The beta version of Mirvish+Gehry 2.0 has arrived. It's 2.0 because we are looking at a fresh new proposal now—not just the latest iteration of the initial proposal—and beta because what you'll see in this article is not the final plan, but a major step on the way to it. However you felt about version 1.0 and the 1.5 update, clear the decks: there are now two towers where initially there were three, two of the heritage components on the site have been saved, and those who love the Princess of Wales theatre will be very happy to hear that it’s staying around now too.

The update was unveiled at Metro Hall on the evening of May 27 in front of a hundred or so people, including locals, architecture buffs from around the city, development industry professionals, and a number of those who had volunteered on the City-created Mirvish+Gehry working group. The group was instrumental in fashioning a new direction for the project, one which preserved heritage, preserved the cultural asset of the Princess of Wales theatre, and which brought down the overall density of the proposal.

A model history: an evolution of design from the three towers to two, image by Craig White

The meeting began with time for the attendees to view many models shipped here from architect Frank Gehry’s studio in Los Angeles. While smaller models showed the evolving plan for the two tower version, from initial ideas to the working plan, a pair of larger models fleshed out the details, or at least to the degree to which the details are worked out at this point.

It was stressed that there are another few dozen models to come before all of the details are settled upon, including refinements to the massing, tweaks to the public realm plan, and finalizing the of the cladding materials. Generally though, what you see below represents the direction the project is going in, with tectonically shifted sections, 'parent and child' volumes, and alternating glass and pre-cast façades. Gehry wants no back side for the towers, but wants the two to present an ever-changing relationship to each other, as if they might be in a dance, as you view them while moving through the city.

The Mirvish+Gehry towers looking northeast, image by Craig White

The first of the larger models (seen above and in the next two images) presented the towers in the context of their surroundings.

Seen from the southwest above, and from the northeast below, the massing and cladding of the towers has been rethought. David Nam, a partner at Gehry Partners, told the audience that once the decision was made to go with a two-tower plan, the Gehry team felt that simply removing the furthest west tower from the previous plan would not work, and that a total reassessment of the design was necessary. Where the first plan presented three towers which were related but were each of a kind, the new towers would need to have a stronger dialogue between them and work better as a pair. They would also now need to work as a southern gateway to Duncan Street—also known as Ed Mirvish Way for this block—framing the street, and making it the central focus of the public realm plan, and leaving it with the feel of an 'urban room'.

The Mirvish+Gehry towers looking southwest, image by Craig White

While the towers of first plan reached 84, 86, and 82 storeys (moving west to east), in the new plan the west tower now reaches 92 storeys, or 304.3 metres/998 feet, while the east tower remains at 82 storeys. Despite the new west tower being taller than the previous centre tower, its uppermost volume has been trimmed to a size that will reduce the tower's shadow impact on Queen Street, three blocks to the north, so that it does not add new shadow to the north sidewalk of that street at Spring and Fall equinoxes (when the City always applies shadow studies).

With the new design, Gehry, said Nam, was also concerned with producing a silhouette that would be dignified on Toronto's skyline, unique to the city, and convey humanity, something they feel is essential but difficult to achieve.

For the larger west tower, Gehry needed a way to break up its perceived bulk, and looked for a specifically Canadian motif to abstract it from. Having come to know the Group of Seven works well during his time working on the AGO, Gehry settled upon the waterfalls so often depicted in the Group's northern Ontario landscape paintings. That waterfall image is being realized as a cascade of glass down the centre of west tower, angled so that during summer sunsets in particular it should reflect back to the city a shimmering display of changing light.

Closer-up on the north façades and 'waterfall' feature, image by Craig White

Gehry's new design now responds to the John Street Cultural Corridor plan more fully. The new location for David Mirvish's art gallery is the top of the Eclipse White Wear building, which, it has already been determined, can hold the added load. It will be about 9,200 square feet in size and will be reached from a new elevator added to the north end of the building at John and Pearl streets. It can be seen at left in the image below, the first of three images of the more highly detailed public realm model.

At right in the image below is the front of the Anderson Building, the street's terra cotta fronted heritage warehouse. Not just the façade, but the first bay of the building is saved, while the back part is replaced by the new west tower podium.

Looking north across King Street at the Princess of Wales and Eclipse White Wear with Gallery, image by Craig White

The Anderson Building along with the Royal Alexandra Theatre will now bookend the podiums of the towers, as seen in the image below. The podiums now have fewer terraces, present a rippling and striated street wall along King, and are more urban in their massing than the earlier plan.

With this new plan, the Royal Alexandra Theatre site is now annexed as part of the total parcel. While there were no plans to close the Royal Alex, this move solidifies the preservation of the heritage designated live theatre venue for the future. The Princess of Wales, in the meantime, will also get heritage designation, protecting it as well from future redevelopment.

Looking northwest across King Street at the Royal Alexandra and the two podiums to the left, image by Craig White

The podiums are each planned to have ground floor and second floor retail. OCAD U will get two storeys of the east tower podium, while the remaining two storeys of it and four storeys of the west tower podium will be commercial office space. The amount of commercial space will increase slightly over what exists in the buildings now on site.

Seen below from the northeast across Pearl Street, the podium roof of the west tower provides outdoor amenity space for residents while street level programming of Ed Mirvish Way/Duncan Street is just hinted at from this angle. Concerts or other events could be held on a portion of this block, and final landscape/streetscape plans will take that type of occasional programming into account.

Looking southwest across Pearl Street at the two podiums and surroundings, image by Craig White

The number of condominium units proposed for the development drops to 2,000 from the original 2,700, with 10% of the units targeted to be 3-bedroom suites, while the number of new parking spaces is now up over 500. Most new downtown condominium dwellers do not drive to work, and increasingly fewer of them own a car. Access to the west tower's garage (which may or may not be able to be connected underground to the Princess of Wales' garage) will be via Pearl Street. Access to the east tower's garage will be via Duncan Street. The layout will limit programming on that street to approximately the southern 2/3 of the block so that servicing and garage access are maintained. 

Pedestrian realm, looking northwest across King Street, original image by Gehry Partners

The whole plan will now be presented to the City as an application for an Official Plan amendment, one step beyond the more typical Zoning Bylaw amendment which most projects require. By going the extra step for the more heavily scrutinized OP approvals here, the City believes that a new height precedent—which could be copied across the area—will not be set, as there are no other large land parcels in the area with similar attributes.

We will keep you updated with more details and images as they become available.

If you want to be reminded of the original plan for the site, our dataBase file, linked below, still has the original images only. It will not be updated until digital originals of the new version are available. If you want to see more images from the May 27th public consultation, you can visit our Forum thread for the project here. Should you want to comment, you can add your voice to the conversation in that thread, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

Related Companies:  Adamson Associates Architects, Bousfields, Dream Unlimited, Great Gulf