Filmport set to roll
TORONTO - The path is clear for construction to begin on Toronto Film Studios' Filmport, a massive film and media production complex in Toronto's Port Lands waterfront area. In late December 2005, the Ontario Municipal Board dismissed an objection to a variance obtained for the 29.7-acre site, allowing the project to move ahead on schedule.
Filmport's first phase will include 232,500 sq. ft. of production facilities, with six sound stages and more than 100,000 sq. ft. of office and support space. One of the highlights of phase one is a 45,000-sq.-ft. "megastage," the largest, purpose-built sound stage in North America. Subsequent phases will expand production space to 550,000 sq. ft., including more than 12 sound stages, and up to 1 million sq. ft. of offices, restaurants, conference facilities and film-related industries. Total development costs are estimated at $275 million.
Toronto-based Quadrangle Architects is coordinating the project, with Alsop Design tapped to create an iconic office complex at the entrance of the site. "Given the size and complexity of Filmport, we looked to the city as an organizing form," explains Quadrangle's Leslie Klein. "Working with Toronto Film Studios and Ken Greenberg, our urban design consultant, we have designed Filmport with a pattern of streets and blocks, which mirror the urban framework of great cities, creating a diverse and dynamic place to live, work and play."
The team made sure the development is in keeping with the past, present and future context of the site, and the city's ambitions for the Port Lands. "So while we are envisioning what Filmport will look like next year, or when it is a fully built-out film and media complex, we are also looking to the more distant future when the city has finally grown up around it," he says. "It's our goal to see Filmport as an integrated component of a revitalized Port Lands, one that serves both the economic vitality of the film industry and the social heart of the city for the next century."
To give Filmport the ability to draw in blockbuster productions, the architects not only checked out other film studios across the continent to learn best practices, they also asked Toronto's film industry what they needed. Thus the "megastage" was born. It has more than an acre of column-free space, and a clear ceiling height of 60 ft., making it large enough to contain the Parthenon with room left over.
But that's not to say that it's all film work and no play for the Port Lands. There will be sidewalks for pedestrians and green spaces, the aforementioned production spaces and offices, retail space, restaurants, entertainment and conference venues. There might even be a hotel on the site in the future.
"This is a project that will not be just a jumble of different functions thrown together to serve a single need, it will mirror the diversity that we would want to find in any part of the city that we like spending time in," Klein says. The architects are also incorporating green design initiatives into Filmport wherever possible, with the goal of making it "a model of environmentally responsible development for other brownfield sites, not only in the city, but also across the continent."
One challenge of particular concern to the design team is blending the public aspects of the project with the private needs of the film industry, so that citizens can feel a part of the action while maintaining security for those aspects of production that require it. "We want to make Filmport a destination in the city, in a way that avoids the 'Disneyland' feel while allowing the public to indulge its fascination with the process of making movies and TV," says Klein. "We're doing that by making Filmport a part of the city, instead of making the city like a movie set."