When it needed a new city hall in 1958, Toronto received more than 500 submissions from all over the globe. - Mark Byrnes
The election of Nathan Phillips as mayor in 1955 marked a symbolic shift for Toronto. Phillips would leave a lasting legacy through his insistence on having an international design competition for a new city hall.
“Part of the reason for the competition was a real desire to assert a new identity for the city,” says George Kapelos, associate professor of architecture and planning at Ryerson University and author of Competing Modernisms: Toronto's New City Hall and Square. Phillips was the city’s first Jewish mayor.“Up until then, Toronto had been a very Protestant city ruled by an Anglo-Irish elite,” he adds.
Before the mayor had his way, a 1955 plan for anew city hall had been denounced by University of Toronto architecture students as a “funeral home of vast dimensions.” What Phillips and many in his competition jury wanted instead was a “new kind of modernity,” says Kapelos, “one that was more humanistic and established places of meaning in the country.”