Toronto has a fascinating example of brutalist architecture at 222 Jarvis Street. Built in 1971 as the Sears Canada corporate headquarters, the building was purchased by Ontario Realty Corp. in 2007 and has undergone a $100-million refit. New tenants move in this fall.

Notable brutalist buildings in Canada include the University of Toronto’s John P. Robarts Research Library and Montreal’s Habitat 67. But the brutalist style isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. 222 Jarvis is an enormous, brooding mass that squats among its Victorian-style neighbours on one of Toronto’s oldest streets.

I hadn’t given it much thought, and certainly didn’t love it, until I had the chance to tour it just before interior demolition began in 2010. Read my Globe and Mail article.

A great deal of effort and expense has gone into preserving the building character and some of the unique features – such as the employee entrance – that pay homage to its corporate past.

But one of the refit project’s primary goals is to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification with such state-of-the-art features as photovoltaic solar rooftop panels, use of low-emitting materials (adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings and carpet), daylight and occupancy sensors for optimal lighting control, and rainwater harvesting. The project reused, recycled and diverted materials away from landfill. Many of the original interior fittings were donated to Habitat for Humanity to be sold in its ReStore retail locations.

Under the guidance of Toronto-based WZMH Architects, 222 Jarvis Street is one of the largest retrofits in North America and sets the bar for how Ontario will modernize and reduce energy consumption by its office buildings across the province. Learn more about this Ontario Realty Corp. initiative.

From an architect’s viewpoint, the best thing about the 222 Jarvis project is the opportunity to improve a building that had grown tired in the eyes of the public. “We love the building because it’s very iconic,” says Hatice Yazar, principal of WZMH Architects. “We didn’t approach it as wanting to change or destroy it. We wanted to update the look and modernize it with some new concepts.”

Here, from my pre-retrofit tour, is an insider’s view of this brutalist beauty.


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