Of the hundreds of development proposals that have come to light in Toronto over the past year, arguably none has garnered as much excitement as the Bjarke Ingels Group's (BIG) design for 489-539 King Street West. First revealed in February, the Danish architect celebrated BIG's vision for the site as part of his "Yes is More" presentation. Now, as the Westbank Corp and Allied REIT project begins to work its way through the planning process, a pre-application meeting provided a more fine-grained design rationale for the ambitious development.

489-539 King Street West, Toronto, by Westbank Allied, Bjarke IngelsAerial view of the site, image courtesy of Westbank/Allied

The meeting included City of Toronto representatives, including Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy and Toronto & East York Urban Design Manager James Parakh, along with a number of representatives of the development, inclduing Westbank's Peter Venetas, heritage specialist ERA Architects' Michael McClelland, renowned planner Ken Greenberg, landscape architect Marc Ryan of Public Work, and BIG's Christopher White—an Associate at the firm's New York office. They were all on hand to present a more detailed elucidation of the design, and to field questions from members of the public.

489-539 King Street West, Toronto, by Westbank Allied, Bjarke IngelsA presentation slide highlighting mid-block connections and public space, image courtesy of Westbank/Allied/BIG

Beginning with the central courtyard, the design rationale promoted the project's focus on enlivening the public realm and creating sustainable housing. Opening up the long site to a series of mid-block pedestrian connections, the courtyard is intended to nourish a more pedestrian-friendly public realm while also creating a tranquil urban refuge in the "secret forest", planted with hemlock trees. Although developments of this scope sometimes risk imposing a monolithic and unfriendly presence, the design strives to create an inviting ambiance, with 48% of the 101,000 ft² site planned as open, public space. 

489-539 King Street West, Toronto, by Westbank Allied, Bjarke IngelsA look inside the courtyard, image courtesy of Westbank/Allied

Strongly evocative of Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67, the project's massing strategy was also presented as a thoughtful contribution to the public realm. With the building's volumes rotated 45º away from the street grid, the street-level frontages become more visually animated. Meeting much of the street level with a "porous facade," the angled, "eroded" frontages are designed to draw the eye, inviting passerby to linger and engage with the fine-grained urban environment. 

489-539 King Street West, Toronto, by Westbank Allied, Bjarke IngelsThe "eroded street edge" is designed to create a more active public realm, image courtesy of Westbank/Allied/BIG

Public Work's landscaping extends above the courtyard into the "soft topography" of the residential levels, serving to visually extend the perceived public realm across the greenscaped roof. Proposing a green roof designed to harvest rainwater—along with a targeted 40% window to wall ratio target—the development aims to meet Tier 2 of the Toronto Green Standard. (On-site sustainable energy generation is also being considered for the site in partnership with Westbank's Creative Energy).

489-539 King Street West, Toronto, by Westbank Allied, Bjarke IngelsA closer look at the terraces, image courtesy of Westbank/Allied/BIG

Meanwhile, the angled volumes also open up the suites to more sunlight and better views for residents, while the massing strategy—presented in February by Ingels as an homage to Canada's natural topography—opens up both the courtyard and the residential terraces to more natural light.

489-539 King Street West, Toronto, by Westbank Allied, Bjarke IngelsThe massing strategy is presented as a way to maximize light for terraces and the courtyard, image courtesy of Westbank/Allied

The consultation also included a breakdown of the project's proposed uses. At ground level, the site's three heritage components would be maintained as autonomous volumes, though they would be mostly enveloped by BIG's contemporary structure. New commercial space would be housed in the three lower levels, with 630 residential suites (and amenity areas) above.

489-539 King Street West, Toronto, by Westbank Allied, Bjarke IngelsThe proposed programming, image courtesy of Westbank/Allied/BIG

Although the proposal has been enthusiastically received by much of UrbanToronto's readership, the project's street-level presence—the way the building "lands"has been the primary source of criticism so far. (At the meeting, several members of the public also asked that the designers have the development step further back from the King Street heritage structures to maintain their prominence and reduce the apparent bulk of the new structure).

489-539 King Street West, Toronto, by Westbank Allied, Bjarke IngelsLooking south, image courtesy of Westbank/Allied/BIG

We will keep you updated as the project works its way through Toronto's planning process, and more information becomes available. In the meantime, make sure to check out our associated dataBase file for more information, and additional renderings. To share your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment in the space below this page, or join in the ongoing conversation in our associated Forum threads.