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Canadian Cities Embrace Skyscrapers

Exterior rendering of the Absolute World Towers in Mississauga, Ontario
The Absolute World Towers in Mississauga, Ontario, is just one of the many residential and mixed-use skyscrapers dotting the skyline throughout Canada, which is reenergizing its cities by constructing tall towers to attract residents of all ages to revitalized urban cores. Wikimedia Commons/jasonzed

Developers are working on bigger and taller building projects that will bring residents back to the urban core of Toronto and other major cities.

January 15, 2013—Last year Canada led the western hemisphere in the construction of tall buildings, completing four buildings taller than 200 m compared to just two completed in the United States. There are 15 buildings taller than 150 m under construction now in Toronto, a city poised to more than triple its number of tall buildings in the 10 years between 2005 and 2015, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH).

The CTBUH maintains an extensive database of tall buildings completed, under construction, or in the planning stages. CTBUH staff recently researched the tall building construction trends in Canada and found that developers are undertaking more and taller projects in the country, according to Kevin Brass, CTBUH public affairs manager.

The research was prompted not only by the quantity of projects that architects and developers were reporting to CTBUH, but by the quality of the buildings. Canadian buildings have won the Best Tall Building—Americas category in two of the last four years in the CTBUH’s Annual Awards competition. In 2012 Absolute World Towers in Mississauga, took the honor; in 2009 the Manitoba Hydro Place in Winnipeg, won.

“In contrast to the U.S., clearly the economy had not effected Canada’s tall development at all,” Brass says. “Building within the urban cores of the United States is expensive. In Canada, it’s a different situation. The cities are being regenerated. There’s a new focus on urban development and what these cities are going to be in the future.”

This difference can be seen clearly when comparing 2008 and 2012 tall building data for the United States and Canada. In 2008, there were 45 buildings taller than 130 m completed in the United States compared to 3 in Canada. In 2012, there were 7 such buildings completed in the United States compared to 11 in Canada.

While these numbers are far from the 47 such projects in China in 2012, they do point to Canadian cities embracing an international trend to return residential development to urban cores through the use of tall buildings, Brass says.

“There is this movement for people to want to live in cities again,” Brass says. “It’s not just one [demographic] group. You have seniors and older people who are empty nesters who are now eager to live in an urban environment where maybe they can walk to places and be close to cultural events and all of the things a city can offer.

“But it’s also younger people, who just haven’t grown up in the same car-centric societies,” Brass adds. “They want to be part of an urban center. They want to be in the hip parts of town. They want to be where things are happening. And that’s happening around the world. That’s very much true of Toronto in particular.”

Twenty years ago, the vast majority of tall buildings were constructed as office buildings, often by large companies that wanted the prestige of a tall building for a corporate headquarters. Today, the vast majority of tall buildings are either residential or a mixed-use structure in which residential use is a significant component.

“When you build residential and you bring people into the city, it changes the urban core of a city,” Brass says. “People living in a city means it’s a 24-hour neighborhood. When you have people living there, they support retail, commercial space. There are suddenly events. When you hit this critical mass of people living in an area it definitely changes the tone of a city. When you have office buildings, it closes down at 5 or 6 o’clock.

“People are not happy with the suburbs,” Brass adds. “People [are] looking for a way to get out of their cars and to live where they work. Those are all factors that play into a city like Toronto. These things don’t happen by accident. It does require urban planners and city leaders to look at how they are going to redevelop an area. There are older neighborhoods that are ripe for some sort of new plan. But it wouldn’t work unless developers also saw it as an opportunity, economically. They are not motivated by any larger city planning aspects. They look for opportunity. Clearly in Canada, developers see an opportunity to create projects that are going to be popular.”


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