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A Quick Tour of a Few Public Art Installations in Toronto

Public art can often compliment architecture while providing a unique character to important civic spaces. Although architecture and art share a common creative process, they are very different disciplines and forms of expression. Of greatest importance, is the combination and/or contrast of materials, geometry, colours and form that provides the interest and interplay between architecture, art and the public.


We celebrate Toronto’s civic spaces by examining a few the significant public art installations and the space they help define.


101 St Clair Avenue West/The Imperial Plaza, “Condo Man” by Stephan Balkenhol, 2019


A 25-foot statue created by German artist Stephan Balkenhol is a whimsical and thought-provoking sculpture located in the forecourt of 101 St. Clair Avenue West. Commissioned as the result of a competition, Balkenhol’s winning entry has been the subject of much interpretation. For many of Toronto residents, the “common man” holding a slender building represents a developer’s pride of accomplishment. For others it symbolizes Toronto’s pre-occupation with the condominium lifestyle. However it is interpreted, Balkenhol’s achievement attracts the interest and reaction of the passer-by daily.


StreetARToronto, various installations/artists, ongoing


StreetARToronto (also known as StART), is a suite of innovative programs designed specifically for streets and public spaces. This program has been successful by replacing graffiti and vandalism with visually appealing and engaging art pieces. It is a visual art form located mainly in public spaces used to display various perspectives and interpretations. This form of art may be the best combination of literally fusing both architecture and art as this art form is displayed on the surface of existing buildings. This can also be a perfect way of bringing architects and artists together, where the materials used by the architect must be designed in a way that makes it an appropriate space and material for artists to collaborate.

The most famous, and Toronto’s most unexpected tourist attraction, is Graffiti Alley, located between Portland Street and Spadina Avenue in the Fashion District. Graffiti Alley is more than a series of murals. It binds the relationship between legalized street art and architecture, as well as offers various perspectives and creativity from various artists in Toronto.


The Rogers Centre, “The Audience” by Michael Snow, 1989


The Rogers Centre, located in downtown Toronto can host more than 40,000 fans at any given time for various events. However there always remains 15 fans built into the structure’s architecture every day of the year. The Audience is one of Toronto’s most popular sculptures. These figures are “keepers of the stadium” forever perched like gargoyles overseeing the public spaces below. Unlike gargoyles however, these figures represent on-lookers all meant to symbolize fans of all shapes and sizes.


OCAD University Sharp Centre, Will Alsop, 2003


All Torontonians are familiar with OCAD University’s Sharp Centre as an excellent source for art education. However, it may not occur to many the school itself is a magnificent public art piece as well. Will Alsop, architect, thoughtfully raised the built form of Sharp Centre on stilts above the ground in favour of creating a landscaped gathering space and arrival area at street level.


The resulting “checker board in the sky” or “flying tabletop” supported by colourful, randomly arranged structural columns, raised the bar of architectural achievement in Toronto in 2003 when it opened. Although the final built outcome strayed from the original approach, the colourful palette and playfulness of the form supports the search for artistic freedom for the students within.


Next time you take a stroll through the streets of Toronto, be mindful of these places and take a moment to appreciate the unique character of each space and what it means to you.


ROD L. ROWBOTHAM, OAA, MRAIC

CEO, President, Principal Architect

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