“It could be worse,” says James Heron, executive director of Toronto’s Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC). “If a wrecking ball was going to tear through it, I think that would have broken a lot of hearts.”

Heron was referring to the fate of the buzzed-about building that currently sits at 123 Wynford Drive near the DVP and Eglinton in the rapidly-growing North York district -- something of which has become a controversial topic as of late. 

The celebrated mid-century building blends concrete, glass, and wood and was designed by world-famous architect Raymond Moriyama --marking his first major Toronto commission. It housed the then newly-formed JCCC upon its completion in 1964. In 2003, after subtle renovations that involved Moriyama, the building became home to Islamic Noor Cultural Centre when the JCCC relocated nearby to 6 Garamond Court. 

Now, the temple-like building is giving the Toronto design community something to talk (or fight) about. Toronto's Originate Developments and Westdale Properties have recently revealed proposed plans to redevelop the former cultural centre, replacing it with a massive pair of new modern residential towers. One 48-storey building will rise over the original building, while another 55-storey building will tower over the streets closer to Wynford Drive.

Screen shot 2022 08 03 at 10Image: Originate

The good news is that the new development will retain its original exterior and certain existing design elements.  

"Given that the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC) was predominantly forged of precast concrete panels, the community’s two towers will forgo the standard all-glass exterior in pursuit of pre-cast cladding to offer continuity with the existing structure," reads the Originate website. "The first 10 stories will also pay homage to the JCCC through flared wrap-around balconies that resemble a traditional Japanese pagoda."

Still, not everyone is thrilled to part with the original landmark building. 

In particular, two influential architectural critics at the Globe and Mail are in a public disagreement about decision to redevelop the cultural centre. On July 22, contributor Dave LeBlanc published an article that detailed the future design plans for 123 Wynford Drive and the intricacies of the two proposed towers.

“And, unbelievably, these twins don’t diminish the monumentality of the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre,” wrote LeBlanc in the piece. “No, with a generous setback, a floating storey of glass over the JCCC, and then seven storeys of flared, pagoda-like, wrap-around balconies with smaller windows, the dignity of the original building remains intact.”

Leblanc goes on to praise the upper portion of the building, “where balconies break into individual units, sports an organic feel despite being made from concrete," as well as the design elements of the second tower.

Screen shot 2022 08 03 at 10Image: Originate

But not everyone shares his enthusiasm. The article’s comment section features an assortment of passionate voices in disagreement with LeBlanc, some even suggesting the article was a satire. His colleague isn’t sold either. 

“A development would largely demolish Raymond Moriyama’s 1964 Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre. I strongly disagree with my colleague. This is unacceptable,” wrote fellow Globe and Mail writer Alex Bozikovic in a Tweet shortly after the article was published.

In a subsequent Tweet, Bozikovic goes on to explain that -- though recognized as historically and culturally important -- the building is not immune from protection from developers. “And to be clear, this building has not been overlooked. It was listed heritage in 2006. This is how Toronto heritage planning works,” writes Bozikovic. 

While the JCCC is listed on the the City of Toronto's Heritage Register, it's not designated under Part IV of the the province's Ontario Heritage Act. As a result, it lacks true protected from teardown or significant modifications.

A handful of Twitter users chimed in to offer their two cents on the issue. “Very wrong but also very Toronto to do a facadectomy and turn an iconic building into a tower podium,” wrote one user. “Moriyama deserves better, especially in his home community within Toronto (which I'll say again, should have a school named after him).”

“Not only is this unacceptable it's shameful. This building has great historical value. It represents the resilience and courage and commitment of the Japanese Canadian people who just two decades prior to the building of this beautiful structure…” wrote another user. 

As for Heron, while his first choice would be that the building would be purchased and used as-is as another cultural centre, he is grateful that at least some of its storied past will be preserved. “The best case scenario -- like when we sold it -- was that another community picked it up and use as a cultural centre,” says Heron. “When we originally sold the building, part of what made that doable for us was that it was going to be respected and used as a cultural centre for another community and Raymond was involved in the design and creating the new centre.”

While Heron says he doesn’t believe that the JCCC or the community has a shared opinion on the fate of 123 Wynford Drive, he does acknowledge a collective sense of at least some relief.  

“There’s relief that at least Moriyama’s design will be respected to a certain extent in the redevelopment,” says Heron. “It appears the developers realize they have an architectural gem on their hands and will try to preserve it. It’s a beloved and very historical building within the community and filled with memories.”

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