Toronto

Toronto on track to have more skyscrapers than Chicago, but will quality match quantity?

According to statistics from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, Toronto is on track to surpass Chicago in the number of skyscrapers over 150 meters.

Toronto has the 3rd highest number of skyscrapers in North America

A photo taken from the CN Tower's look-out level shows Toronto's growing core. The city's chief planner says the skyline will look a lot different in a decade as Toronto embraces a period of growth. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

It's no secret that Toronto is getting taller. You can see the evidence throughout the downtown skyline and beyond. But what Torontonians might not know is that their city could soon outstrip Chicago in the number of skyscrapers over 150 metres.

 According to statistics from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, Toronto has 67 skyscrapers, 31 are under construction and 59 are proposed.  

Chicago's skyline now boasts 126 skyscrapers, but the city only has 19 buildings proposed or under construction.

This means in a few years, Toronto could have 157 skyscrapers while Chicago would sit at 145, bringing Canada's largest city to second place in North America after New York's 284 skyscrapers.

John Straube, associate professor in the department of civil engineering and the school of architecture at University of Waterloo, says this is a milestone that's been on the horizon for a while.

"Part of the reason we're getting a lot of skyscrapers is because we're a younger city, we're reaching our peak," Straube said.

"Chicago did that more than 30 years ago."

A model of the city is displayed at Toronto's city hall. The chief planner says as Toronto becomes more of a global city, there will be an increasing level of creativity in the newer skyscrapers. (Talia Ricci/CBC )

Sometimes referred to as the birthplace of the skyscraper, Chicago is known around the world for its wide array of iconic buildings in a variety of architectural styles, such as the Chicago School and art deco. 

It's a reputation that Toronto is hard-pressed to match, but Straube says that's because the two cities and the ways they've developed are different.

"We are building skyscrapers in an age today where we know a lot more about skyscrapers," he said, adding that more architectural risks were taken from the 1940s to the 1960s in cities like Chicago and New York.

"That means we start driving it not on iconic architecture but more pragmatic economics-driven architecture."

Straube says his favourite Toronto buildings are First Canadian Place and Scotia Plaza because "they're durable and look like they will stand the test of time."

But he says the question of whether the city's skyscrapers are beautiful or not is a "subjective" one. He's just as concerned about the impact all the new buildings will have on transit and other things that make the city a good place to live and work.

"Would I like to see more planning and thought about how these things are going to fit together, the next 30 buildings over 60 storeys? Yes." 

Toronto's skyscrapers gaining worldwide attention: chief planner

Gregg Lintern, chief planner and executive director of city planning with the City of Toronto, says the cranes in the sky are a good indication of the city's rapid growth.

"The growth we see in the city is occurring where the city plans intend it to be," he said.

"In the downtown, and in centres like North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke." 

He says that's where the tall buildings can be accommodated best, and despite the speed of the builds, architecture is still top of mind for planning staff.

Gregg Lintern, Toronto's chief planner, says growth will continue to happen in the downtown core and in places like Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York. (Talia Ricci/CBC News)

"Cities around the world look to Toronto for our tall building urbanism and our approach to tall buildings," he said.

"It's something we've become known for and certainly continuing to up our game on the architecture and design of tall buildings is something we're committed to."

Lintern says the city is moving toward more climate resilient architecture, and that as the city grows, the level of creativity in Toronto's tall buildings will increase.

"I think we're going to see that continue to evolve."

Taste in design changes over time

Brandon Donnelly, real estate developer and managing director of Slate Asset Management, says while he doesn't think every new building is a masterpiece, he is seeing more of an investment in architecture.

"I think we've seen the quality of architecture step up significantly over the last number of years and part of that is we are rising as a global city," he said.

"People are spending more time and money on architecture and seeing the value in design."

Brandon Donnelly says as housing prices increase, cities are able to invest more in architecture. (Submitted)

Donnelly says for those who are very critical of Toronto's modern skyline, it's important to note that over time appreciation for different types of architecture shifts.

"Victorian homes are all across Toronto and at one point in history we were tearing those down and we didn't see the value, and now we see it," he said.

"Architecture sometimes requires time to appreciate it and settle in. I think Toronto is on a pretty wonderful trajectory as far as its growth and where it's heading." 

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