Over the last several years, a number of Toronto's major intersections have been transformed with new office and condo towers. More transformation is coming, and while it is happening at obvious places like Bloor and Yonge, it's coming to less obvious corners too. Not that Dundas and University should be that huge a surprise; St. Patrick subway station is right at the corner, and even without the subway, anything built here will be smack dab in the middle of everything, a short walk to the Financial Core, to the Entertainment District, to the AGO, to Chinatown and Kensington Market, to Baldwin Street, to the Hospitals, to the U of T, to the Eaton Centre and Yonge Street. No wonder one condominium is under construction just south of the corner now, while two more are planned just to the north.

A couple weeks ago we took a look at the latest plans for 480 University, on the northwest corner. Today we have brand new renderings of plans for 481 University on the northeast corner. Both of these projects include substantially improving office space in existing buildings, and both propose to raise new condo towers above them. Below, 480 University is seen in white to the right of centre, while 481 is seen in colour.

481 and 480 University at Dundas in Toronto, Davpart480 and 481 University Avenue at Dundas in Toronto, image courtesy of Davpart

481 University is owned by Davpart Inc., a real estate investment and property management company. In fact, their holdings on this block bounded by University, Edward, Centre, and Dundas Streets include all of the properties. Currently that's a 10-storey commercial office/retail building at 481 University, 4 storeys at 137 Edward Street, 4 storeys at 70 Centre Avenue, and 9 storeys at 210 Dundas Street West. Three of the four are listed as part of Toronto's heritage inventory, the exception being the Edward Street building.

Northeast view, 481 University at Dundas in Toronto, DavpartLooking northeast at 481 University Avenue at Dundas, image courtesy of Davpart

Davpart proposes to renew the 10 and 9-storey office buildings, and add a residential tower in the northeast corner of the lot, rising to 55 storeys. We will look more at the plans for the tower and the office floors in a future article, but there are other significant aspects of this project to consider first, and that's what's going on at ground level, and particularly along Dundas Street.

Northwest view, 481 University at Dundas in Toronto, Davpart, H&R DevelopmentsLooking northwest at 481 University Avenue at Dundas, image from Google Street View

The current condition in front of 210 Dundas Street and on the Dundas Street side of 418 University is one too often found in Toronto; too narrow a sidewalk, and no interaction with the street other than a front door.

Current sidewalk, 481 University at Dundas in Toronto, Davpart, H&R DevelopmentsCurrent sidewalk condition on Dundas, image courtesy of Davpart

The plan, created by B+H Architects under principal Mark Berest, would change all that: at ground level, the plan removes one bay's worth of the 210 Dundas frontage, two storeys high, and replaces it with a high-ceilinged, art-topped colonnade, dropping to one (tall) storey in height in the 481 University Dundas Street frontage. Floor to ceiling glass walls separate retail units and an internal hallway from the colonnade, while limestone columns delineate the sheltered colonnade from the open sidewalk.

Northwest view, 481 University at Dundas in Toronto, DavpartLooking northwest at 481 University Avenue at Dundas, image courtesy of Davpart

Colonnade, 481 University at Dundas in Toronto, DavpartLooking northwest at the proposed colonnade at 481 University Avenue at Dundas, image courtesy of Davpart

Colonnade, 481 University at Dundas in Toronto, DavpartLooking west through the proposed colonnade at 481 University Avenue at Dundas, image courtesy of Davpart

Colonnade, 481 University at Dundas in Toronto, DavpartLooking west through the proposed colonnade at 481 University Avenue at Dundas, image courtesy of Davpart

Along with access to the development's interior halls and the ground floor retail offerings, the colonnade will also boast a new entrance to St. Patrick subway station, thereby allowing the removal of the outdoor stairs from the University Avenue sidewalk, and internalizing the subway access within the redevelopment. Just to the south of the new entrance is where the westbound Dundas streetcar stops at University, as can be seen in the rendering below, at right.

New sidewalk, 481 University at Dundas in Toronto, DavpartLooking northeast at 481 University Avenue at Dundas, image courtesy of Davpart

Comparing the rendering above with the current-day image below, you will notice that a single-storey limestone wall, replete with a bas-relief, has been moved north to open the new colonnade to the University Avenue frontage, eliminating some of the square footage of the existing TD Canada Trust branch.

Current situation, 481 University at Dundas, Toronto, Davpart, H&R DevelopmentsLooking northeast at 481 University Avenue at Dundas, image from Google Street View

The bas-relief, it should be noted, is one of a pair, the other at the corner of University of University and Edward. The two were designed by Elizabeth Wyn Wood and carved by Louis Temporale in 1958 to grace what was then the new headquarters of Maclean-Hunter Publishing. The figures depict the sending and receiving of information; gold leaf in the grooves causes the incised reliefs to sparkle when the sun hits them.

Relocated art, 481 University at Dundas in Toronto, DavpartRelocated art: looking northeast at 481 University Avenue at Dundas, image courtesy of Davpart

The corner is quite a busy spot, and the sidewalk can easily fill up with people waiting for the streetcar. The sidewalk, widened with the addition of the colonnade, will allow much easier passage for pedestrians here. 

Cueing for TTC, 481 University at Dundas in Toronto, DavpartCurrent streetcar cueing area on Dundas, image courtesy of Davpart

Ground level, 481 University at Dundas in Toronto, DavpartGround level plan with TTC connections, image courtesy of Davpart

The proposed internalized access to St. Patrick subway station includes stairs and an elevator dropping one floor to a new underground PATH level. The PATH, in this case, would initially only access the subway station, but would connect east to any redevelopment along Dundas, eventually reaching the Atrium on Bay and the existing PATH network.

The initial plans for the PATH level and the subway stairs have been criticized by Toronto's Design Review Panel. Their notes from the development's September appearance at the board are the following:

While appreciative that the TTC subway access stair on University will be removed, Panel found the integration of the St Patrick TTC entrance into the proposed building to be unsatisfactory. Some comments provided in this regard are as follows:

  •  Where is the celebration of arrival?
  •  Look what other cities are doing with transit integration; the world has passed us [Toronto] by
  •  A tiny little access at such a prominent location is embarrassing
  •  Don’t settle for the lowest standards; you are not even providing escalators
  •  There is a definite need to increase design excellence here:

- Pursue more "celebration"

- Want to see natural light penetrate below grade

PATH level plan, 481 University at Dundas in Toronto, DavpartPATH level plan with TTC connections, image courtesy of Davpart

It's easy to agree with the DRP's comments. The colonnade will be a huge improvement over the existing condition here, and as depicted it has the potential for creating one of the more memorable and appealing pedestrian interfaces in all of Toronto's Downtown. The grand colonnade will raise people's expectations for the subway entrance to the same level, and the entrance should be designed to meet them.

We look forward to the proponent's response to the DRP's concerns, and we will be back to consider them and to look at more of the proposal for 481 University Avenue as planning progresses. In the meantime, for more renderings of the project, click on our dataBase file, linked below. Want to talk about it? Join the conversation in the associated Forum thread, or leave your comment in the space provided on this page.


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