Architectural Spotlight: Hamilton Commerce Place


Pellow + Associates
21 King Street West
Completed 1987 (Phase 1)/1990 (Phase 2)

Hamilton Commerce Place might been seen as a mystery to some, but it’s hard to remember downtown Hamilton without it and the two skyscrapers aren’t even 30 years old.

The southwest corner of King and James previously belonged to the Bank of Hamilton central branch, erected back in 1905. The bank was doing well. So well that the building needed to expand, receiving an additional five floors in 1907. This addition was what many believe gave birth to the city’s first skyscraper, but they’re wrong. The addition made the headquarters 8 storeys tall, two storeys short of skyscraper status.

In 1923 the Bank of Hamilton amalgamated with the Canadian Bank of Commerce (now CIBC) and the headquarters moved from Hamilton to Toronto in 1930. Eventually, the handsome bank building, as well as the Robinson’s building next door, was torn down and a new, more ambitious plan was hatched for the corner of King and James: Hamilton Commerce Place.

Pellow + Associates, an architecture firm out of Toronto, were commissioned for the design of the towers, which would be implemented in two phases.


Phase one was completed in 1987 and is located directly at King and James. This 16-storey tower is faced with mirrored glass curtain walls. It’s façade camouflages with the sky and the northeast corner is opened like a book, both pages reflecting each other in the sun. The numbing repetition of its skin is un-involving, un-stimulating, and un-inviting from the street.


A bright red column signifies the entrance to the lobby. It could be seen as a slight touch of postmodernism just to tease us of what might have been, or just a very banal entrance. There’s also a CIBC located inside its two-storey podium. The branch is set within tiered, zigzagging mirrored boxes where passerby’s take selfies and check their appearance in the reflection. The only engagement with pedestrians this building receives.


The inside of the bank branch has a coffered ceiling, mirror-clad columns, and a mezzanine of office space. Chic banking at it’s most basic.


Phase two was completed in 1990 and sits directly west of the first tower. Like the glazing it’s composed of, this tower is a 16-storey mimicry of the first, mirroring it’s older sibling at a 90 degree rotation. If they were erected at the same time they’d almost be identical twins. The towers are connected at street level and attached at the hip by a small pedway.


Viewed from the south both of these buildings give the impression of a symmetrical geometric unity, but when you reach either entrance, the symmetry breaks away with a series of right-angled facades. The result is a disappointing, ubiquitous attempt at a late modern glass skin vernacular pervasive amongst skyscrapers across North America during the era. Commerce Place is all about maximum rental space with little regard for much more.

At 266 feet the Hamilton Commerce Place towers are the eleventh tallest towers in the city. The official opening of Commerce Place occurred on September 22, 1987.


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