This is one of several articles covering the October 1, 2012 announcement of Mirvish+Gehry Toronto, a condo and culture complex proposed for King Street West in Toronto. The buildings would replace white-painted mid-rise brick warehouse/office conversions and the 1993-built Princess of Wales Theatre. In place of the theatre, the project proposes a new campus for OCAD University, an OCADU gallery, a 'Mirvish Collection' gallery for David and Audrey Mirvish's significant collection of modern art, and new shops to support the residents both above as well as the growing downtown community as a whole. All of this is meant to create a vibrant, engaging streetscape above which three landmark towers in the 80-storey range will rise. 

After formal presentations were done, UrbanToronto sat down with a number of other social media reporters for a chance to put some questions to Frank Gehry about the project.

[Reporter] While you and Mr. Mirvish were speaking, there was a lot of talk about old bringing a sense of ‘old Toronto’ out. How did this respect for the past influence and inform your design?

“It’s embedded in my head, unfortunately (or fortunately), so I like everybody else have a sense of nostalgia. I don’t want [the project] to be about nostalgia, I want it to be about real values and I think that most buildings being built around the world, the towers, have ignored people. There are clues about how the city has grown through its history, how these streets have served people for years and it’s important to honour that.”

Frank Gehry speaks with social media after the Mirvish+Gehry presentation,Frank Gehry speaks with social media after the Mirvish+Gehry presentation, image by Jack Landau

[Reporter] You said that buildings ignore people in Toronto – I’m wondering, who do you see living in these building?

“Well when I make statements like that, they’re sweeping but I don’t mean them simplistically. All over the world you see modern cities that are based on democracy where everyone has the right to do essentially what they want. In that context, you can make architecture that is comfortable – it doesn’t all have to be minimal, cold and un-engaging.” 

[Alex Bozikovic] There’s a conception among people that don’t know your work very well that your buildings are sculpture, that they could be anywhere. How in this specific case have you related this piece of -

“That is the most insulting thing you can say!” 

[Alex Bozikovic] I’m not implying I share that view…

“I’m kidding with you, but I get this all the time. The implication is that I’m an egomaniac; that I do this or that and then try to squeeze everyone in there. The fact of the matter is that my buildings are on budget, on time and they deliver a kind of feeling that makes people like them. If you’re careful, you can make the economics work. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

[Alex Bozikovic] What can you tell us about the ‘big moves’ in this project that relate specifically to its urban context? 

“I wanted them not to be three equal towers. Separating them breaks down the scale and makes the complex part of the city. Toronto has a balcony fetish but because we wanted balconies that are not just glass, glass, glass, we’ve tried to use different materials like terra cotta. That’s just one of the issues that we’re dealing with. Then there’s the podium which must relate to and embody the character of Toronto, the model when looking at it there does it more successfully than my subsequent studies.”

Frank Gehry speaks with social media after the Mirvish+Gehry presentationFrank Gehry speaks with social media after the Mirvish+Gehry presentation, image by Jack Landau

[Craig White] Your highly articulated work allows for a greater amount of expression and exuberance and is designed to create more conversation, no? 

“I’m not trying to create more conversation, I’m trying to create values. The wrinkles in the Spruce Street tower (in New York City) for example are bay windows. Now if I put the bay window in the same place on each floor, you have a boring vertical stripe. Moving them around so they’re in different places allows me to ‘draw’ with the façade and get a fluid line. That line is like fold in a piece of fabric. The great artists through time always practiced by drawing fabric, so it adds a human element to it. [Points to his sleeve] If you look at that, and you were the developer you’d say: “hey Frank, it’s going to cost me a lot of money to move that window everyplace,” which is exactly what happened. So I challenged him and said give me a budget and let me try to do it. We did it by using our fancy computer programs to demystify exactly what it is we were talking about. 

[Craig White] So the computer takes care of the details, but the vision remains in your hands…

“Right, we were able to do it on time and within the budget of a normal curtain wall in New York City. I think at that time the average budget for buildings that were a little bit upscale was about $200 per square foot. We were able to do what we did and still come in at around $204.”

A last question was allowed, at which point another reporter asked Gehry if he was concerned about the condo bubble. As that, however, is David Mirvish and Peter Kofman's area to worry about, we turned off the recorder.