Better Living Centre

195 Princes’ Boulevard, Toronto, ON.

“The Better Living Centre …celebrated the latest consumer goods for the home, including furniture, appliances, electronics and housewares. A flat roof appears to float above the curving walls of white glazed brick, separated by a thin band of clerestory windows. Some five acres of floor space is relieved by a central courtyard marked by a Mondrianesque tower of black steel and coloured Plexiglas.”

-Robert Moffatt, MOD TORONTO: The CNE goes Modernist

Designed by Marani, Morris and Allan, the Better Living Centre was built on the site of the Manufacturers’ building, which was destroyed by fire in 1961.  Initially named the Home Furnishing and Appliances Centre, Mayor Nathan Phillips officially opened the building on August 17, 1962.  As a sophisticated showplace for the display of merchandise for the rising, post-war, consumer culture, the Better Living Centre was a finalist for a Massey Medal for Architecture in 1964.

The building provides 18,500sq.m. of exhibit space on one level, with concrete floors designed to accommodate heavy equipment.  While the structural design featured a repetitive assemblage of steel columns and trusses supporting a flat roof, Marani Morris and Allan elevated the design above that of a simple industrial shed. Continuous bands of clerestorey windows provide natural light, while the projecting roof protects from glare.  Curvilinear exterior walls clad in white glazed brick extend outward, beyond the floating roof, in all directions.  Building entrances are monumental with abundant glazing and broad terraces.  The building materials share an industrial aesthetic that is reinforced by the limited colour palette.  A steel-framed tower with colourful plastic panels emerges from within, and acts as a beacon and orientation device.

Pioneering landscape architect Gordon Culham was responsible for the designed landscape, which includes a reflecting pool, generous terraces, and integrated planting.

The Better Living Centre was an important component of a significant building campaign at the Canadian National Exhibition in the post-war era, which included:

The surviving buildings form a significant cultural heritage landscape of the modern era, which was dramatically reinforced and expanded to the south with Ontario Place (Craig, Zeidler and Strong, 1971).

These modern era structures complement the early exhibition buildings:  Press (1904), Music (1907), Horticulture (1907), Government (1912), and the Fire Hall and Police Station (1912).  These buildings were designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988.  They are “the largest and finest group of early 20th century exhibition buildings in Canada.”

The Better Living Centre is enhanced by three works of visual art from the period, which were relocated from elsewhere.  A bronze sculpture, “Man Above Matter”, by Art Price (1964) was moved to the north entrance in 1997.  A mosaic, “The Painter’s Eye”, by Ronald Satok (1959) was installed inside the north entrance.  A steel sculpture, “83”, by Ronald Baird (1968) was moved to southwest corner of the building.

The building continues to host a wide variety of exhibits and events.