TOWER IN A GARDEN: DEMOLISHED

Peter Dickinson’s Tower Demolished @63 Belshaw Place, March 3, 2011.


Perhaps the cure for those who disparage modernism is to sit in a field and look at it, really look at the design.

Occupying the space behind Nelson Mandela Park Public School for over two months these images reveal the dismantling of one of Toronto’s modernist awarding winning Towers.

I grew very attached,  not only to the design of the Tower, but to its strength. It became more than a slab.

Design

The plans of a typical “skip level apartment” with one, two and three-bedroom units, had internal stairs with the elevator stopping on every other floor. The pattern of the windows, which divide the façade into twelve vertical sections, are a significant characteristic of the exterior design. The apartments were designed with light coming from two directions, cross-ventilation and views of  the city. The 14-storey towers dominated Regent Park, aligned to compass points rather than a street grid.  The balconies gave exterior access to adjoining apartments but were later removed.



Dickinson’s Maisonette Towers were inspired by the Corbusian ideal.

“Le Corbusier’s most influential late work was his first significant postwar structure—the UnitÈ d’Habitation in Marseilles of 1947-52. The giant, twelve-story apartment block for 1.600 people is the late modern counterpart of the mass housing schemes of the 1920s, similarly built to alleviate a severe postwar housing shortage. Although the program of the building is elaborate, structurally it is simple: a rectilinear ferroconcrete grid, into which are slotted precast individual apartment units, like ‘bottles into a wine rack’ as the architect put it. Through ingenious planning, twenty-three different apartment configurations were provided to acccommodate single persons and families as large as ten, nearly all with double-height living rooms and the deep balconies that form the major external feature.” (Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman. Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism. p541.)

For further info: http://www.galinsky.com/buildings/marseille

Unité d’habitation (Cité Radieuse)
280 boulevard Michelet
13008 Marseille
France

References and interesting articles, books, blogs written about Peter Dickinson, the Towers and Regent Park redevelopment, then and now.

http://dominionmodern.com/store/peter-dickinson

http://www.blogto.com/city/2011/03/the_lost_architecture_of_peter_dickinson

http://www.era.on.ca/blogs/office

http://www.archdaily.com/85971/ad-classics-unite-d-habitation-le-corbusier

http://www.canadianarchitect.com/issues/story.aspx?aid=1000382148&type=Print%20Archives

http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/751745–hume-peter-dickinson-a-towering-figure

http://urbantoronto.ca/archive/index.php/t-2624.html

Purdy, Sean (2003b) ‘“Ripped Off” by the System: Housing Policy, Poverty and Territorial Stigmatization in Regent Park Housing Project, 1951–1991

http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/llt/52/purdy.html

Sean Purdy, Framing Regent Park: the National Film Board of
Canada and the construction of ‘outcast spaces’ in
the inner city, 1953 and 1994 Temple University, Philadelphia, Pa.



15 Belshaw Place is next.

The apartment towers of Regent Park South and the old “slum” house in the background. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 1603B. (Purdy)

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7 Responses to TOWER IN A GARDEN: DEMOLISHED

  1. Mark M says:

    Where did you find the floor plan image? I’d like to see some of the other floor plans. I love the picture of the row houses with the Maisonette tower in the background.
    Great Posts, I just recently found your images on Flickr and have been checking back ever since!

  2. Punchy says:

    WOW! You’ve got the first 24 years of my life wrapped up in one picture. The street with the row houses on it was Belshaw Ave., with 63 Belshaw Place nearing completion in the background. It was the first of the the 14 story buildings completed. This picture would be from the summer of 1957 since we moved into this building in early 1958. I’m pretty sure I’m the kid in the striped shirt standing behind the lady. Even more incredible, if you look to the left side of the photo, down at the barrier at the end of the street, you’ll see a man sitting there reading a newspaper. That’s my father.

    Belshaw Ave. was a very strange street. Beyond that barrier was a drop of about 6 or 7 feet and another street (I believe it was called St. David Place) carried on to St. David Street. Those houses were already torn down when this picture was taken.

    As far as I’m concerned the layout of those apartments was just plain stupid. When visitors came through your front door the first thing they would see is a bathroom, then a bedroom. You had to go either up or down a stairway to get to the living area. And why would you put stairs in a building that housed a lot of elderly and infirm people? I remember several families that had a member in a wheelchair. Oh well, just my 2 cents worth.

    • edwards13 says:

      Thank you for adding another layer of history to the area. That picture is from the City of Toronto Archives. Incredible that both you and your father are in the picture.
      When you moved into the Dickinson Towers I assume the balconies were installed. Can you remember the history of those balconies. I have heard many a story about them. Were the other towers build with the balconies or just 63 Belshaw?
      Thanks again for sharing your memories.

      • Punchy says:

        Yes the balconies were in all the buildings. They weren’t really balconies but rather fire escapes that were about 3 feet by about 7 feet. Just the length of 2 balcony doors. Mounted between the doors was a wood box that contained a kiddies size hammer so you break the glass of the of the neighbor’s door to escape any fire. There were balconies on floors 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12 and 14. None on floors where the elevator stopped which were 1, 3, 6, 7, 10 and 13. Yes it did stop at 13 and yes you can truly say that the elevator did not go to the top floor in these buildings. Also the elevators did not go to the basement so you had to hoof it up and down a set of stairs in the lobby to get to the laundry room. If you notice the apartments at the end of floors 11 & 12 have no balconies, these ones had direct access to the fire escapes at both ends of the building. On the main floor were all 2 story street access apartments with no balconies, this is why the first elevator stop was 3. Also all the apartments on the 6th floor went down to the living area and all on the 7th went up, this is why it’s the only 2 floors that had adjacent stops. There was also one apartment in the lobby. Hope that helps.

  3. edwards13 says:

    Thanks for the info. Do you remember when they demolished the fire escapes?

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