
Traveler's Guide to Toronto: 15 Authentic Canadian Products to Bring Home

Traveler's Guide to Toronto: 15 Authentic Canadian Products to Bring Home

Toronto may well not be the whole Canada, but no Canada is whole without Toronto! By far too many things, quintessentially Canadian, associate with this bustling city, from Niagara Falls to Ice Hockey to... to mention but a few. To mention them all, check out the list of some not-to-be-missed...