Diamondcorp, Allied REIT, and RioCan have been advancing their plans for a transformative development on the site of the current Globe and Mail offices just to the west of the Downtown Toronto core. To be called The Well after Wellington Street along which it is located, the seven and a half acre lot is bordered by Spadina Avenue on the east and Front Street on the south. Currently small office, industrial and parking lot uses fill the property. It will be comprehensively made over with several new residential towers, extensive retail-lined mid-block pedestrian lanes, new green spaces, and a 36-storey office tower.
At a recent appearance before the City of Toronto's Design Review Panel, a number of changes to the previous plans were revealed. The most obvious of these changes is a completely redesigned office tower for the Front and Spadina corner, but we will detail a number of the other changes made to the initial plans.
The redesign of the office tower was prompted by the City's wish that shadowing on Clarence Square be minimized. The historic green space across Spadina, long underused, has seen increased attention in recent years as new residents have been pouring into the surrounding neighbourhoods. With new towers also proposed for the property east and south of Clarence Square known as 400 Front Street West, the City is determined to preserve sunlight on Clarence Square between noon and 2 PM daily so as to ensure lunch time use of the park is pleasant.
The Well's first office tower plan was for a 34-storey tower designed by hot American firm Pickard Chilton, but the design put Clarence Square into shadow for much of the noon hour that the City wanted shadow-free. Subsequent tweaks to the Pickard Chilton design did not result in the degree of improvement to the shadowing that the developers were looking for, so a new design competition was undertaken for the tower.
While Hariri Pontarini Architects have been the architects for the overall site of The Well since its inception, it was David Pontarini's entry to the new office tower design competition which won the commission, independent of their pre-existing involvement. The 'high-tech' design allows for three volumes decreasing in bulk as it moves away from Spadina Avenue, with the different size floor plates appealing to a greater range of businesses, while patios at each step back are becoming increasingly sought-after by businesses as relaxing spaces for their employees. X-frames in the facades mirror design elements planned across The Well's site for walkway and bridge balustrades.
Inside, the new tower's biggest move is its elevators, taken from the central core of the building and moved to its northwest corner. The off-centre approach is atypical of designs in North America but is becoming more common in Europe where irregularly shaped properties and similar shadowing concerns are more frequent. The design means that the 36-storey building can be terraced away from Clarence Square, and the result means that the park is in sunlight for 37 more minutes during the noon hour than the first design would have allowed.
The change in location for the elevators also means that the east-west pedestrian laneway through the site can now arc continually through the block without having to jog south prematurely. The laneway will now be open-air all the way as well, while being sheltered from rain and snow by a vaulted glass canopy to the west of the section under the office tower's base.
The entry for the laneway would begin under the glass cube, seen in various renderings accompanying this article. To the north would be the lobby of the office tower, while to its south there would be access to a high-end grocery store. The grocery store would have most of its square footage on the second level of the complex. Proceeding west along the laneway, people will find shops lining either side, and two north-south intersecting laneways. At the west end of the site there would be landscaped green space separating The Well from backyards on adjacent Draper Street.
The Well's north-south pedestrian lanes now pierce all the way through the site, opening up through-sightlines. The most easterly of the north-south lanes will have a vehicular drop-off space between two of the residential towers, accessed from Front Street, while the most westerly north-south lane will have a similar vehicular court accessed off of Wellington Street. The central north-south lane will be widened through the full site to link the Wellington and Front Street linear parks with its own tree-lined square and park area. One of the effects will be to make the Front Street side as much of a "front door" to the development as the Wellington side. Similarly, the Spadina and west sides of the site will be activated for pedestrian access to components of the site, leaving no side to feel like "the back". All servicing of the site would be underground, accessed along with parking via Front Street, close to the west end of the site.
The floor plates and heights of all of the residential towers have been tweaked in the latest design as well. Facing Wellington, the tops of all of the shorter towers have been terraced down so as to remove shadows from beyond the north curb of Wellington Street. On the west side, the step backs have been increased in deference to the existing low-rise Victorian homes on Draper Street, while the tallest residential towers along Front Street will have greater separation distance between them, meeting or exceeding all of Toronto's Tall Buildings Guidelines.
While we do not have the height in metres of the towers yet, we have the number of storeys proposed for each. As mentioned, the office tower at Front and Spadina would be the tallest at 36 storeys, and approximately 160 metres tall, which means about a 4.4 metres per floor on average. Residential floor heights are closer to 3 metres on average, so the highest residential tower, to the immediate west of the office tower, will be shorter, even while it will have 44 storeys. To the west of it would be a 38-storey tower, while the tower closest to Draper Street would step down from 21 storeys. Along Wellington Street, the west tower would be 13 storeys tall while the centre and east towers would be 15 storeys tall each.
Plans for the spaces within the site are still conceptual, and the designers—including renowned landscape architect Claude Cormier + Associés of Montreal—are looking at how best to activate the public areas with storefronts, vertical access, paving treatments, greenery, sheltering components, and public art. Cormier has stated that he favours an integrated public art program that will work with the architecture and landscape design over one which would "plop an individual piece here, a piece there…"
Renderings also show the potential location of and a link to a proposed GO Train station, currently under study by Metrolinx. A linear park would be built atop the current slope which borders the rail tracks to the south of Front, indicated by the trees in the image below, and a new access ramp from the east to the Puente de Luz bridge (which connects across the rail tracks to Concord CityPlace) would be built to improve connectivity for pedestrians. A Relief Line subway station might also be proposed for this site further in the future, while currently the 510 streetcar does have a stop immediately to the east of the site on Spadina north of Front.
Want to know more about The Well? We have a full set of renderings of the project, both the latest images and the previous concept, available for viewing in our dataBase file, linked below. Want to talk about it? You can join in on the conversation in our associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.