Everyone involved has pointedly refused to call it a compromise, but that’s pretty much what it is. Last night, David Mirvish unveiled a new, scaled-back version of the multi-skyscraper King Street West complex he and developer Projectcore initially proposed about a year and a half ago. The buildings will still be designed by Frank Gehry, as originally planned, but that’s the extent of the similarity to the original design.
Gehry’s original vision for the west side of King and John, initially revealed with great fanfare in October 2012, called for a “candelabra” of three buildings between 82 and 86 storeys in height, each done up in Gehry’s trademark, crumpled-metal style. The new proposal calls for just two towers, one 92 storeys and the other 82. The significantly reduced interior would house about 2000 residential units on top of of a pair of six-storey podium structures, each containing some combination of retail and commercial office space. OCAD University would get a couple floors in the west podium. Gehry’s firm is describing the proposed towers as a pair of “sentinels” that will add dignity to Toronto’s skyline. The two skyscrapers would have waterfall-like ripples running all the way down their facades, a creative choice that is said to have been inspired by both Lake Ontario and the artwork of the Group of Seven.
Whatever the artistic merit of the new design, the true impetus behind its creation was an 18-month standoff between Toronto city planners and the project’s developers. As initially conceived, Gehry’s towers would have required the demolition of four heritage buildings and the Princess of Wales theatre. The city rejected the developer’s application to demolish those buildings late last year. Sure enough, the new design, which the Globe reports was “cobbled together in about a month” with the help of a city-appointed working group, is much more mindful of preservation. Under the new plan, the Eclipse Whitewear Building (better known as “the Tim Hortons at King and John”) would be spared, though it would have an art gallery plopped onto its roof (to house David Mirvish’s personal collection). Another heritage building would have its facade preserved in the base of the towers, and the Princess of Wales and Royal Alexandra theatres would both remain.
There are still some points of disagreement between Mirvish and the city that have yet to be worked out, but it’s expected that the new, two-tower proposal will go before city council in July. Judging by what the city’s planners have said publicly, it seems very likely that the project will get the go-ahead.
Click through the image gallery for a closer look at some models of the new proposal.