It's hard to believe that one year has already passed since Lanterra Developments made a splash at Toronto's Design Review Panel with their proposal for Artists' Alley, a mixed-use three-tower development on a block of land between St. Patrick and Simcoe Streets, just south of Dundas. Late last year, it was revealed that changes had been made to the original proposal by Hariri Pontarini Architects, and it was this slightly scaled down version that made a second pass in front of the Panel last week.
The revised design responded directly to the criticisms of the previous Panel session, which had resulted in a unanimous vote for re-design based on the project's density and massing being too much for the site. This time around, with a Jenga-like rejigging of the proposal, the Panel was a bit more pleased with the result.
The revised design saw Building 1, the tallest of the three, reduced from 54 storeys and 634 residential units down to 39 storeys and 393 residential units. Conversely, Building 2, the second point tower, saw an increase from 24 storeys and 150 residential units up to 36 storeys and 310 residential units (on the other hand, the office component of Building 2 was reduced from 7 storeys to 3 storeys). Building 3, the stacked volume along St. Patrick Street, remained the same height at 17 storeys, however, its southern portion was chopped off with a reconfiguration of the massing, resulting in a reduction from 345 to 210 residential units. As a result of the shrinking of Building 3, a new 1,000-square-metre public park is proposed on the southwest corner of the property.
Overall, the gross floor area (GFA) of the project was reduced by 21% to 66,959 square metres, with a 38% decrease in retail GFA (1,554 square metres), a 57% decrease in office GFA (4,661 square metres), and a 15% decrease in residential GFA (60,743 square metres). The four underground levels of parking remained unchanged in height, though the number of spaces has been reduced from 502 to 379, while the floor space index (FSI) of the development is down to 10.00 from its original 12.69.
Panel members were unanimous in their approval of the changes to the proposal. They praised the addition of the park on the site, and commended the designers on their improvements to the mid-block pedestrian connection, which the architect explained was carefully sculpted and carved to increase visibility across the property and to maximize sky views from the ground level. Panelists generally approved of the cut corners, diagonal lines and curving edges of pedestrian mews.
They were, however, skeptical that grade-level retail was the best method to animate the ground plane. They questioned the viability of retail in the mid-block pedestrian mews, pondering whether passersby on the street would actually be motivated to enter there, and warned that if it did not work, the space would become an empty canyon. They suggested that perhaps some prudent landscaping would better animate the space through design, rather than relying purely on retail establishments, and encouraged better treatment of the ground plane so it can become a place in its own right, rather than simply the residual space between the buildings.
The Panel generally approved of the new massing configuration, though concerns were raised regarding the separation of the buildings. In particular, Panelists took issue with the inward facing units, some of which looked across into other units across a gap of less than 15 metres, while also being located below an overhang or soffit, thereby significantly reducing their access to privacy and sunlight - what one Panelist referred to as 'unlivable' conditions. They encouraged a further refinement to mitigate these issues.
Overall, Panel members were pleased with the progress on the project, and pointed out the precedent-setting implications of the development on how to build density on a relatively small, urban site. They were appreciative of the architecture and were optimistic in the direction it was headed.
The final vote was a unanimous vote of support, albeit with the attached condition that the issues with spatial separation and overhangs that affect the inward-facing units be addressed.
We will keep you updated with more news about Artists' Alley as it makes its way through the planning process. In the meantime, you can find more information about the development in our dataBase file, and you can tell us what you think of it by joining the discussion in the associated Forum thread or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.