Standing at 480 University, on the northwest corner where the boulevarded avenue meets Dundas Street, is a building formerly known as Global House. An 18-storey office tower designed by WZMH Architects and opened in 1968, its design has been called the best example of Yamasaki Modern in Toronto. The term refers to the all-encompassing deep precast grille from which is punched closely packed and vertically elongated lozenge-shaped windows, and which typified the work of Minoru Yamasaki, designer of New York's fallen World Trade Centre, and Detroit's more closely reminiscent One Woodward.
The building is about to be made over in a big way. Owner Amexon Development Corporation proposes to refresh the existing office space while making additions that will maximize the value of this expensive piece of well-located real estate. At street level the building will get a completely new podium, a dynamic shroud of branch-like members reflecting the tree-lined street it sits on, while the office portion will be re-clad as a contemporary glass box, with 37 more storeys of glass added above, enough for 453 new condominium units right on the subway in the heart of the city.
Both the existing windows and the precast grille have become problems over time. 44 years old now, the precast has begun to crumble and must be addressed soon. The windows are single pane, and the bronze-coloured tinting has aged inconsistently, oxidizing in some places. The solitary panes of glass is poor insulation too, of course. Inside, owing to the two-foot-on-centre grille with its deep fins, the view out the windows is restricted to an 18 degree angle, letting in less light and showcasing a restricted panorama compared to what the modern office tenant expects their vantage point on the city to provide.
Despite the building's deteriorating envelope however, 480 University remains for many observers a handsome example of its type: that the proposed all-glass re-cladding erases all traces of the building's 1960s heritage does not go down well with those concerned with the obliteration of Toronto's architectural heritage. Other commentators in UrbanToronto's thread for the project see the existing cladding as out-of-date and ugly even, and its loss would not be mourned by them. Could the new glass window-wall and curtain-wall mixture be redesigned to better reflect the original look? Probably. Might that mollify those who want to see more respect for the building's heritage? Maybe. Will attention be diverted from those concerns by the dazzling podium plan being dangled by Deni Poletti, a principal at Core Architects, who are designing the redevelopment? To a degree, it will.
The striking sylvan podium design accomplishes a few things. Firstly, barring the addition of a sky-high repetition of it at the top of the building, it provides the only element of the design that could legitimately be considered iconic, 'The Icon' being the name chosen to market the new condominium portion of the project. Secondly, it brings the building's front facade out to the sidewalk edge of the next building north of it, helping to create a better street-wall for University Avenue. Thirdly, it opens the building up much more to the street by internalizing the unfriendly face now presented by the berm-like stairs now facing University. Finally, the impact of the attention-grabbing white-painted forest-edge design will firmly plant the building into the personal geographies of Toronto held by each passerby: you may not have known what 480 University was before reading this story, but once this transformation is complete, its new street presence will place it firmly in one's list of Toronto's familiar landmarks.
480 University's new 'front' will add a new elevator at sidewalk level down to St. Partick subway, making another one of the TTC's stations fully accessible. The 'back' side, on Simcoe Street, will be the new entrance area for the condominium expansion. Valet parking is planned for the 158-space garage below.
The proposal is undoubtedly still to change somewhat.
We await the take from the City's Design Review Panel. We await the planning department's direction report. What appears to be mullion-encrusted window-wall for portions of the office glazing looks somewhat cheap, and detracts from the clean lines of the curtain-wall portions and the building's overall polish. Some acknowledgement of the existing design would be welcome in the redesign. The podium helps build the argument for the name 'The Icon', but the complex as a whole needs to be detailed more iconically to seal the deal: in a city where there may soon be three 80-something-storey towers by Frank Gehry, you want to use the term icon judiciously to avoid a derisive response.
Amexon has done quite a good job at their South Beach project in Etobicoke, so we look forward to the continued evolution of plans for 480 University.
To see many more renderings of the project, including several seductive shots of the building glowing by night, choose UrbanToronto's dataBase entry linked below, or if you would like to get in on the discussion, choose one of the associated Forum thread links provided.