"It's a pretty terrific proposal," one Design Review Panel member concluded. With a scale model of the tower planned for 34-50 King Street East as the centrepiece of the room, the City of Toronto's December 15th DRP session saw the architectsAlliance design celebrated as a positive and contextually appropriate addition to the Downtown core. 

34-50 King Street East, Toronto, by Larco Investments Inc., architectsAlliance34-50 King Street East, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Being developed by Larco Investments Inc., the proposal would see a mixed-use 33-storey tower occupy the west side of the King Street block between Victoria and Toronto streets. Situated on the north side of the street, the project calls for the demolition of the two 1960s office buildings at 34 and 36 King East, with the Renaissance Palazzo-inspired Quebec Bank Building at the corner of King and Toronto set to be retained in situ. 

Built in 1886, the ERA Architects heritage strategy would see the Quebec Bank Building will be fully restored—with a stone cornice returned to the roof—with part of tower cantilevered above the building's 1947 addition. While the 20th century addition closely replicates the architecture of the 1886 original to the east, the addition, which now forms the western half go the building, is set back slightly further from the street. 

34-50 King Street East, Toronto, by Larco Investments Inc., architectsAllianceThe lower levels, showing the restored cornice, image via submission to the City of Toronto

To the west, the new tower meets the scale of the heritage-designated Quebec Bank Building with translucent glazing, with the more permeable design element deferring attention to the heritage structure below. Meant to remain an aesthetic centrepiece of the block, architect Peter Clewes explained that the Quebec Bank Building will likely be animated with street-level retail, with a storefront also being considered for the corner of Yonge and Victoria at the west end of the block.

34-50 King Street East, Toronto, by Larco Investments Inc., architectsAllianceThe scale model offers a better sense of materiality and scale, image by Craig White

Describing the design rationale for the tower above, Clewes pointed to datums that define the building's relationship with its context. While the notched glass element picks up on the 5-storey scale of the Quebec Bank Building, the main body of the tower—which features a flooplate of about 1,110 m²—meets the height of the King East streetwall, reinforcing the corridor's distinct canyon form typology.

34-50 King Street East, Toronto, by Larco Investments Inc., architectsAllianceA contextual view, looking northeast, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Above, a smaller tower component—with an average floorplate of under 700 m²—adds further density to the site while minimizing apparent bulk and new shadowing. Although the upper levels read as a more conspicuously residential typology, the residential uses actually extend several stories further down into the main body of the building—which Clewes explained would likely be clad in stone. In this case, the tower's aesthetic composition is as much guided by urban context as the programming within. 

The tower would be programmed to replace all of the site's existing office space, while adding a 219-unit residential component above. Calling for 15,204 m² of residential space, 10,006 m² of office uses, and 255 m² of retail area at grade, all of the proposal's 219 homes are planned as rental units, contributing one of the relatively few infusions of rental housing to the Downtown core. 

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Although the panel (held during Thursday's snowstorm) did not meet quorum for a formal vote, the panelists in attendance were uniformly impressed with the project. "I like how the architecture has been organized to engage with the heritage," one panelist commented, adding that "I think they work as good neighbours." The decision to retain the Quebec Bank Building in full was also seen as "refreshing," with the panelists lamenting that this approach remains relatively scarce in Toronto. 

In praising the proposal, however, the panelists' caveat was that the architectural expression—not just the massing and programming—will be crucial to the project's success. As such, the execution of the design presented was regarded as critical, with any large-scale aesthetic changes (or cheapenings) diagnosed as potentially problematic.

34-50 King Street East, Toronto, by Larco Investments Inc., architectsAllianceAnother view of the scale model, showing the Victoria and King frontages, image by Craig White

Meanwhile, some panelists also called for a greater focus on sustainability, with the building currently targeting Tier 1 of the Toronto Green Standard and LEED Gold performance. Finally, the street-level was seen as somewhat "compressed" by the panel, with the design team admonished to create a more breathable public realm along King Street. 

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While the DRP session was mostly laudatory, a more varied range of opinions has been expressed in our Forum. So far, the design itself has attracted both praise and criticism, though much of the conversation has focused on the consequences of demolishing the Modernist structures that neighbour the Quebec Bank Building. 

Respectively built in 1963 and 1961, the 12 and 8-storey buildings at 34 and 36 King Street East would be replaced by the new tower. Unlike the Quebec Bank Building, these buildings are not designated nor listed as heritage structures, and are not regarded as "contributing properties" to the St. Lawrence HCD. As such, neither the panel nor the City's preliminary planning report identified the demolition as a critical matter of contention. 

34-50 King Street East, Toronto, by Larco Investments Inc., architectsAllianceExisting context, looking northwest, image via City of Toronto

However, a number of UT Forum members have expressed concern about the proposed demolition. While the removal of 19th and early 20th century structures is typically subject to intense public and planning scrutiny, Toronto's Modernist built form is not usually considered in the same light. But it too is the product of a bygone era, and the increasingly scarce supply of mid-century built form may be retrospectively diagnosed as erasure in the decades to come. 

Unfortunately, a retrofit to the lobbies of both buildings—which created a shared, central space—has long since stripped away much of the original character. With the quality of space already greatly diminished, the financial feasibility of retention (already a difficult and expensive undertaking) could prove questionable from a market perspective. Given these limitations, the proposal presented may indeed offer a viably effective heritage strategy for the site.

34-50 King Street East, Toronto, by Larco Investments Inc., architectsAllianceLooking northeast from King and Victoria, image via Google Maps

Yet, in a project praised for its heritage preservation, it's sadly ironic to see another element of heritage seemingly consigned to the dustbin of history. While time itself will probably see Modernist buildings become more historically appreciated, the scarcity of supply precipitated by knocking so many of them down is also likely to emphasize their value. In the end, it's through demolishing mid-century buildings that we might finally realize their worth. If nothing else, that's ironic too. 

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We will keep you updated as the project continues to make its way through the planning process, and as more information becomes available. Next week, we'll also return with more coverage from the December 15th DRP, with overviews of the proposals at 25 Ontario Street and 31 Parliament Street.

In the meantime, further information about 34-50 King Street East is available via our dataBase file, linked below. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a message in the space on this page, or join the ongoing conversation in our associated Forum thread.