Looking toward the intersection of Yonge Street and The Esplanade, it can be hard to imagine the Downtown Toronto site just 10 years ago, when the 58-storey L Tower and the 36-storey Backstage had yet to begin rising on the east side of Yonge Street. Now, with the two towers acting as a gateway to the street, we take an eastward tour along The Esplanade, taking stock of the recent evolution, with a look ahead at the changes to come.

Backstage on The Esplanade, Toronto, by Cityzen, Fernbrook, Page + SteeleLooking east at the L Tower, Novotel, and Backstage (l-r), image by Jack Landau

Beginning at The Esplanade's western terminus at Yonge Street, the Studio Libeskind-designed L Tower has finally had its crane dismantled, closing out an unexpectedly drawn out chapter in Toronto's construction. Immediately to the south, Backstage on The Esplanade by the same development team of Cityzen, Fernbrook, and Castlepoint Numa—has also made significant progress in recent months, with the tower's limestone-clad podium asserting a more distinct presence since our February update. Limestone continues to be applied.

Backstage on The Esplanade, Toronto, by Cityzen, Fernbrook, Page + SteeleLooking southwest, limestone cladding is now installed on Backstage's podium, image by Jack Landau

While Backstage on The Esplanade topped off in mid-2015, the Page + Steele / IBI Group-designed tower has gradually neared completion in the time since. As construction begins to wrap up, we can expect the project's landscaping—appointed by Montreal's Claude Cormier + Associés—to take shape, making for a more pleasant streetscape.

Backstage on The Esplanade, Toronto, by Cityzen, Fernbrook, Page + SteeleLooking west, the materiality of the podium fits in with the Novotel to the east, image by Jack Landau

Moving east, Cityzen's London on The Esplanade is a slightly older presence on the north side of the street, where its southeast frontage has extended the row of restaurants and their patios that characterizes the promenade. The Keg Steakhouse and Bar and the Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery—apparently a vaguely Scottish take on the Hooters business model—are both relatively recent additions to the tourist-friendly strip. The restaurants join the Bier Markt, the Old Spaghetti House, and others, all facing the colonnade of the Novotel Toronto Centre to the south. 

Looking west from the popular BierMarkt, the row of restaurants is extended by TLooking west from the popular BierMarkt, the row of restaurants is extended by The Keg and Tilted Kilt, image by Jack Landau

On the north side of the street, the chain of restaurants continues east to Church Street, well east of the flatiron-shaped Novotel. While the parking lot east of the Novotel now remains among the last undeveloped pieces of land in the urban core, Harhay and Carterra have proposed a 29-storey condominium for the site.

An aerial view of the '75 The Esplanade' site from the southeast, image by Jack An aerial view of the '75 The Esplanade' site from the southeast, image by Jack Landau

Marketed as 75 on The Esplanade, the architectsAlliance-designed tower would—if approved—add significant residential density to the area, along with retail at street level.

75 The Esplanade, Toronto, by Cityzen, Carterra, architectsAllianceLooking southwest, a rendering of 75 The Esplanade, image courtesy of Cityzen / Carterra

While the development—initially planned at 34 storeys—does not extend the Novotel's colonnade to the east (the City's Tall Building Guidelines discourage colonnades, as they pull retail and pedestrian activity away from the street), a series of vertical piers along The Esplanade frontage picks up the structure's scale to the west.

The prominent colonnade will neighbour the tower to the west, image by Jack LandThe prominent colonnade will neighbour the tower to the west, image by Jack Landau

The podium structure meets its older surroundings with a brick facade, referencing the area's architectural character. Meanwhile, the tower above features an envelope of offset frames, subtly evoking the image of the stacked brickwork used on the exterior of many buildings in the surrounding area. Similarly, balconies are arranged in an irregular pattern, lending the exterior a slightly more dynamic quality.

75 The Esplanade, Toronto, by Cityzen, Carterra, architectsAllianceA closer look at the podium levels, image courtesy of Cityzen / Carterra

Another block east, The Esplanade meets the revamped—and award-winning—Market Street just west of the landmark St. Lawrence Market. Widely considered a prime example of successful heritage restoration, Market Street's renewed frontages have recently been populated by new retail, adding vibrancy to the area. 

Looking north along Market Street from The Esplanade, image by Jack LandauLooking north along Market Street from The Esplanade, image by Jack Landau

Meanwhile a new green space—extending David Crombie Park further west—will replace the temporary structure to the south of the existing market building. Once the new North Market is completed, the white tent structure will be dismantled to make way for a public space.  

The temporary market will be replaced by a green space once the north market is The temporary market will be replaced by a green space once the north market is built out, image by Jack Landau

For the time being, our tour ends at Lower Jarvis Street. We will return soon with another glimpse at Toronto's changing face, with many parts of the city experiencing similar—and sometimes even more intense—change in recent years. Until then, make sure to check out our associated dataBase files for more information about individual projects. Want to share your thoughts about the changing neighbourhood? Feel free to leave a comment in the space below this page, or join the ongoing conversation on one of our Forum threads, linked below.