Making its first appearance at Toronto's Design Review Panel last week, the audacious proposal at 2 Carlton Street by Northam Realty and architects IBI Group received some harsh feedback from an unimpressed panel of fellow architects. Sporting a modified design from the previous iteration of the project, the 73-storey tower proposes to replace the existing 18-storey office tower at the northeast corner of Yonge and Carlton Streets with a mixed-use building containing 942 residential units along with retail and office spaces within the podium.

2 Carlton, Northam Realty, IBI Group, TorontoRendering of the west elevation, image courtesy of Northam Realty.

Originally proposed as a pair of 72-storey twin towers with undulating balconies, the development was reduced to a single 73-storey tower featuring a grid-like exterior facade, which has since been modified to an expression of staggered vertical volumes sitting atop a deconstructed podium. The podium has undergone the most change since the previous design, exploding out of its boxy form to appear as a teetering stack of rectangular volumes that protrude and recede from a flat glass base.

2 Carlton, Northam Realty, IBI Group, TorontoRendering of the podium, image courtesy of Northam Realty.

With the new design, the ground and second floors of the podium will contain roughly 2,566 square metres of retail space, while the third and fourth floors will house approximately 3,425 square metres of office space. The remainder of the building will be given over to residential uses and their associated amenities. Most notably, the new design proposes a triangular park at the corner of Yonge and Carlton, responding to the curve of Carlton Street to meet College by pulling the south facade back from the street. A shared office and residential lobby opens onto the park, while a second residential lobby is located to the north off of Wood Street. The main retail frontage will be along Yonge.

2 Carlton, Northam Realty, IBI Group, TorontoGround floor plan, image courtesy of Northam Realty.

Panel members were quick to point out several missed opportunities in the design, and also did not hold back in criticizing a lack of response to the existing context, a lack of benefits offered to the local streetscape and community, and an overcomplicated architecture with inadequate materiality.

The site lies at the edge of the North Downtown Yonge planning area within the College/Carlton Character Area, and the Urban Design Guidelines for this district recommend a maximum building height of 55 storeys. As the Panel pointed out, typically when a developer asks for more height or density, they must give more in return, usually in the form of public realm or streetscape improvements, or community facilities. In the case of 2 Carlton, with a proposed height 18 storeys above the suggested maximum, the Panel stressed that "when the ask is big, then the offer to the City must be equally as generous", and Panel members nearly unanimously agreed that there is "considerable distance to go to convey the significant advantage that this project would be bringing to the site".

2 Carlton, Northam Realty, IBI Group, TorontoRendering of the northwest corner of the site, image courtesy of Northam Realty.

The Panel was particularly disappointed with the park at the south end of the site. While some said it was too small or under-designed to merit being referred to as a park, nearly all Panel members lamented the lack of integration with the TTC entrance to College subway station or the lack of provision for commuters waiting for the streetcar. At such an important and busy intersection, Panelists emphasized the golden opportunity of improving the woefully inadequate exterior stair entrance to the subway and overcrowded unprotected sidewalk for streetcar riders by perhaps relocating this infrastructure into the podium of the building or within a signature pavilion. The design team later added that they have been in preliminary talks with the TTC, who are very interested in collaborating to improve this major transit site.

2 Carlton, Northam Realty, IBI Group, TorontoRendering of the park, image courtesy of Northam Realty.

In addition to the lack of TTC integration, Panel members also suggested fronting retail onto the park rather than the common lobby to make it feel more like a public space and less like a private area. In addition, they urged that consideration be given to the newly exposed elevation of the neighbouring Hydro building as a result of the pulling back of the south facade of 2 Carlton, which would become the new endpoint of the view corridor looking east along College Street.

2 Carlton, Northam Realty, IBI Group, TorontoRendering looking north on Yonge Street, image courtesy of Northam Realty.

In terms of the tower design, the Panel was unanimous in criticizing the podium, saying that it did not fit with the context or the remainder of the building and that it needed to be simplified. They described the deconstructed podium as being jumbled, too coarse, and overly scaled. Panelists also added that "the ground floor needs a bit more life and articulation to it" and that it requires "a bit more substance and materiality give some richness to the base and help take on its role of defining the street".

2 Carlton, Northam Realty, IBI Group, TorontoRendering of the Yonge streetscape, image courtesy of Northam Realty.

The Panel also criticized the lack of sustainability initiatives included within the proposal, stressing that a development of this size and importance should lead by example in terms of its environmental impact. When asked what sustainability considerations were given with the building, the design team responded that certain design aspects, such as the lack of balconies, inherently offered energy savings, but that there was no concerted effort to include innovative solutions for environmental issues. In addition to the missing sustainability efforts, the Panel also criticized a lack of clear information in their presentation, and in particular were irked by a discrepancy in the floor plate size, which edges up to 1,050 square metres. (A typical Toronto floor plate for condo towers is 750 square metres, but the City does accept some taller towers being slightly larger.) 

2 Carlton, Northam Realty, IBI Group, TorontoRendering of the Yonge streetscape, image courtesy of Northam Realty.

Overall, Panel members emphasized that this site presents a huge opportunity to do something special, and were clear in stating that the current proposal falls short of its potential. Panelists remarked that they "find it not to be reflecting the opportunity here" and that it "either needs to have a beautiful skin to this building or a more exceptional tower design, because this is going to be seen from everywhere".

2 Carlton, Northam Realty, IBI Group, TorontoRendering of 2 Carlton, image courtesy of Northam Realty.

In the end, the Panel voted overwhelmingly for redesign, with a single member voting for refinement of the current design.

Evidently the design and planning process still has some ways to go for 2 Carlton, so we will be back with updates as the proposal continues to evolve. In the meantime, you can see earlier versions of the plan in our database file, linked below, and you can tell us what you think by joining in the discussion on the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.