The Better Living Centre

Built in 1962, the Better Living Centre became part of a group of modern buildings on the Exhibition grounds that moved away from earlier traditional architectural styles. Designed to take the homeowner and consumer into the modern age, the Better Living Centre was built to replace the Manufacturers Building of 1902. The Manufacturers Building had featured exhibits of household appliances, fixtures and furnishings until it was destroyed by fire in 1961. When it opened, the Better Living Centre featured modern functional design and an integration of architecture and landscaping. Photo courtesy of the Canadian National Exhibition Archives, 1961

The Better Living Centre was designed by world renowned architectural firm of Marani, Morris and Allan. Marani, Morris and Allan were influenced by the European Exhibit Halls of the 1920s and 1930s that explored the integration of architecture and landscaping and modern functional design. The Better Living Centre has an irregular floorplan with a central courtyard. The brick exterior is enhanced with irregularly-placed full height glazed entrances. A flat roof appears to float above the curving walls of white glazed brick, separated by a thin band of clerestory windows. Terraces are set at varied heights on the four outer corners of the building. At the north wall a level terrace with a reflecting pool and fountain was installed.

 

The design by Marani, Morris and Allan also includes a large steel pylon with multicoloured plexiglass panels sitting atop the roof of the Better Living Centre. This tower has been described as “Mondrianesque” in that the blocks of coloured plexiglass and their layout resemble the work of artist Piet Mondrian. Mondrian was a Dutch artist who is primarily known for his paintings featuring a white background upon which he added a grid of vertical and horizontal black lines and blocks of primary colours. The plexiglass panels used in the Better Living Centre tower are coloured black, blue, orange and red and appear to occupy random locations within the steel grid.

The original purpose of the Better Living Centre was to introduce new ranges of consumer goods to the baby boomer generation. For many people attending the CNE, the building hosted their first encounters with such technologies as colour television, transistor radios or home computers. It also became the place where people would expect to see the latest models of various consumer goods, ranging from vacuum cleaners to kitchen appliances. The building was designed to house permanent exhibits that would only be on display during the annual fair. In 1982 the permanent displays were removed and this allowed the building to be rented for various consumer shows and other events for part of the year. The Better Living Centre was not suitable for year round use as the building lacked proper heating and ventilation systems. More recently, the building has since been retrofitted to accommodate a variety of events throughout the year.

 

In 1997, displays of home furnishings moved from the Better Living Centre to the Enercare Centre (formerly the National Trade Centre). Since that time, the Better Living Centre has housed various shows and events such as the Toronto International Bicycle Show, the Artist Project and the Toronto Ski, Snowboard, and Travel Show. During the annual CNE, the building is home to the CNE Casino and the CNE Farm.

 

 

 

 

Source: Toronto Historical Board, "Property Research Summary," 1992.