Toronto KING Toronto | 57.6m | 16s | Westbank | Bjarke Ingels Group

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At the community consultation, I thought one of the more interesting/moment of, "wait, do I like this?" changes brought up by the representative for BIG was the exterior change from concrete to glass blocks - think 645 King Street West:!7i13312!8i6656

Glass blocks is so 80's/90's tacky (especially the textured versions) but only a firm like BIG would attempt to bring it back in a smart way. They didn't show a clear enough rendering to clarify whether this is entirely the exterior treatment (and if so, really?), or whether they are just adding certain sections of window walls with glass blocks in addition to regular windows. All they explained was that the glass blocks were intended to serve as this dynamic, semi-translucent background for condo occupants, who would see the change of "city lights" from day to night in their units.
Of course the planners need to throw in their 2 cents about this iconic project with some random criticism about the "severity" of the peaks, or that it's too tall, or the heritage blah...blah...blah... Yet, every pos grey glass box by aA and P&S gets a free pass. Mediocrity reigns while boldness and vision get shown the door. And a brilliant, visionary project gets whittled down a few degrees to conform to a standard the city's tall foreheads can live with. Pathetic.
Where is the evidence this is going the way of another PS/IBI or G+C project?
My point wasn't that this is going to end up looking like P&S, but that the local shlockmeister designs don't get nearly the scrutiny that top end, architecturally unique projects like this one get. It's as if the planners have an idea of what a Toronto building should look like and anything outside the mold gets a red card with orders to dumb it down. This project will still be leagues better than the typical bland boxes but it already appears that the more arresting features are being smoothed over so as to fit in better with its bland neighbours.
Glass blocks is so 80's/90's tacky (especially the textured versions) but only a firm like BIG would attempt to bring it back in a smart way.
Not only BIG. They were recently re-invented by MVRDV in Amsterdam for the Crystal Houses project for Chanel, and they've won a pile of awards since. Click to see this close up: there's a new type of glass block out there, or glass bricks, and yes, they're blended into traditional bricks above the second level. Not saying that these are the ones that will be in the BIG project, but don't think that there's only one option out there.



Regarding the meeting:

Planning is not "hung up" on heritage. At least one of the buildings is designated, so there is a serious issue that must be resolved with respect to that matter. Originally, the intention was to maintain only the facades of the structures - something the city did oppose. Moreover, as one person did ask the planner to comment on the details of the city's concerns, the planner noted that this was the first time that they (planning) were seeing the most recent changes that the proponent has introduced to the project, so its not clear at that moment whether the city's concerns had been addressed in part or in full.

As for the proposal itself, there have been a number of improvements. The cut-through goes a long way to breaking up the massing of the structure, which was a concern given how wide this building would be. Also, there is some additional heritage retention included and a greater consideration as to how those buildings are to be treated in the overall design.

A couple of commenters from the audience suggested that the top of the building be returned to the softer peaks of earlier designs rather than the more angular presentation that was shown at the meeting. The proponent seemed open to that idea.

The "glass block" will not be the 1960's stuff that has been alluded to be earlier posts. Rather, it would likely be more of a glass-like veneer that would be lighter and slightly reflective in finish in order to differentiate that portion of the building from the heritage buildings below. That said, the final cladding is still an open question.
A new version of Westbank Corp and Allied REIT's plans for the redevelopment of 489-539 King West was unveiled this week. The development would be the first BIG-designed buildings in Toronto.


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Are planning's concerns justified?

Re: height- Not justified in my opinion. The former Thompson Residences to the west of this are only 1 storey shorter. This project could even be a bit taller than 16s and fit within the slope of the height peak coming down from University Ave. Yes, Thompson is taller than it should be (thanks OMB), but it's already there. The context has changed.

Re: setback- Also not justified. The rest of the façades on the street are up to the sidewalk. No point in breaking up that context. One could make the argument that more public space in the right of way is necessary, but it's not worth sacrificing the interior courtyard. The benefit of a POPS in there greatly outweighs any extra space along the sidewalk, in my opinion.

Re: heritage protection- maybe. This part of King contains a notable selection of heritage buildings. The BIG project would certainly change the feel. I think the redesign does a good job of preserving not only the façades, but entire buildings in some cases. Especially with the centre courtyard, there are lots of opportunities to showcase what exists there currently.
So, the front page story has been republished with high quality renderings in it now, while the dataBase file has been updated with them too. If you want to get a close look at the glass block plans, then the dataBase is your best bet. (Click on the thumbnail, it expands once, click on the X in the lower right corner, and you'll get full size, scrollable.

Westbank wants everyone to know—however—that these images are still in flux, changeable, not final, details may be altered, things happen. Glad that's clear!