Toronto’s iconic skyline looked very different in 1962. That’s when Toronto-Dominion Bank and Fairview Corporation, now known as Cadillac Fairview, joined forces to build Toronto-Dominion Centre to the tune of $60 million. Little did they know, it would set the stage for the future of commercial real estate in Canada.

Designed by the pioneer of modernist architecture, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the campus in the heart of Toronto’s Financial District became Canada’s most prestigious global business address, boasting the tallest buildings in the country at the time.

Over 40 years after opening, Toronto-Dominion Centre is a designated heritage property, and the real estate market is more competitive than ever. To preserve its revered stature in the evolving Canadian marketplace, Toronto-Dominion Centre needed an upgrade.  

In 2009, Cadillac Fairview embarked on a journey to breathe new life into the historic landmark. 

“We realized these assets are aging and there’s competition coming into the market. We had to come up with a plan of how to stay current,” says Dora Yeoh, senior manager, tenant projects, Toronto-Dominion Centre. “The buildings have a good foundation, with many certifications like LEED and WELL, so it was definitely something we could work with and revamp.”

With sustainability and tenant well-being at the forefront of their vision, Cadillac Fairview looked at ways to integrate high-performance building systems and cost-effective solutions. The strategy centred on implementing renewable energy sources, curtain wall preservation and relamping all light fixtures to LED. And all of this work had to be done with zero disruptions to the 20,000-plus tenants in the buildings. 

Respecting the history behind the colour choices and keeping the integrity of the original glazing and frame design of the building envelope were crucial. In fact, they were requirements per the heritage designation bylaw.

To preserve the heritage integrity of the windows, the bronze tint of the existing glaze was mimicked for the new double-glazed windows. Heritage Toronto signed off on mock-ups of the new units, noting no difference between the original and the replica.

Seventeen floors of the building were unoccupied, so replacing the windows might sound like an easy task. However, add an almost entire fully operational building and that task gets significantly more difficult. PCL strategized an extensive plan to replace the windows without disruption to the tenants.

The window replacement was scheduled to take place after working hours. Before removing the windows, the team took photos of the space so they could restage the office after the work was complete. Then, the furniture was moved, providing enough space to work.

“Once the new windows were installed, we referenced our photos and put the furniture back in its designated place,” explains Brandi Schade, PCL Toronto superintendent. “If the tenant hadn’t been aware, they would have no idea that we were there at all that night.”

PCL replaced between 16 to 18 windows a night. Installing new windows with the addition of roller shades resulted in a 50% reduction in energy, playing a key role in increasing the energy efficiency of the entire building. Following the reglazing and installation of the new windows, painting was next on the list. 

Deemed a noble colour by Mies van der Rohe himself, the iconic matte-black steel paired with bronze-coloured glass is what the Toronto-Dominion Centre is recognized for. Subject to nearly 50 years of weathering, the paint was due for a refresh.

Selecting the right colour and paint while utilizing the correct technique was top priority. After consulting many industry experts to find a product that would bond to the existing system, a new paint colour was developed to match the original, unique graphite shade.

Finding the correct colour match was only the first step of the task. The second step required an in-depth painting program for the frame. Starting from the top of the building, a two-staged system was in place where an evening-shift crew removed all sealants and prepared for the following day’s work.

“We began with a hand surface prep using blinders and scrapers. After a visual inspection and an alcohol wipe of the surface area, we applied a spot primer to heavily corroded areas,” Schade says. “We then applied a two-part epoxy primer, a finishing coat and a new sealant.”

Since an epoxy primer with a three-hour pot life after mixing was being used, painting could only be performed under optimal environmental conditions. PCL needed to take ambient air temperature, surface temperature of the metal, dew point of the air and relative humidity into account. Considering these variables, all the painting was completed by hand during late spring, summer and early fall.  

With the property’s lighting reaching end of life, Cadillac Fairview was keen to improve the lighting quality in the towers by replacing the current fluorescent lighting with a viable energy-efficient option. A lot more goes into changing lightbulbs than you would expect, and relamping 4.3 million square feet of office space is no small feat.

“High-quality, long-lasting LED lighting was the obvious choice as a replacement, but we needed to conduct a thorough review to make sure it would be compatible with our ballasts, which were not at the end of their life cycle,” says Adrienne Cressman, senior operations manager at Cadillac Fairview. “Through that review we were able to find a bulb that was compatible, ensuring our business case and return on investment was optimized.”

Over the course of five months, 55,000 lightbulbs were replaced on approximately 300 floors. The transition to LED lighting throughout the towers reduced the overall energy consumption at the Toronto-Dominion Centre by up to 2.5 million kWh per year. It also reduced the demand on the facility by 500 kW, saving tenants from additional operating costs.

Green thinking is a core principle in how Cadillac Fairview designs, builds, upgrades and expands properties across their portfolio. In 2004, Cadillac Fairview partnered with Enwave Energy Corporation to become the first building in Toronto to convert to Enwave’s Deep Lake Water Cooling (DLWC) system.

Connecting the towers to the DLWC system offered significant savings and reduced energy consumption. This system harnesses the renewable cold temperatures deep within Lake Ontario to provide cooling water to the building’s heat exchangers and minimize water usage.

The refrigerant plants were replaced with 13,000 tons of chiller capacity, reducing cooling-related electrical consumption by 90%. It enables the building to maintain a sustainable environment for tenants.

Today, Toronto-Dominion Centre continues to set new and innovative standards for industry leadership and is considered an architectural and commercial monument in Toronto.

“We are proud to be part of supporting Toronto-Dominion Centre’s continuing legacy and sustainability efforts,” says Peter Olive, PCL manager of Building Revitalization. “As the commercial real estate market becomes more competitive and diverse, developers and asset owners are driving towards deep carbon retrofits. In many cases, success in revitalizing these heritage assets is making it look like the work never even happened.”

The successful outcomes of its impressive, sustainable restoration caught the interest of the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI). Located in Los Angeles, California, GCI is a global philanthropic institution that works to advance conservation practice in the visual arts, including objects, collections, sites and architecture, on an international scale.

In collaboration with Cadillac Fairview and ERA Architects, PCL contributed to a case study that has been published in the second volume of GCI’s Conserving Modern Heritage Series. The publication analyzes 10 modern projects from across the globe that have excelled in optimizing energy use and thermal comfort while demonstrating best practices in conservation.

To learn more about what went into to revitalizing the iconic Toronto-Dominion Centre and to purchase the book, check out the Getty Institute’s Managing Energy Use in Modern Buildings: Case Studies in Conservation Practice.

Project Team

  • Owner: Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited and Ontario Pension Board
  • Architects: B+H Architects
  • Heritage Consultants: ERA Architects
  • Construction Manager: PCL Constructors Canada Inc.
  • Mechanical and Electrical Engineer: H.H. Angus
  • Lighting Design: Gabriel McKinnon
  • Painting Consultant: Wiss, Janney, Elsner Associates
  • Envelope Consultant: ZEC
  • Sustainability Advisor: WSP
  • Energy Consultants: Enwave Energy Corporation, The Mitchel Partnership Inc., and Ainsworth Inc.