I recently went to the Cinema City exhibit at 401 Richmond’s Urbanspace Gallery, and delighted in reading about and seeing a history of Toronto’s old-style single screen movie houses.
As seen in the above map, cinemas used to dominate Toronto’s streetscape. An incredible amount of old picture houses ran like a spine along Bloor and Queen Streets, with similar linear-patterns along Yonge and College, and a veritable Movie-House-Square surrounding the downtown core (and a fainter one in the East End).
The exhibition was an opportunity to reflect on how historical forms of media, and rapidly changing technology and modes of viewing media, have direct impacts on the urban form.
Before, without any other option, viewing practices were entirely a public activity, and infrastructure for viewing media dominated the Toronto streetscape. At some points, such as Bathurst and Bloor, there seems to have been a cinema every block.
Today, with personal computers dominating the way we view media, viewing-practices have drastically less impact on the streetscape. We have turned inward, and into our screens, leaving the downtown streets for other uses.
One of these single-screen cinemas of yesteryear of note was one in the Toronto Dominion Centre, as I learnt on a psychogeographic walk of Toronto’s underground PATH system that my father and I partook in this evening.
The Mies Van Der Rohe movie house, as can be gathered from these photos, must have been a truly spectacular example of Modernist architecture. One that literally engulfed its viewers, straight lines leading to a scintillating motion picture experience. Apparently, the theatre exists behind closed doors, just waiting to be re-opened…
I’ve been infatuated with the consequences of the internet and rapid change of technology toward more personal, inwardly-used devices on the consciousness — and, thanks to thoughts provoked from the Urbanspace gallery and psychogeographic walk of the PATH, I am now more aware of its effect on the urban form.
As QR codes become more ubiquitous, and other forms of interfaces that link people to hyper-reality internet sites progress, technology will continue to have profound effects on urban space.