Toronto has a reputation for embracing modern construction while neglecting its more historical buildings, but you’ll find one big exception nestled among the gleaming steel and glass skyscrapers downtown. The Design Exchange, Canada’s world class design museum, is located in a stunning building that originally housed the Toronto Stock Exchange, and its handsome facade and intricate art deco details are as captivating today as they were when it opened in 1937. Drop by on your next outing with friends and you’ll come away with an appreciation for creativity in all its forms, both classic, modern, and everything in between.
Rather than demolishing the building when the stock exchange relocated in 1983, its developers retained the sky-high ceilings and artful flourishes and simply built around it and over it, leaving one of the city’s rarest aesthetic gems intact. Step through the tall doors on Bay Street with your friends and enter a piece of living history. A beautifully sculpted staircase leads up to the old trading floor, where you can almost hear the voices of traders standing around the nine hexagonal trading posts buying and selling shares of the mining firms, textile makers, and industrial powerhouses that helped build the Canadian economy.
These days, the speculators have been replaced by artists and designers, who arrive in droves to see the artistry in both complex and simple things. Take a leisurely stroll and ponder the flowing lines of a reimagined rocking chair, or the graceful arc of a Russel Belt knife’s edge. The exchange houses a permanent exhibit celebrating the country’s rich industrial design history, so soak in the fashion, architecture, industrial, and digital design pieces scattered inside. “Ooh” and “ahh” over Frank Gehry’s angular innovations and imagine what an awesome retro party you could throw with the 1966 G2 stereo on display. No matter how tired you are, fight the urge to plop down in one of Jacques Guillon’s famous cord chairs. Though these World War II-era chairs seem like they could be flipped upside down and still keep you perfectly comfortable, any attempts to do so will likely get you kicked to the curb.
Once you’re taken in the permanent collection, make your way to the visiting exhibits. Among the most engaging this summer is what appears to a very trendy butcher’s shop. Five cured pigs’ legs hang above a wine rack, like a Madrid street scene dropped into a glass case in Canada. They’re part of an exhibit entitled TAPAS: Spanish Design for Food, which highlights Spain’s unique–and extremely influential–culinary tradition of small plates.
After an hour or two in the museum, you’ll start to see everything in a new way, from the chair you sit on to the meal on your plate. Best then to cap off your visit with some wine and tapas at a nearby restaurant like Archive, where you can discuss your favorite designs–and how you can incorporate them into your own lives.
Photo by Daniel MacDonald