Yesterday, Hariri Pontarini Architects co-founder David Pontarini presented a striking re-imagining of the property at 234 Simcoe Street to the City of Toronto's Design Review Panel (DRP). The Lanterra Developments proposal would see the current three-storey office building fronting Simcoe and St. Patrick—on an exceptionally long city block between Dundas and Queen—replaced by three towers. As proposed, the Hariri Pontarini-designed residential towers known as Artists' Alley would rise to a height of 54, 24, and 17 storeys, with commercial office space and retail at lower levels.

Artists' Alley, Toronto, by Lanterra Developments, Hariri Pontarini ArchitectsA 'hero shot' of the project, looking west on Simcoe, with the 24 and 54-storey towers visible, image courtesy of Lanterra

Notably, the towers would be bisected by a retail-infused pedestrian laneway connecting Simcoe and St Patrick streets. As Pontarini explained, these type of "mid-block connections are a characteristic of the area, where blocks are very long." However, while the laneways and passages that exist now are largely functionalist spaces that merely reduce the distance between two sides of the block, Hariri Pontarini's design envisions a more vibrantly urban mid-block space. 

Artists' Alley, Toronto, by Lanterra Developments, Hariri Pontarini ArchitectsThe current urban context, with the existing 3-storey building marked by the red pin, image retrieved from Apple Maps

Explaining the urban design principles that informed the architectural plan, Pontarini noted that the very different heights of the three towers is meant to negotiate a transition between two very different urban contexts. "The 54-storey tower fronting Simcoe Street would reflect the scale of University Avenue to the east, while the other two towers reference the somewhat reduced urban scale on the west," said Pontarini. With two buildings—at 54 and 24 storeys—facing the 88-metre lot frontage on Simcoe, and a 17-storey building facing the 92.5-metre frontage along St. Patrick, Pontarini described the reduction of height as a way of integrating the complex into both urban environments.

Artists' Alley, Toronto, by Lanterra Developments, Hariri Pontarini ArchitectsThe site plan for the development, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

The 17-storey building fronting St. Patrick reflects the street wall that characterizes St. Patrick Street, and is designed to "pick up the scale" of its surroundings, Pontarini told the panel. The design also includes a number of green roofs—topping the 24 and 17-storey buildings—as well as landscaping by NAK Design Strategies.

Artists' Alley, Toronto, by Lanterra Developments, Hariri Pontarini ArchitectsAerial rendering looking southeast, showing the 17-storey building along St. Patrick, image courtesy of Lanterra

With the Arists' Alley proposal replacing the commercial office building currently on the site, Pontarini underscored the intention to create "a true mixed-use development" by incorporating up to 110,000 ft² of office space into the complex. The shorter 24-storey tower fronting Simcoe street would feature commercial office space in its modernist-inspired base, Pontarini explained. The tower's commercial office podium would be significant larger than the current three-storey building on the site.

Following Pontarini's presentation, the DRP was quick to praise the quality of architectural expression evidenced in the design. However, the panel felt that the towers lacked adequate setback from neighbouring lots, and that the configuration of the two towers fronting Simcoe Street—which would only be 12 metres apart along the lower levels—was excessively tight.  

Artists' Alley, Toronto, by Lanterra Developments, Hariri Pontarini ArchitectsA close look at the frontage on Simcoe Street, image courtesy of Lanterra

The panel also noted that a height of 54 storeys may be excessive for the area. Although projects of similar scale are currently rising along University Avenue, the panel noted that smaller streets are not usually considered conducive to the same density as nearby major arteries.

Another concern was the lack of park space included in the proposal. The panel admonished the design team to consider including "much-needed green space" in the proposal, commenting that the area lacks sufficient parkland. It was also suggested that two moderately tall towers—representing a middle ground between the varying heights currently proposed—may be more appropriate for the area.

Artists' Alley, Toronto, by Lanterra Developments, Hariri Pontarini ArchitectsA closer look at the 24-storey tower and commercial office podium, image courtesy of Lanterra

Finally, the panel suggested that dividing the commercial office space between the buildings in such a way as to have "offices facing offices" in tightly spaced areas could be a better solution than having offices facing directly onto residential properties across the laneway as currently proposed. Following the consultation, the panel unanimously voted to recommend a re-design—rather than a mere 'refinement'—of the project.

We will keep you updated as the project continues to develop, and the design evolves. In the meantime, our dataBase file includes more information, as well as additional renderings, of the project. What do you think of the Hariri Pontarini design and the DRP's comments? Leave a comment in the space below this page, or join in the conversation on our Forum.