An ambitious proposal for a 49-storey tower at 31 Parliament Street located at the southern edge of the Distillery District was presented to the City of Toronto's Design Review Panel last week, where it received some tough love and strong words from Panel members. Being developed by the Goldberg Group and designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica, the 173-metre (568 ft) condo tower proposal sits atop a 7-storey podium and would add 495 new residential units to the popular district.
The building is located within what is known as the 'triangle lands', which is the area at the southwestern corner of the Distillery District bordered by Parliament Street to the west, Distillery Lane to the north, and the railway tracks to the south. The wedge-shaped tower occupies a narrow plot of land along the southern edge of the triangle lands, while directly to the north lies a one-storey commercial property and parking lot. Just east of the property is a vacant parking lot where a proposal for a 57-storey tower is currently pending approval at the OMB.
The building takes on a unique form, with a slender rectangular tower rising parallel to the train tracks that suddenly steps back at the 44th floor, subsequently stepping back further every two storeys after that. According to the designers, the staggered form was inspired by the views and speed of the cars from the neighbouring Gardiner Expressway, and serves to create visual interest and a recognizable landmark tower. Furthermore, it adds outdoor terrace space to an otherwise balcony-less building.
The podium of the tower rises seven storeys, with a solid concrete wall on its south side extending 10 metres above the railway—a safety requirement dictated by its proximity to the tracks—which wraps around the main west facade of the building, ending in a stepped pattern mimicking the profile of the upper floors.
A six-storey parking garage begins three floors below ground and extends three storeys above ground, rendering both the north and south facades solid along the base of the building. Also included in the podium is 404 square metres of retail fronting Parliament Street, with amenity spaces, storage spaces, and bicycle parking integrated with residential units on the fourth through sixth floors. Outdoor amenity space is located on the landscaped roof of the podium.
The presentation to the Panel did not start off well, with the introductory comments provided by City Planning breaking from their usual neutral tone by firmly declaring that they do not support the proposal in its current form. The City is currently seeking an Official Plan Amendment to allow a maximum 30-storey tower within the triangle lands—which has yet to pass City Council—in addition to an already approved 45-storey allowance on the adjacent site to the east (on which the previously mentioned 57-storey tower is proposed and is being fought against by the City at the OMB). A Heritage Conservation District is also in the works for the Distillery, which includes the triangle lands within its borders.
Panel members did not take kindly to the proposal either. Of the utmost concern was the lack of interaction with the surrounding context. Panelists lamented the potential negative impacts of the tower on the neighbouring Distillery District, which they called "one of the most cherished heritage districts in the city", and the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood to the west, particularly in relation to the tower's height and shadow impacts, as well as its lack of response to the historic nature of the district in its massing and architectural expression.
Panelists also criticized the lack of proper setbacks from the north property line. The podium steps back in increments of 3, 6, and 12 metres, which the Panel claimed would render the property to the north virtually unable to be developed. They strongly cautioned against using the proposed tower to the east as a precedent, which they labelled an unacceptable development.
Throughout their commentary, the Panelists did not hold back with regards to the lack of contextual design. One member claimed that the building took more influence from the barrier needed for trains than it did from the local context, while the lack of pedestrian realm was pointed out as doing little to connect to the walkability and human scale of the surrounding neighbourhood. The above ground parking was also seen as a negative aspect, while the height, attention-seeking profile, and treatment of the ground level were all highlighted as major issues. All of these, the Panel concluded, were largely due to the fact that the building is simply too big for its site.
The Panelists also had some words of advice for City Planners, suggesting that a holistic approach be taken for the development of the triangle lands, and strongly encouraged an area plan be produced, or that the properties be consolidated to help create a more unified development. Compatibility with the adjacent Distillery District and St. Lawrence Neighbourhood should be of prime importance.
The Panel's comments didn't end there, with one member stating—in agreement with the others—that they were "offended by the material that was presented and not presented". This was in reference to the fact that nearly all of the presentation material included renderings of other towers in the area, none of which had been approved and some of which were not even yet proposed, that helped to skew the apparent context and shadow studies of the 31 Parliament tower. As well, key dimensions and floor areas were missing from the plans and presentation materials, which the Panelists stated were necessary for an accurate assessment of the building.
One positive comment did come from the Panel, in that they applauded the design team on being able to successfully fit all of the programmatic elements into the building neatly in a Jenga-like feat - even if it was too much program for the site in the first place. However, after a rocky reception, the Panel predictably voted unanimously for redesign.
Evidently, changes will be coming to this proposal, so stay tuned as more news becomes available for 31 Parliament and the triangle lands. In the meantime, you can get in on the discussion by checking out the associated Forum thread or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.