Last November, a preliminary master plan revealed the scope of First Gulf's plans for the once-industrial expanse of Toronto land long referred to as the Unilever site. Although public details of the plans for a new office, retail, and transit hub only date back to last year, the long-vacant site now feels more like a promise of the future than a relic of the past.

Aerial view of the East Harbour concept, image via submission to the City of Toronto

More than anything, it was the renderings of the transit hub that did it. Promising a futuristic, curving rail station, the sexy transit showpiece would be complemented by First Gulf's vision for a new commercial centre employing some 50,000 people across almost 11 million ft² of new office space. With detailed plans for the transit station now available—UrbanToronto's in-depth look is available here—First Gulf's submission to the city also details a comprehensive vision for the 60-acre (24 hectare) site now known as the East Harbour

The existing Unilever site, image via First Gulf

Predicated on the development of the much-needed Relief Line, enhanced GO service, and a new streetcar line, the futuristic transit hub—all grand arches and sleek curves—remains the locus of attention. Flanking it, a retail and employment hub is envisioned as as major commercial centre. Master planned by Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and Adamson Associates, the proposal offers an early look at what promises to be a transformative development. 

The site plan, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Alongside the 10.9 million ft² office space, the plans call for some 2.1 million ft² of retail space, potentially creating one of Toronto's premier retail destinations. Fleshing out First Gulf's optimistic vision for the site, the submission provides a a more in-depth set of urban design guidelines, as well as the preliminary three-phase plan for the build-out of the site.

The general massing for the site, with the tallest buildings exceeding 150 metres, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Clustered around a flexibly programmable 6.9 acre central plaza—intended as both a gathering space and a retail/cultural destination— the master plan depicts a collection of high-rise office buildings surrounding the open space. The proposal calls for 12 tower-on-podium structures, with a series of terraced forms rising above the evenly scaled base buildings. This model, however, indicates only the maximum planned massing for the site, and does not reflect the architectural expression of the eventual buildings, with the individual designs—which will likely be divided among a number of architectural firms—set to take shape at a later stage.

Winter skating in the central plaza, image via submission to the City of Toronto

While exact heights have yet to be worked out, the largest buildings would be clustered around the transit hub. The tallest—suggested as a 49-storey 204 metre-high tower—would be south of the station and on the west side of Broadview, with heights of other buildings gradually reducing to the south and east. 

Phase one, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Flanking the transit hub, the three tallest buildings would be built out first, with the first of the surrounding tower-podium structures set to follow.

Phase Two, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Together with the last of the commercial office towers, the more intimately scaled "creative campus" buildings lining the east end of the site—which would cater to smaller, innovative businesses—would make up the final third phase of the project. As the viability of the project is strongly contingent on continuously evolving market conditions, however, no specific timeline for these phases has been provided.   

Phase Three, image via submission to the City of Toronto

While significant high-rise density is earmarked for the site, the master plan emphasizes connectivity and porosity throughout. Complementing the extension of Broadview Avenue through the centre of the site, a new street grid is supplemented by numerous mid-block connections, creating a pedestrian-dominated environment of mews and laneways. Alongside the Broadview extension, the two new streets will be a new north-south road through the east side of the site, and the so-called 'East Harbour Boulevard' that will run east-west. Both Broadview and East Harbour Boulevard would also feature separated bike lanes. 

A map of the site highlights the planned connectivity, image via submission to the City of Toronto

To accommodate the volume of commercial development, the planned blocks are relatively large, and potentially cumbersome. Compensating for this layout, the experience of a fine-grained urban street grid would instead be fostered by mid-block connections, which increase connectivity by filling out the site with pedestrian-only laneways.  

Pedestrian-oriented, greenscaped spaces are planned throughout the site, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Green space is also a prominent feature of the new community, with two parks joined by greenscaped streets and laneways. On Eastern Avenue, the 2.1-acre 'North Park' will provide a open space where East Harbour connects to the neighbouring community. Facing the Don River, the 3.9 acre 'West Park' is designed to animate the riverfront, providing a calmer environment that will hopefully be met by the upcoming naturalization of the Don River mouth. Overall, approximately third of the 60-acre site would be given over to green space.  

Open spaces are found throughout the site, image via submission to the City of Toronto

To make the area a more vital part of the city, the new neighbourhood is also planned as a major retail hub. In context, the 2 million ft² of planned retail is roughly equivalent to the 2.15 million ft² Toronto Eaton Centre, and slightly larger than the 1.7 million ft² Yorkdale Mall. However, while those malls serve almost exclusively as shopping destinations, the East Harbour retail plan calls for a combination of mall-style destination retailers and the sort of daily goods and services provided by neighbourhood stores. 

Street-level spaces could feature intricate paving, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Approximately half of the retail space (some 1 million ft²) will be housed indoors. Spread out across the office podiums, the indoor spaces—much of which would also be concentrated near the transit hub and central plaza—would feature a mixed retail program, with mall-style offerings. Connected by covered pedestrian passages and bridges, the indoor retailers would be complemented by another 1 million ft² of stores accessible solely from the outdoors. Compared to most major malls—which are defined by anchor tenants—the retail program promises to focus more on small, independently owned stores. 

Another conceptual rendering of the street level, image via submission to the City of Toronto

We will keep you updated as the planning process continues, and more information about the massive East Harbour project becomes available. In the meantime, make sure to check out our dataBase file, linked below. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a comment in the space on this page, or join the ongoing conversation in our associated Forum thread.

Related Companies:  Adamson Associates Architects, Entuitive, Urban Strategies Inc.