Though the ongoing development boom will undoubtedly one day be recognized for the thousands upon thousands of condominium units introduced to Toronto’s residential market, a steady stream of new high-rise commercial projects in the downtown core continues to reinforce the city's position as Canada’s economic capital.
The newest in a recent string of new office buildings under construction, Oxford Properties’ Ernst and Young Tower is getting ready to add its uniquely angled 40-storey profile to the unapologetically rectangular financial district. Designed by Kohn Pederson Fox Associates with local firm WZMH Architects, the development has generated alternately excitement and concern in Toronto's community of architecture buffs, as the bright modern design involves the removal of the Art Deco Concourse Building at 100 Adelaide West and the eventual reconstruction and reconfiguration of two of its façades.
Site prep is a bigger deal here than on most projects in Toronto. A parking garage—totally unlamented—has already come down, while the south and east façades of the 16-storey Art-Deco Concourse office building, built in 1928, is currently being carefully disassembled while the historic structure behind is reduced to rubble. Witnessing a structure of a glorious bygone era being torn down can provoke cringes, shudders and at times nausea, but the care being taken in preserving the building’s details and masonry should provide a degree of comfort for some.
Justification for the demolition of historic structures is problematic for many, and while the Concourse Building was integral in the early growth of our financial district, the outdated wiring, air systems, and the building’s low floor heights were unworkable for the modern commercial real estate market. Particularly problematic were the washrooms at on half-floors in the stairwells. Reports from former tenants have stated that the building’s interiors were in a state of disrepair, with years of patchwork renovation taking its toll on the once ornate interior features like plaster ceilings and masonry. A recent architectural forensic audit showed compromised supports for the building's detailed exterior too.
Repairs of historic elements cost plenty, and patch jobs rarely leave a building with sound long term prospects. If the building is crumbling and no longer able to tenants at the rates that would cover the cost of fixing it, a grander plan was imperative.
While the interiors would have proven too costly to modernize, a complete loss of the building’s impressive south and east façades would have been an architectural crime. To save them, a compromise is coming: the floor heights of the reconstructed façade will differ from the historical proportions, owing to the much higher ceilings seen in modern office buildings. The façade will return, reconstructed to the original total height, but with 13 taller floors now instead of 16.
Crews are now painstakingly cataloguing each decorative element of the structure’s existing exterior when dismantling them. While the next structure is built, the elements will be cleaned and restored. Once the new Ernst and Young Tower structure is ready for its skin, the elements will be reintegrated with cleaned bricks to allow the restructured façade to appear as quite a faithful representation of the 1928 building.
In the photos seen above, taken within the past few days, we can see that the uppermost floor of the Concourse Building has been demolished, and the Art Deco features up top have been removed. Below, we get an aerial view of the site captured in the last week by UT Forum contributor mk39920, which shows the exterior shell of the top floor’s roofline features awaiting their disassembly.
In the same photo we can see that excavation for the LEED Platinum 900,000 square-foot tower is already underway on the north side, where the parking garage was recently demolished. The much larger floorplate of the new tower will stretch far beyond the current footprint of the Concourse Building, occupying the bulk of the remaining block to the north.
Even with the care being taken on the Concourse Building, it is with some trepidation we see an Art Deco favourite bite the dust. We look forward to the Concourse Building’s defining features living on for another generation to enjoy though, including such flourishes as the elaborate mosaic by Group of Seven artist J.E.H. Macdonald and his son Thoreau MacDonald which occupies the arched Romanesque entranceway along Adelaide Street West.
As the third phase in the Richmond Adelaide Centre, the new 100 Adelaide Street West tower will be anchored by naming tenants Ernst and Young and along with the TMX Group. The complex project is currently slated for Summer 2017 completion.
Looking for additional information? A comprehensive collection of project facts and renderings can be found in our dataBase file, linked below. Want to get involved in the discussion? Check out the associated Forum threads, or voice your opinion in the comments section provided at the bottom of this page.