We are re-publishing our article of May 18th about the second version of Westbank and Allied's BIG-designed proposal for their King St. West project, as the developers have now provided us with high quality images. (Our previous images were shots of the slides projected at the public consultation—while not optimal, a good start—but we are very pleased to be able to share the high quality concept images with you now. Our dataBase file for the development, linked at the bottom of the page, has also been updated with new images. The developers caution that they are still tweaking the design before it is formally resubmitted to the City of Toronto, so some elements are still in flux.
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On Tuesday May 16th, roughly 80 people packed into a meeting room at Metro Hall for a public consultation on Allied Properties and Westbank Corp's joint venture project at 485 through 539 King Street West, designed by the world renowned architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group. First announced in February 2016, the project was then submitted to City Planning that May, where it has since been circulating through the planning process. In the year since, the applicants and City Planning staff/Design Review Panel members have, to say the least, agreed to disagree on what they believe is the best balance for livability on the site. This meeting was a chance for the developers to present a second iteration of their plan to both the public and to the City for the first time.
The meeting included representatives from the City of Toronto such as Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy, Urban Design manager for Toronto and East York James Parakh, Planner on the file Dan Nicholson, and those appearing on behalf of the developers, including Ken Greenberg, acting as the development team's planning consultant, two architects from BIG's New York office, and a representative of Westbank and Allied.
The site, located southwest of the King-Spadina intersection, currently consists of seven properties, at 485, 489, 495, 499, 511, 519-529 and 539 King St West, some of which is surface parking lot. 489 and 511 are designated heritage buildings, while 485 is en route for heritage designation. Under the proposed King-Spadina Heritage Conservation Plan, buildings 485, 489, 495, and 511 have been identified as "contributing properties", whereas the City would like these buildings preserved in the case of redevelopment.
The 2.0 plans for the development would see 16-storey mixed-use buildings of rising and falling volumes on a 45 degree plane, creating peaks as high as 57.6 m/189 feet. While the massing is inspired by Habitat 67 in Montreal, the buildings' suites would rotate 45 degrees away from the street grid, creating a highly animated street frontage. A total of 624 residential units would be included.
The presentation first focused on a series of new public spaces that are in the works in the west end of Downtown, and how they interconnect with each other. Beginning with Toronto's proposed Rail Deck Park, paths would then lead through The Well with its mid-block retail mews connections and new public park, then across the street at 456 Wellington (a recent purchase by Allied REIT to add to the development site) a new public park designed by Claude Cormier would lead north into the proposal's courtyard via "cut-through" laneways, and on to King West. On the north side of King, Brant Street leads up to St Andrews Playground and the Waterworks project. Together, it all improves the interconnectedness of the area's main public realm draws.
The new design is slightly scaled down from its original form, with a reconfiguration of the height peaks, and a breaking up of the massing from one large rectangular building to two where an 8-metre wide cut-through lane will run. The setbacks along the south and west side of the site have increased, reducing the bulk of the previous iteration. This version also includes the retention of the heritage building at 495 King West (in the southeast corner of the site) which would be used as a new community facility, though is it yet to be determined exactly what that may entail. In addition, the plans now have the BIG design stepping back more from the King Street heritage building fronts and sides, and exposes some of their roofs, which would serve as outdoor amenity spaces of some sort. The new approach to the heritage buildings was well received by the audience, who felt that this better showcased the buildings in comparison with the initial design.
At street level, a strong emphasis is being made on how the laneways connect and interact with the development, and surrounding spaces. For instance, the laneways are proposed to have public art installations that can change throughout the year, similar to what is going to be done on the laneways at Westbank's Mirvish Village. All mid-block connections into the site will be beside the retained heritage buildings, aiming to achieve a stronger sense of place and scale. Lined by retail and restaurants, the laneways open up into the interior courtyard, which will see more sunlight, due to the massing breaks for the cut-through laneway and change in elevation peaks. Running 20 metres in length and 93 metres wide, the courtyard will be large enough to host substantial crowds for different events, festivals, and other activities.
The architectural team along with landscape architects Public Work is still studying ways to further animate the northwest corner of the courtyard. Currently, that part would see the courtyard rise in elevation to two separate levels, either through amphitheatre style seating or other alternatives.
Once the presentation by the applicants was over, a question and answer period followed.
Roughly ten people spoke out in support of the project, praising the team for their efforts in creating an architecturally bold and unique design for Toronto. One speaker suggested that the team consider restudying the south facing terraces that would face Wellington, designed to be slightly larger and attract more sunlight. One audience member said that the height peaks from the original design felt more organic and natural, versus the updated version, where that element has been taken out. Another asked about family sized units, to which the response was at minimum 10% will be 3-bedroom units, with a significant percentage of 2-bedroom units as well.
One speaker declared, "This makes me want to move back to an apartment", while several speakers commented that all too often, "the norm" leaves much to be desired in city building, and it is going beyond the norm that can make cities great. Westbank and Allied's approach was lauded for not being the norm.
Overall, the audience was pleased with the progress made to the first design, which was criticized for being too bulky and imposing given its location. While members of the public agreed that there are still a few issues to resolve, the development would be a much welcomed addition to Toronto. Nobody spoke against the project; a rarity at public consultations.
As for City Planning, they have stated that there are issues with this site, and what they would like to see changed. To begin, they want a 10-metre setback from the King St frontage, while ideally, have the density pushed into the middle of the site. The applicants argued that by doing this, there would be little to no opportunity to provide the animated public courtyard space that they want.
Heritage retention was another issue that has City staff concerned, despite Allied and Westbank's efforts to include another heritage building into the development. Additionally, Planning staff feels that this is still too tall, as buildings along Wellington should transition down in height to King West, citing 629 King West as an example of a building that great exceeds what should be accepted in height and scale here. Planning maintains that architectural quality should not exempt proposals from planning policies, for it can set a bad precedent.
We will keep you up to date as we await the official resubmission to City Planning, which promises to be interesting to follow. Information on the initial proposal can be found in the project's dataBase file, linked below. Those images follow the new high quality version 2.0 concept images, now added to the file as well.
Want to share your thoughts on the new design? Feel free comment using the space provided below, or join in the ongoing conversation in the associated Forum thread.
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