Plans for a 22-storey office building at the corner of Adelaide and Ontario Streets were presented to the Toronto Design Review Panel last week, representing another step in the long saga of this site that dates back to 2011. The Sweeny&Co Architects-designed building at 25 Ontario is owned by First Gulf, and proposes to add roughly 41,500 square metres of commercial space atop a retained heritage facade to the burgeoning King-Parliament district.

Bird's eye view of 25 Ontario, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The long history of the site dates back to a rezoning application submitted by the previous owners in December 2011 for a 22-storey condominium tower, which included alterations to the existing heritage building. The proposal met with approval from City Planning and Community Council, but failed to be approved at City Council due to unresolved noise and air emission issues with respect to the neighbouring buildings. 

Rendering of the previously proposed 22-storey condo tower, design by Burka Architects for Torli

First Gulf purchased the site in November 2013, and put forth a revised proposal for a 27-storey rental residential tower in mid-2014. The rezoning application for the new rental tower was never completed, with First Gulf changing direction and putting forth the current proposal for an office tower earlier this year.

The proposed office tower would rise to a total height of 103 metres, roughly the equivalent of a 29-storey residential tower, which is noticeably higher than the existing and under-construction towers in the area. The building would be joining an increasingly high-rise context, with the new Globe and Mail Centre just to the south, Axiom Condos under construction to the north, and a massive proposal for two residential towers across the street to the west.

View of 25 Ontario looking northeast, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Currently occupying the site is the heritage-designated Drug Trading Company Building, a three-storey commercial building constructed in 1942 that represents one of only a handful of Art Moderne structures in Toronto. The proposal would retain the west and north facades in their entirety, while utilizing the existing entrance on the west facade as the main entrance of the new building. The parking entrance, loading dock, and service spaces would be located on the northeast corner, so no alterations to the heritage facade would be necessary to accommodate.

North and west elevations, showing the heritage facade, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Furthermore, the tower features a 4.6-metre setback (4.5 metres on the west side) from the heritage facade, with an angled face and chamfered corner providing greater sky visibility to help differentiate the new from the old, allowing the heritage building to be expressed as a separate entity in its own right.

View looking north along Ontario Street, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Inside the building, two towering spaces provide some impressive common areas and social programming. The main lobby will incorporate some retail and will extend the full height of the heritage building, with the exterior materials and patterns of the retained facade mirrored and replicated on the inside face. Above the lobby is a three-storey atrium clad in glass that opens up onto a roof garden atop the heritage structure below.

Ground floor plan, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Fourth and fifth floor plan, image courtesy of First Gulf.

On the east side, the building faces the courtyard of the TCHC housing complex at 501 Adelaide East. To mitigate privacy issues, the ground floor will be opaque, with a mural or another public art feature along its length, while the portion of the wall that meets the TCHC building will be made opaque to block views into either of the structures. As well, mullions along the lower floors will feature angled fins to give additional privacy to the existing residential units.

View of the east facade from the TCHC courtyard, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Panelists were supportive overall of the proposal, giving a warm welcome to the change in use from residential to commercial as a positive step for the site and for the neighbourhood as a whole. They were impressed with the design and praised the treatment of the heritage building and the full retention of its facade. They did, however, point out a few areas of improvement for the project.

A common issue raised by Panel members was the scale of the building. The Panel remarked that the building was a bit too high for its context, and seemed rather bulky. With a maximum floor plate size peaking at just over 2,000 square metres, it was suggested that the building be shortened and slimmed down, and that the massing be broken up a bit more. Currently, the massing is divided into two distinct sections characterized by a small return and a slight change in glazing, but the Panel generally agreed that more differentiation was needed between the two volumes, perhaps by using a different material, in order to create a successful gesture.

View from Ontario Street looking south, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Several concerns were also raised about the east elevation facing the TCHC building. Panelists pointed out that the 22-storey high shear wall facing the courtyard was incredibly looming, and that more needed to be done to ease the overpowering effect of its height. It was suggested that perhaps the chamfering motif used on the main facades can be repeated on the east to break up the shear wall. Concerns about privacy were also raised, with the Panel unanimously agreeing that the solid portions of the wall and fins on the mullions were simply not enough to protect the views and privacy of the residents.

View of the northwest corner, image courtesy of First Gulf.

A final comment from the Panel involved the design of the lobby and atrium spaces, which they claimed seemed underwhelming from the renderings. They postulated about perhaps connecting the two spaces into a impressively towering 6-storey atrium, or using some more eye-catching materials and lighting to animate them. Public art was also suggested to be used a centrepiece of the main areas, possibly rising the full 6-storeys to create a point of attraction.

Rendering of the main floor lobby, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Rendering of the main floor lobby, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Overall, the Panel applauded the work of the design team and gave their enthusiastic approval for the project, with a unanimous vote for refinement of the current design.

Stay tuned for more updates as 25 Ontario makes its way through the planning process. In the meantime, you can tell us what you think about it by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.

Related Companies:  ERA Architects, First Gulf, NAK Design Group, Sweeny &Co Architects Inc., The Mitchell Partnership Inc.