From 2015 to 2017 UrbanToronto and its sister publication SkyriseCities occasionally published a series of articles under the heading explainer. Each took a concept from urban planning, architecture, construction or other topics that often appear in our publications and presented it in depth. It’s time to revisit (and update if necessary) these articles for readers who are unfamiliar with them. While you may already know what some of these terms mean, others may be new to you. We publish or update and republish explainer on a weekly basis.
This weeks explainer is a refresh of an original released in 2016.
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Significant monuments and buildings are often strategically located in prominent and highly visible locations. Ensuring that these structures are easily identifiable emphasizes their grandeur and importance, and further enhances the aesthetic appeal of a city’s built landscape. In many cases, these flagship elements of the urban fabric serve as final vistas, defining the view at the end or middle of a particular street.
The Arc de Triomphe is a world famous end view, image by Flickr user Mike Norton via Creative Commons
Perhaps the most famous example of a final vista is the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where twelve straight avenues meet to form Place Charles de Gaulle. The most famous of these vistas is that of the Champs Élysées, where the sloping tree-lined boulevard ending with the magnificent archway creates the perfect picture postcard. Similarly, the United States Capitol is the terminus for several streets in Washington DC, including the National Mall and North, South, and East Capitol Streets.
Looking north up University Avenue towards the Ontario State Houses, photograph by Craig White
Famous viewpoints in Toronto include the Ontario legislatures at the end of University Avenue (top), the wrought-iron Gooderham Building where Front and Wellington streets split, and the clock tower of Old City Hall (bottom) where Bay Street meets meets the queen.
Old City Hall in Toronto is a final view of Bay Street, image by Marcus Mitanis
Final views usually complicate traffic and adherence to a simple street grid layout. As a result, final vistas are rare in places like New York, famous for its rectangular city blocks. Grand Central Terminal and the MetLife Building in the middle of Park Avenue are notable exceptions. Anyone who saw the 1996 disaster film Independence Day might think that the Empire State Building is also a final sight, although the filmmakers actually altered the view to add drama to the scene.
This view only exists in the film Independence Day, pictured via 20th Century Fox
Since there really isn’t a road that leads directly to the Empire State Building, this shot is as far-fetched as the film as a whole.
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