As products of Toronto's development boom go, the Sweeny &Co-designed QRC West is arguably one of the best. Standing at the intersection of Peter and Richmond, a gracefully intricate feat of engineering sees the contemporary office tower rise above the warehouse that fronts the northwest corner. Tastefully integrating the old and the new, the project has been widely praised for its sensitivity to heritage, improving a historic site amidst a wave of construction that has too often leaves behind little more than symbolic façades of the past in its wake. Now, a block north, a very different piece of Toronto's past faces its reckoning through another Sweeny &Co design...

Mountain Equipment Coop, Toronto, by Sweeney &CoThe new Mountain Equipment Coop, image via submission to the City of Toronto

After occupying the northwest corner of Queen and Soho for decades, a prominent Queen West parking lot is no more. Making way for a three-storey commercial building, the first weeks of 2017 have brought long-anticipated site activity to the 20,720 ft ² lot. With the site fenced off and construction underway, a new MEC (formerly known as Mountain Equipment Coop), is slated to occupy the building, replacing the store's well-known King Street flagship. 

Mountain Equipment Coop, Toronto, by Sweeney &CoSite activity in late January, image by UT Forum contributor AHK

While plans for a low-rise commercial project on the site have been in the works since at least early 2012, the development had been relatively slow to move forward until now. After a revised Site Plan Application (SPA) was filed with the City in early November, however, the planning process was effectively concluded, paving the way for the start of construction. Following shoring and excavation, a full three levels of underground parking will precede the low-rise commercial building. 

Mountain Equipment Coop, Toronto, by Sweeney &CoWest-east cross-section, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Similar in scale to the current King Street location—which was sold by MEC in 2015—the new MEC will occupy approximately 37,000 ft² of the 54,000 ft² building, with some 25,000 ft² dedicated to the store's sales floor. Above MEC's two floors, the top level will be given over to a day nursery and related office space, with the non-retail uses accessible from Bulwer Street at the north end of the site. Stepped back in order to maintain Queen West's two-storey streetwall, the nursery emerges onto a terrace intended to serve as an outdoor play area. 

On the east end of the site, the Soho Street frontage will feature new landscaping and a widened sidewalk, though the building itself will meet the residential street with a mostly blank façade. Along Queen, meanwhile, the project takes it cues from the surrounding context, visually replicating the rhythm of Queen's compact two-storey frontages with an articulated façade. The use of brick is similarly intended to respect the material character of an area that's designated as a Heritage Conservation District (HCD). Setting out parameters for streetwall elements, façade features, and building heights, Queen West's HCD designation—passed by Council in 2007—limits the scope of new development to ensure a cohesive street-level experience. 

Mountain Equipment Coop, Toronto, by Sweeney &CoA closer look at the articulation, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Amidst a Downtown transformed by high-rise development, the project's low-rise scale may be surprising. Given the context—and cultural value—of surrounding built form, however, the rationale for a modestly-sized development is understandable, if not uncontroversial. Notwithstanding the massing, however, some UT Forum members have argued that aesthetically deferential design makes for a blandly suburban—and certainly beige—addition to the streetscape.

Mountain Equipment Coop, Toronto, by Sweeney &CoLooking south from Soho Street to Tableau and QRC West (l-r), image via Google Maps

Compared to Sweeney & Co's own QRC West just down the street—and the soon-to-be 'QRC North' extension approaching Queen—the design evinces a different set of sensibilities, forgoing the deft interplay of preservation and innovation for an inoffensive structure that embodies neither. Given the different contexts, however, the comparison to QRC West should be taken with at least a grain of salt. A comparison with the parking lot is much more flattering, of course, and for a site that's felt out of place for so many years, that counts for something too.

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We will keep you updated as construction continues and the project begins to make its mark on Queen West. In the meantime, further information is available via our dataBase file, linked below. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a comment in the space on this page, or join the conversation in our associated Forum thread.