Torys' art collection and revamped office space pushes the envelope for corporate design, says The Globe and Mail

December 10, 2007

Torys has been one of a handful of corporate collectors in the city to have broken with tradition. While the firm has been buying art since the seventies and now owns more than 400 works of art), the notion of crafting a collection really took hold in the nineties, when Torys' art committeewith members Richard Balfour and Philip Mohtadiappointed Fela Grunwald as consultant to help redefine the focus.

Instead of decoration, the collection came to express ideas and meanings relevant to the working community, sometimes pushing past the collective comfort zone.

This fall, with the unveiling of two new commissions for the recently revamped 33rd floor, Torys has once again moved the bar. Redesigned from the ground up by Marianne McKenna (of Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects) and her colleague Steven Casey, the new space is equipped with a series of north-and south-facing board rooms that are linked by folding screens that can ascend or descend. (When not in use, the screens tuck up flush to the ceiling.) This might seem like a rather unlikely canvas, but the resulting art commissionsby Montreal artist Pascal Grandmaison on the north side and Toronto's Robert Fones on the southconstitute one of the most sophisticated forays into corporate art this country has to offer. The art is braided into the architectural DNA of the space, becoming not just part of the environment, but part of the brand. This is more than decor.

"I think Torys has tended to have a fairly conservative reputation," said Deborah Dalfen, who runs professional recruitment at the firm. "We had some students in here a few weeks ago and I could see that this had an effect on them. People don't normally associate creativity with what lawyers do, but of course what lawyers do requires a lot of creative critical thinking. Students are at a very idealistic phase of their careers, and I think this marks us as having a more progressive culture."

For architect Marianne McKenna, the key was to intelligently engage the architecture of this resonant site. "Up there, you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the city," says Marianne of the north-facing boardrooms. "This is arguably the best place from which to view the original Mies towers. Grandmaison engages that view. He puts his figure right up against that curtain wall, heightening our awareness of those walls and windows as membranes that hold us in, while also allowing an overview of the city below. The mood he creates also suggests the gravity of the kind of decisions that lawyers make every day. He shows us the figure in such a way that we experience her softness and her human presence, but she is looking out onto the Cartesian grid of the Mies complex. Could we have asked for more? I don’t think so."

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