A collaboration involving Robert De Niro and celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa, the recently announced Nobu Residences Toronto has grabbed public attention, with the Teeple Architects-designed hotel-restaurant-condo project set to bring a conspicuous two-tower presence to the Entertainment District. Now making its way through the planning process, more concrete information about Nobu Residences Toronto is becoming available, as a new submission details the heritage preservation plan for the Mercer Street site. 

Nobu Residences, Toronto, by Madison Group, Teeple ArchitectsNobu Residences Toronto, image via Madison Group

The heritage strategy for the Madison Group and Westdale Properties' 49-storey development is being developed by Toronto's ERA Architects, with the submission outlining the scope of the façade restoration and partial re-construction of the Pilkington Glass Factory complex that still occupies the site. With parts of the complex dating back to the 19th century, the report also sheds light on the history of the formerly industrial site, and the three historic buildings that exist now. 

Designed by Scottish-trained Toronto architect D.B. Dick in 1894, the Mercer Street warehouse building that housed the second Canadian branch of the U.K. glass factory is now designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act. Completed in 1895, the warehouse was expanded in 1920, this time with a more Edwardian design by Burke, Horwood, and White. Finally, an adjoining 1931 stone-clad office building—designed by the successor firm to Burke, Horwood, and White—was constructed in 1931. 

Nobu Residences, Toronto, by Madison Group, Teeple Architects15 Mercer Street dates to 1895, image via Google Maps

All three buildings are identified as having significant heritage value. The scale, form massing, red brick cladding, and industrial-scale fenestration are cited as notable attributes for the two older structures. However, the brick-work of both structures is conspicuously damaged, while window and door configurations were almost completely re-jigged throughout the 20th century.

Nobu Residences, Toronto, by Madison Group, Teeple ArchitectsThe middle building dates to 1910, image via Google Maps

Meanwhile, the 1931 office building is one of Toronto's relatively few WW II-era commercial structures to feature Art Deco and Modern styling, though much of the structure's stone and glass cladding has been damaged, and the interior has also been heavily altered. 

Nobu Residences, Toronto, by Madison Group, Teeple ArchitectsThe site's western building dates to 1931, image via Google Maps

According to the Heritage Conservation Plan (HCP), the street-facing north elevations off all three buildings will be restored to their original designs, along with the east return wall of 15 Mercer, which fronts an alley. The façades will be retained and shored up during construction; a process closely resembling the work now underway at the King Blue site immediately to the northwest. The temporary shoring structure would be constructed in the public right of way, allowing for excavation of the site to the south. 

To maintain some impression of three-dimensional depth, the upper floors of the mid-block 1910 warehouse will also be "reconstructed with matching brick to a depth of 5 metres, with modified window openings." Above, the glassy podium volumes will also be stepped back from the heritage façades, attempting to defer some prominence to the historic frontages. In order to highlight the older built form, new signage will also be kept to a minimum. 

Nobu Residences, Toronto, by Madison Group, Teeple ArchitectsA closer look at the podium levels, image via Google Maps

At the east end of the site, the 1894 frontage at 15 Mercer will house a residential lobby for the approximately 700 condominium suites of Nobu Residences, with a second lobby planned in the new podium west of the three retained façades. Meanwhile, the 1931 office frontage will be home to the marquee restaurant, with a rooftop patio topping the new-built volume. While the building will be entirely demolished behind the façade, the lobby and staircase will be re-built according to original 1931 drawings, creating a signature 15,000 ft² space. East of the bar, a retail space is also planned. 

Nobu Residences, Toronto, by Madison Group, Teeple ArchitectsThe ground floor plan, click for a closer view, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Vehicle access and servicing will be provided via the public laneway at the south end of the site, while hotel uses—including valet parking, and pick up and drop off—will be accessed at the west end of the two-tower complex. Behind the façades, the entirety of the site's footprint will be occupied by underground parking, with the HCP arguing that the City's "[p]arking requirements for the proposed development require the excavation of the entire development parcel."

As is sometimes the case, full in-situ preservation of historic structures is made more difficult by the fact that the entirety of the site effectively has to be excavated in order to provide necessary underground parking. For buildings to be fully preserved, this would require a complex and costly relocation—or the type of suspended in-situ preservation seen at Karma Condos—of heritage structures. While more complete preservation initiatives are usually still possible under these circumstances, the scope of the façade retention at Nobu hints at a causal relationship between parking minimums and the viability of in-situ heritage preservation. 

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We will keep you updated as more information becomes available, and the plans continue to take shape. In the meantime, a general overview of the project can be found in our introductory story, while additional facts are listed in our dataBase file, linked below. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a comment on this page, or join the ongoing conversation in our Forum.  

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