In a city where contemporary developments and heritage buildings seem to be continually at odds with each other, Toronto's Design Review Panel was pleasantly surprised by a proposal that attempts to seamlessly merge both. Last week, MOD Developments and Woodcliffe Properties presented their redevelopment plans for the Waterworks Building at 505 Richmond Street West, a mixed-use mid-rise project that would reanimate the Art Deco heritage property in the highly desirable King-Spadina neighbourhood.

MOD,Waterworks Building, 505 Richmond West, Diamond Schmitt, Woodcliffe, TorontoRendering of the south elevation from St. Andrew's Playground, image courtesy of MOD and Woodcliffe.

Designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, the project would see nine storeys of residential units built atop a three-storey base housing a new YMCA and Eva's Phoenix, an initiative that provides temporary housing for homeless youth. The facade of the designated heritage building would be preserved in its entirety, save for a modern garage addition on the west side, while the Great Hall along the south edge of the site will be restored and converted into a public food hall that would serve the community.

MOD,Waterworks Building, 505 Richmond West, Diamond Schmitt, Woodcliffe, TorontoPhotograph of a physical model, showing the southwest corner, image courtesy of MOD and Woodcliffe.

The majority of the ground floor will be occupied by retail, with an inner courtyard entered via Richmond Street providing direct access to the food hall. The food hall will also be accessible from Brant and Maud Streets to the east and west respectively, and from the park via new doors cut into the south wall below the windows. The YMCA would be located on the second and third floors, mostly in new space, above which would rise a total of 299 residential units, 15 of which are earmarked as affordable housing units to be administered by Artscape. 

MOD,Waterworks Building, 505 Richmond West, Diamond Schmitt, Woodcliffe, TorontoGround floor plan, image courtesy of MOD and Woodcliffe.

The units provide a range of sizes, with the average floor area coming in at over 900 square feet. Further details of the development and the historic significance of the site can be found in our previous articles, herehere, and here.

MOD,Waterworks Building, 505 Richmond West, Diamond Schmitt, Woodcliffe, TorontoTypical residential floor plan, image courtesy of MOD and Woodcliffe.

At a Design Review Panel meeting in November, DRP members reacted positively to the presentation, praising the various moves proposed by the architects, but also pointed out that some areas could use improvement.

Panelists were happy with the treatment of the ground floor and the preservation of the heritage facade, but added that more could be done to animate the street, along which would be a largely unadorned elevation. It was suggested that marking the entrance to the courtyard with some sort of canopy or feature—particularly after the presenters had difficulty identifying it in the drawings—would help orient visitors and provide a more recognizable landmark to pedestrians on the street.

MOD,Waterworks Building, 505 Richmond West, Diamond Schmitt, Woodcliffe, TorontoRendering of the north elevation along Richmond, image courtesy of MOD and Woodcliffe.

The Panel members were impressed with the treatment of the second and third floor facades that house the YMCA, commenting that it effectively differentiated the heritage base and upper residential levels through appropriate setbacks and a sensitive contemporary finish. However, Panelists were split on the expression of the upper floors. Several members noted that the massing was too bulky and could be broken down further, and that the building felt too heavy and overbearing, particularly along its Richmond Street facade.

MOD,Waterworks Building, 505 Richmond West, Diamond Schmitt, Woodcliffe, TorontoNorth-south section through the building, looking west, image courtesy of MOD and Woodcliffe.

The expression of the balconies split the Panel, with some in favour of the contemporary language, and some claiming they seemed clumsily attached and could use some refinement. As well, the Panel agreed that the materiality of the building in the renderings—currently displayed as a black surface—made it appear too heavy and bulky, and perhaps a better material treatment could ease the issues with massing. It should be noted, however, that the finishes of the envelope have not yet been chosen, and the architect refrained from giving specific details about what they may be.

MOD,Waterworks Building, 505 Richmond West, Diamond Schmitt, Woodcliffe, TorontoRendering of the northwest corner along Richmond, image courtesy of MOD and Woodcliffe.

A topic that the presenters and City planners wished to be addressed was the issue of opening up the food hall onto the park to the south. The heritage-designated St. Andrew's Playground directly abuts the south elevation of what would be the food hall, however, as the park is city-owned, it is not included in the proposal. The developers were concerned about providing doors opening onto the park, effectively claiming part of the public land for private use.

The Panel responded with a unanimous 'How could you not?', claiming that opening up the food hall with "as many doors as is feasible" is essential to the success of the project. They praised the east-west connectivity of the food hall, and stressed the importance of opening it up onto the parkland to make it a truly public food hall.

MOD,Waterworks Building, 505 Richmond West, Diamond Schmitt, Woodcliffe, TorontoRendering of the food hall, image courtesy of MOD and Woodcliffe.

Further comments focused on providing more family-oriented amenities, particularly given the larger size of the units, and better utilizing the roof surfaces by perhaps expanding the already proposed roof terrace to the interior, or installing green roofs on the inaccessible portions.

After emphasizing the precedent-setting qualities of the project, the Panel praised the designers for their efforts, and voted unanimously for refinement of the current design.

MOD,Waterworks Building, 505 Richmond West, Diamond Schmitt, Woodcliffe, TorontoRendering of the inner courtyard, image courtesy of MOD and Woodcliffe.

It appears as though the redevelopment of the Waterworks Building is receiving favourable endorsements from all parties involved, but work still needs to be done to refine it into a truly landmark project. Stay tuned for more updates as the proposal works its way through the planning process. In the meantime, you can get involved in the discussion by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.