At a recent session of Toronto's Design Review Panel (DRP), First Gulf's proposed redevelopment of their King East Centre was presented for the first time, and Panel members weighed in on yet another tower proposal in the quickly densifying King-Parliament district. Designed by WZMH Architects, the development would see a 25-storey office tower constructed directly west of the new Globe and Mail Centre, facing onto Front Street to the south. Panel members were not sold on the project, offering some critiques to improve the massing and design of the tower.

First Gulf, WZMH Architects, King East Centre, 200 Front East, TorontoRendering looking north at King East Centre, image courtesy of First Gulf.

First Gulf are part owners of nearly the full block formerly home to the Toronto Sun headquarters, which is bordered by King Street to the north, Berkeley Street to the east, Front Street to the south, and Princess Street to the west. Currently existing on the block is the 17-storey Globe and Mail Centre, completed in 2017 and occupying the eastern portion; a low-rise retail component in the former Sun distribution building to the south facing onto Front Street; a 6-storey mid-rise building stretching along King Street which houses George Brown College, the Coca-Cola offices, and grade-level retail; and a surface parking lot at the southwest corner of the site serving the No Frills.

As part of the previous development application for the Globe and Mail Centre, a 12-storey tower was also approved to be built on the surface parking lot at the southwest corner of the block, which never materialized. With this rezoning application, First Gulf is looking to remove that allowance for the 12-storey tower and shift that density east, replacing the low-rise retail building facing onto Front with their 25-storey proposal.

First Gulf, WZMH Architects, King East Centre, 200 Front East, TorontoSite plan; red indicates existing buildings, blue indicates location of new tower, image courtesy of First Gulf.

This shift, however, has posed some issues with the existing site constraints, making for a complicated redevelopment. Most noticeably, the new tower would almost completely obscure the Globe and Mail Centre from the west, with a separation distance between the two buildings ranging from 17.2 metres to 30.7 metres. As well, the existing retail building contains mechanical services for the mid-rise office portion on its roof; Phase One of the redevelopment would relocate these services into a small building facing onto the parking lot before construction of the tower can proceed. The No Frills loading dock, located on the eastern end of the parking lot, also cannot be moved.

First Gulf, WZMH Architects, King East Centre, 200 Front East, TorontoSouth elevation, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The new tower is lifted six storeys off the ground and positioned on angled steel columns that give a distinct aesthetic to the building. The lifting of the building is done in order to push it as far west as possible, to maximize separation distance from the Globe and Mail Centre and reduce interference with the mid-rise building to the north and west. The new tower actually cantilevers over the mid-rise component in an attempt to maximize floor plate sizes.

First Gulf, WZMH Architects, King East Centre, 200 Front East, TorontoRendering looking south to King East Centre, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Below the propped-up tower, a three-storey base building will contain retail on the second level, parking and loading access at grade, and the office lobby at ground level. On the third floor, a sky lobby opens onto a rooftop terrace that serves the employees of the new office tower. The terracotta cladding of the podium is a nod to the heritage brick building on the opposite side of Front Street.

First Gulf, WZMH Architects, King East Centre, 200 Front East, TorontoRendering of the podium along Front, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The Panel was not convinced that the new tower was an appropriate intervention on the site. Panelists unanimously criticized the lack of public realm improvements accompanying the building, pointing out that there was not adequate public space for the number of employees that would be occupying the building. They repeated a concern that they have often brought up in previous sessions: that "when the building takes a lot, it needs to give a lot back". In this case, they argued that the building was not giving enough back to the city in terms of public realm improvements.

Panel members were also not convinced by the architectural expression and massing of the building. Beyond the close proximity to the Globe and Mail Centre, which the Panel disapproved of, they also criticized the lack of stepbacks from Front Street, and the uniformity of the monolithic glass block, which they called bulky and lacking character. The Panel were not sold on the terracotta of the podium either, claiming that it was a very weak association with the area's heritage, and that more needed to be done to respond to the local context.

First Gulf, WZMH Architects, King East Centre, 200 Front East, TorontoRendering looking northeast at the King East Centre, image courtesy of First Gulf.

They also criticized the signature angled columns lifting the building: comparing the gesture to Calatrava's Brookfield Place or Sweeny&Co's QRC West tower, they expressed disappointment that this grand architectural element opened onto a rather small elevator lobby and nothing more. In that sense, the columns were simply reduced to being a means to lift the building and maximize floor space, rather than as a medium to create a unique and grand interior space.

First Gulf, WZMH Architects, King East Centre, 200 Front East, TorontoGround floor plan, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Citing issues with the public realm, the large scale of the building, and its relation to its context, Panel members lamented the lack of a block plan, and unanimously encouraged the property owners to create a master plan for the block. Assuming that the surface parking lot would eventually be redeveloped with a third tower for the site, Panelists had questions as to whether the current proposal would allow for this future expansion. They emphasized that the chances of success for this redevelopment would be greatly improved if an overarching vision was presented, but at the moment, it felt like a haphazard exercise in capitalizing on land value and nothing more.

First Gulf, WZMH Architects, King East Centre, 200 Front East, TorontoRendering looking northwest at King East Centre, image courtesy of First Gulf.

In the end, the Panel voted unanimously for a redesign of the project, and encouraged the design team to head back to the drawing board to provide a more sensitive intervention to the neighbourhood.

We will keep you updated as the design for the King East Centre continues to evolve, but in the meantime, you can join in the discussion by checking out the associated Forum thread or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.