For the Harbourfront Centre exhibit, "No Flat City"
I grew up in the centre of Toronto. Much of my early life was spent downtown, but often my family and I would drive out of the city on weekends. On the journeys back, be they via the Highway 400 from the north or the Highway 401 from the east, the clusters of towers dotting the distant skyline or surrounding me as we sailed over the ravine on the Don Valley Parkway always told me I was coming home. For me, these towers embodied Toronto far earlier and more intensely than the more iconic landmarks located in the core of the city.
Since my childhood I’ve learned that Toronto has a disproportionately high number of towers. With over 1000 high-rise buildings, many of them residential and in city’s outskirts, the Toronto area contains the second largest concentration of high-rises in North America after New York. The product of a post-WWII architectural boom, these towers are now often bemoaned by architects and planners for their environmentally inefficient construction and socially isolating design. Popular planning theories like that of Jane Jacobs, which celebrate the benefits of density and mixed-use buildings, have little imaginative space for tower communities.
These days, Toronto’s many towers are the site of a shifting urban philosophy that says that towers can be fertile places for active, economically prosperous and safe communities. Business-minded residents are joining forces with urban planners who are challenging municipal zoning regulations that make it difficult for tower communities to be not just residential places, but ones that also include local commercial enterprises.
This series of photographs is the result of a commission I was invited to work on with the Harbourfront Centre. The theme of the commission was Toronto’s varying elevation, and I took this opportunity to explore the relationship between tower communities and their surroundings from a vantage point opposite to the ground-level one that had mesmerized me as a child. These pictures were taken from inside residential units in towers across North York, Thorncliffe Park, Scarborough and Etobicoke. They are the result of kind residents allowing me a few minutes in their homes, of building managers willing to show me into a few vacant apartments.
A surprise for me during this project was the striking contrast of the tall buildings I was shooting from and the cavernous ravines below. This pairing of Toronto’s many tower communities and plunging, lush greenery make up a unique type of architecture: the tower in the ravine.