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Doors Open: Best for last. Agathom

Agathom Co. is a different kind of architecture firm. It’s more of an architecture family because the two principals, Katja Aga Sachse Thom and Adam Thom work and live in their unique, cinder block headquarters. The building is a utilitarian structure, mid 20th century, with garage doors for former use by auto mechanics.

Today, it is a fascinating workshop for residential architectural design, textile-making and sculpture. Danica and I both loved the place. We were greeted in such an informal, friendly way, we felt like friends who had dropped in for a visit. Katja, who is from Denmark, caught Danica’s eye. She was wearing a simple but creatively printed dress. The fabric bore a print by Marimekko, the Finnish design firm, whose show we saw at the Textile Museum.

Katja introduced us to one of their daughters who attends school on the Toronto Islands. “What an absolutely great childhood,” I thought. The kids live upstairs with Katja and Adam and, rather remarkably, visitors were allowed up into the living quarters, too. There is art and creativity everywhere you look … even some heritage, because the upstairs was once used by a taxidermist. The stuffed fox remains.

The flat rooftop is accessible through a window and serves as a patio, garden and BBQ zone. The view from there shows old laneways, other old workspaces and new builds that are fanning out from the Distillery District development. 

Danica and I agreed that we had literally saved the best for last.

[UPDATE:] Is it any wonder that I felt so at home in the Agathom Co. environment? Not only does Katja’s Danish modern furnishing remind me of my own childhood home, husband Adam Thom has connections to British Columbia. His father was Ron Thom, a respected Canadian architect, who happened to be a student of the painter B.C. Binning at one point. Binning, in turn, became head of UBC’s Fine Arts department. He was one of the three adjudicators who suffered through the oral presentation of my graduating essay.

And so it goes…

Doors Open 2: Commerce Court

We hiked from religious temples and temples of learning to a financial temple on Bay Street. The original Commerce Court tower celebrates the splendour of money with sumptuous symmetry.

  We started off casing the outside, first stopping to greet one of William McElcheran’s Little Fat Businessmen, then going into the courtyard to play with the elephants (Danica’s favourite animals).

After noting relief carvings on the exterior, we went around to the impressive front door arch. It too is carved with enough pattern to please a pasha and arcane symbolism promoting the virtues that lead to wealth and prosperity.

An impressively coffered entry hall turns out to be relatively modest, as it opens into an awe-inspiring, cavernous centre hall. Rather uninspired, paint-by-numbers portraits of executives peer down from gilded frames. All of the glory has been saved for the architecture, with soars above them in vaulting arches.

We exited through an old-meets-new archway that connects to the modern skyscraper.

Doors Open Day Two: U of T

Our first destination was Knox College, a seminary where, to quote Danica, they pump out Presbyterian preachers. According to the tour guide, they have 140 in the hopper at the moment.

  The slides start at Knox College with shots of the exterior and gardens, then move inside to show marvellous gothic pillars and arches.

Flanking the centre hall are the two main features of the building: The chapel on the south side (with the organ) and the library on the north side.

The library has kept some old card catalogues to amuse and amaze the young. A case also displays a Jewish Torah, a gift given in memory of Morris Zeidman, founder of the Scott Mission. He held a Knox College Doctor of Divinity degree.

We left Knox College to visit University College, also on King’s College Circle. so you see slides from it too. The view of the domed Convocation Hall and CN Tower was taken by Danica from the front steps of University College.

There is one picture of the door on Hart House, because Danica and I were married in the chapel there.

Transit troubles of Hollywood proportions


Last week we saw a photo online of a fake airplane crash on Yonge Street. Today we made a personal visit to another Hollywood-style catastrophe on Bay Street.

As we tried to use a day pass to do our rounds for Doors Open, we experienced the disaster that is our public transit “service” but even so, I guess it could have been worse.


The police cars are fakes, pretending to be from Midway City, Michigan. Not sure about the constables.

Toronto Doors Open: Saturday

Today’s visit to the Aga Khan Museum was about seeing the new(ish) bulding and grounds, not viewing art exhibits. the slides will show you much of what we saw. Pattern is everywhere of course, and much emphasis on skylights, reflecting surfaces shadows.

The Ismaili Centre next door serves as a social gathering place as well as a place for religious activity. Shoes off in the prayer area, please. Similar to the Hindu Temple in this regard. Danica went in for a look while I held her sandals outside in the lobby. No photography prayer area, but there was a picture on display at the next place we visited, so I snapped it.

Our third and last Doors Opened into the Ontario Association of Architects headquarters. I was pleased to learn, from a volunteering intern, that the eye-catching steel superstructure on the roof is functional, not merely decorative. The trusses permit spanning of a large, open space within, without supporting posts.

A special display of award-winning and notable feats of architecture in Ontario lined the main reception area. Most designs were international in character and would not have been out of place anywhere. One structure, inspired by an indigenous longhouse was an exception. Geese patrol outside on the grounds. 

Doors Open 2015 – Toronto – This Weekend

Doors Open Toronto presented by Great Gulf: Explore Toronto’s architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings and discover the story behind every door. May 23-24, 2015

Source: Doors Open 2015 – Doors Open Toronto – Special Events Office | City of Toronto

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Today on Spadina

New, super-long streetcars are still a rare sight in Toronto, as Bombardier fails to meet delivery schedules. This one on the dedicated lane Spadina route lined up nicely with an older single car, affording a kind of comparison in size.


The new model consists of 5 segments with accordion connections to accommodate curves. Each one is two-headed so it doesn’t have to turn around to reverse its path. (No remarks about TTC expertise in backward systems, please.)

Why not smaller streetcars, instead of larger, so that more cars could be put into service at peak times and fewer at low traffic times? Who knows? Maybe that would have meant more drivers and higher operating costs. Surely longterm plans will involve driverless streetcars, though.

elmo-sign-200Since I was standing near Spadina and College, the iconic El Mocambo sign caught my eye. How to present it, though? I decided against a column-wide photo because it would have been a big download. Instead, here’s a small version you can click if you want to see the bigger one.

Michael Wekerle of Dragon’s Den fame gets a big thank you on the marquee. His money saved the rock ‘n roll shrine from closure.

This is where Margaret Trudeau once partied with the Rolling Stones back in 1977. Elvis Costello, Blondie, Jimi Hendrix, Charles Mingus, U2, Lou Reed and the The Ramones have all played the El Mocambo.