Upon completion in 1973, CIBC’s 57-story, 784-feet-high tower was the tallest building outside the United States and the tallest stainless-steel building in the world. It was designed in counterpoint to (and is 26 feet taller than) the 54-story black steel tower that Mies van der Rohe built for Toronto Dominion Centre across the street in 1954. CIBC is a tour de force, not least for its 56-foot-long spandrels – spanning half the building’s width – which are faced in 1/8-inch-thick stainless steel rolled out in immense continuous sheets for a seamless surface. The perfectly flat tower and its innovative reflective gray glass windows are distilled down to essential form. Because the curtain wall was specially embossed to increase luminosity, it mirrors every nuance of light under Toronto’s moody sky.
Notwithstanding the tower’s technological achievements (also including a 33-foot-high, 112-foot-square banking hall with only four internal columns), CIBC is perhaps more significant for its urban design achievement. The tower combines with the bank’s existing 34-story headquarters and two new mid-rise buildings in a pinwheel configuration to create the four sides of Commerce Court. This tree-shaded space, with a great fountain pool and seating, offers a quiet retreat for pedestrians and office-workers in the middle of the dense financial district: a 1-acre gift to the public realm.
The immediate and enduring importance of Commerce Court was recognized virtually upon completion by its inclusion in Toronto’s Inventory of Heritage Properties; it was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act of 1991. In the following year, the Toronto City Council singled out the complex for an Urban Design Award, citing it spatially as an “exquisite oasis” and architecturally as “the best modern office tower in Toronto.” In 1973, the project received a Design in Steel Award from the American Iron and Steel Institute as well as the First Prize for Unique Structural Design from the New York Association of Consulting Engineers.
Design Team: I.M. Pei, Design Partner; Ralph Heisel, Design Architect
I.M. Pei & Associates