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Frank Gehry and David Mirvish’s tall order in Toronto

Alex Bozikovic with The Globe and Mail recently publsihed the following article regarding the epic proposal for new construction condos in King West. This project will be located at 300 King St W, where the Princess of Wales Theatre is currently situated.

“The proposal includes 2,709 condo units in three towers that soar as high as 86 storeys, not to mention the retail and cultural components. By contrast, the tallest existing building in the neighbourhood – TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Festival Tower condos above it – is barely half as tall, at 47 storeys, with 373 residential units.

Frank Gehry and David Mirvish

If it were built as proposed, selling that volume of real estate would be a challenge. And if it happened, it would impose hugely on the infrastructure of the area, adding 3,000-odd residents to an area whose public spaces and transit lines are badly overcrowded. The area, which the city dubs the Entertainment District East Precinct, has seen a radical transformation in the past decade that has added thousands of new residents, and it will see 15,000 more condo units completed in the next few years. Local councillor Adam Vaughan has been pushing district-wide studies of the area to get a handle on the residents’ needs in terms of parks and community space, and on the scale and arrangement of the many new buildings. “When we see a project that’s this much bigger, it exacerbates the problems in the neighbourhood that already exist,” Ms. Keesmaat says. And if the city approves Mirvish Gehry at this scale, it opens the door for similarly massive proposals from other developers.

Mr. Mirvish’s proposal would demolish four heritage buildings, warehouses dating to 1901 to 1915, effectively without a trace. These properties were assembled by Ed Mirvish, who created a theatre district here after the bought the Royal Alexandra Theatre back in 1963. (Remember Ed’s Warehouse?) These buildings are not of exceptional architectural quality, but they are useful and of historical significance, even according to Mr. Mirvish’s own consultants. Right now they house tenants from small architecture firms to offices for Apple. Yet while the city always demands some form of “retention” for designated buildings, Mirvish suggests the Gehry proposal is valuable enough to override any heritage concerns and wipe the buildings out. For buildings designated historic by the city, this is nearly unprecedented. “This scheme is taking the city back 40 years,” to the era of blockbusting, says the heritage advocate and architect Catherine Nasmith. “It’s so retrograde.”

To win the city’s approval, some portion of the historic buildings will need to be saved. As Ms. Nasmith correctly points out, Toronto has a sophisticated culture of working with heritage buildings: Back in the 1960s, the partnership of Jack Diamond and Barton Myers showed the world how contemporary development could work as “infill,” in and around older buildings. They rehabilitated one of the warehouses that’s now owned by Mr. Mirvish, and had their offices there. Today that building houses KPMB, one of Canada’s best architecture firms, which has designed two recent projects in Toronto – the new National Ballet School, and Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music – that show how new and old can coexist and are among the city’s best buldings, period.

Let’s not overlook a central fact: This would be the biggest work ever built by, arguably, the greatest living architect. A Toronto-born Californian, Mr. Gehry is a singular figure in contemporary design. Since his artistic star rose in the 1980s, he has built a series of complex, provocative, and technologically sophisticated buildings that changed the world. The idea of “starchitecture,” which he personally despises, owes more to him and his Guggenheim Museum Bilbao than anything else.”

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Casey Ragan

“Toronto’s Condo Authority”

Toronto Condos and Lofts

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