A revised design of Menkes' Waterfront Innovation Centre is making waves on social media, as new images reveal a starkly different direction for the appearance of the building after a lengthy design process. Updated renderings of the proposed building, designed by Sweeny &Co Architects, were found by UrbanToronto Forum members on the developer's website and posted on the dedicated thread last week.

Looking northeast to the 2016 update for the Innovation Centre proposal, image retrieved from Toronto Planning submission

Located just to the north of Corus Quay along the south side of Queens Quay east of Jarvis, the highly touted project spearheaded by Waterfront Toronto has had high expectations since it was announced back in 2013. Then Waterfront Toronto President and CEO John Campbell stated at the time that "[a] key part of our vision has been to make Toronto’s waterfront synonymous with innovation—from high-performance green buildings to smart infrastructure—we are building communities that are leading-edge and future-ready."

The promotional material went on to highlight the great potential in the mixed-use technology-focused East Bayfront community, laying out an ambitious vision for the valuable piece of land. A placeholder rendering—not showing an actual design, but rather, illustrating an intent for the type of building Waterfront Toronto wished to build—was included as part of their marketing.

Conceptual massing study of the Waterfront Innovation Centre by Waterfront Toronto

After it was announced in February 2015 that Menkes and Sweeny &Co had won the competition to design and build the project, Waterfront Toronto unveiled their winning entry at a special event—a dramatic design that, although schematic, showed an intent for something eye-catching and above ordinary. The design was tweaked over the following months before it made a pair of presentations to the Waterfront Design Review Panel (DRP) in October and November of that year. Its reception from the Panel, however, was less than enthusiastic.

Looking northeast to the 2015 winning entry design, image courtesy of Menkes Developments.

The development was criticized first and foremost as being too similar in appearance to the Ryerson Student Learning Centre. The Panel also pointed out a disconnect in the two volumes of the building, with the eastern end articulated as a simple rectangular box that seemed underwhelming and did not relate to its surroundings, in comparison with the more angular western face of the building. Further comments criticized the intrusion of the western stair into the park space of Sugar Beach, the size of the connecting bridge between the two volumes, and the use of an all-glass facade in relation to the LEED goals of the project.

After the second review, the Panel strongly encouraged the team to "undertake a debrief meeting and a major re-thinking of the design," wishing for one that was more unique, sculptural, and contextual befitting the 'innovation' included in its name. They promptly rejected the design of the building.

Looking east to the 2015 Innovation Centre proposal, image retrieved from Toronto Planning submission

Menkes and Sweeny &Co have now gone back to the drawing board, producing a new boxy iteration that sports the signature flat glass facades and rectangular forms synonymous with many of the architect's recent projects. An excerpt from Menkes' promotional material touts a "cutting-edge project" that "will represent the next evolution in commercial office development and will reinvent how employees work together in Toronto’s rapidly evolving creative and technology sectors."

Looking southeast to the 2016 update for the Innovation Centre proposal, image retrieved from Toronto Planning submission

The reaction from the online community and our Forum contributors has been largely negative, expressing disappointment and, in some cases, even outrage, describing the design as a large step backward from the initial renderings and likening it to an uninspiring suburban office complex. It seems as though the designers funnelled the desired innovation into the building's technology and office amenities, and left little of the innovation to the architecture of the building itself.

Given the built-up hype surrounding the project, the highly visible location of the building along the waterfront, and the precedent-setting implications of the development as a major driver for the future of the East Bayfront community, it is safe to say that the most recent iteration falls well short of expectations.

Looking east to the 2016 update for the Innovation Centre proposal, image retrieved from Toronto Planning submission

The simplified design is reminiscent of the lukewarm reception by critics of the previously constructed Corus Quay and George Brown Waterfront Campus just south of the property. With a prime waterfront site, these two buildings were criticized for their unremarkable glass box architecture that did little to achieve landmark status or complement the stellar public spaces nearby.

View of the Corus Quay and George Brown Waterfront Campus, image by Forum contributor salsa.

The project will likely make a third appearance at the Waterfront DRP soon, though after previous comments calling for a more unique and sculptural landmark, it might be expected that it is in for a rocky ride. The DRP— comprised of an all-star line-up of innovators including Bruce Kuwabara, Brigitte Shim, Claude Cormier, George Baird, Donald Schmitt, and Peter Busby, among others—is not without precedent for showing tough love to waterfront projects: Tridel and Hines' Aquavista condo development required four appearances at the DRP before its design was finalized.

Rendering of Tridel and Hines' Aquavista development, image courtesy of Tridel and Hines.

The Waterfront Innovation Centre has yet to secure an anchor tenant and is still in the design phase, so it is likely that the project will continue to evolve as it works its way through the planning process. We will keep you updated as new information arises.

What do you think of the new design of the building (images #1, 4, and 6 in this story)? Does it embody innovation or join the ranks of the ordinary? Let us know what you think by joining in the conversation in our the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.

Related Companies:  GFL Environmental Inc., Menkes Developments, Stephenson Engineering, Sweeny &Co Architects Inc., The Mitchell Partnership Inc., Waterfront Toronto