Recently appearing on both our Top 10 of 2017 lists for most popular Database files and Forum threads, The Well is clearly one of the most highly-anticipated developments in Toronto, and excitement is building as construction ramps up on site. Demolition is now complete and shoring is well underway on the massive mixed-use 7-building complex by RioCan, Allied, Diamond Corp, Tridel, and Woodbourne on the property of the former Globe and Mail headquarters at Front and Spadina. While workers are busy on site, design development has continued behind the scenes with a series of Site Plan Approval (SPA) submissions received by the City. We have summarized below some of the main design tweaks to the buildings that have occurred since our last design update on the project, and highlight some new details revealed in the documents that offer a clearer picture of what is to come.
The Well is broken down into several components and phases, each with its own architect and SPA. Buildings A, B, and C represent the three mid-rises along Wellington Street on the north edge of the site, labelled east to west, while Buildings D, E, F, and G represent the four towers along Front Street on the south edge of the site, labelled west to east.
The design team consists of Adamson Associates as Executive Architects and Hariri Pontarini Architects as Design Architects, both of whom are responsible for the design of the 36-storey office tower (Building G) on the northwest corner of Front and Spadina, along with the podiums of all seven buildings. In charge of the residential portions are Wallman Architects, who are designing the tower components of the three mid-rises along Wellington Street (Buildings A, B, and C), and architectsAlliance, who are designing the tower portions of the three remaining buildings along Front Street (Buildings D, E, and F). Claude Cormier + Associés are leading the design of the landscape and public realm for the full project, while BDP Architects are designing the retail spaces throughout the podiums.
We begin with Building G, the largest of the towers, which rises 36 storeys (39 storeys including mechanical penthouse levels) to a total height of 174 metres (571 feet), containing primarily office space. The tower sits on a four-storey podium, with retail on the ground and second floors, and with a notable addition of a restaurant space on the 38th level. With ample space around the tower and a nearly 360-degree view from 164 metres above the ground, the 38th-floor restaurant should offer some rather breathtaking views of the city skyline.
The architecture of the office tower has been refined, with the three distinct rectangular volumes each featuring visible cross-bracing on both the north and south facades. A signature cylindrical exit stair runs the full length of the building on the north face, lending the tower a Richard Rogers-esque aesthetic. The east and west elevations of the tower are flat glass curtain walls, emphasizing the articulation of the north and south facades, which give the building its unique style.
The four-storey podium of Building G, which is shared by Building F to the west, has also been refined and simplified in its appearance. The vertical terra cotta slats that once covered the full height of the podium have been reduced to just the second floor on the exterior elevations, while the cross-bracing that was visible on the upper floors of the podium has been removed. The overall massing has been simplified, with the bottom two floors recessed to increase the public realm at ground level, and the upper floors cantilevering over the sidewalk with a clear glass facade.
The main entrance at the southeast corner of the podium has also been simplified, opting for a more subtle recess of the vertical slats in lieu of the large articulated glass cube shown in previous renderings. The podium steps up to 6 storeys at Building F on its west end, but maintains the same architectural language.
Stretching along Front Street, the towers of Buildings D, E, and F are all designed by architectsAlliance and feature a uniform architectural language. Building F, the easternmost of the three, rises 46 storeys to a height of 157.4 metres (516 feet), and features 613 units with a breakdown of 83 studios, 370 one-bedrooms, 116 two-bedrooms, and 44 three-bedrooms. To the west, Building E rises 39 storeys to a height of 136.1 metres (447 feet), with 430 units comprised of 283 one-bedrooms, 105 two-bedrooms, and 42 three-bedrooms. Finally, Building D, the westernmost of the trio, rises 22 storeys to a height of 81.4 metres (267 feet), totalling 274 units with a breakdown of 184 one-bedrooms, 62 two-bedrooms, and 28 three-bedrooms.
The architecture of the three towers has been refined from previous renderings. Whereas older images show angled balconies wrapping around all elevations of the buildings, the updated renderings show smooth glass curtain walls on the north and south facades, with angled balconies present only on the east and west elevations. All three towers have the same articulation, with the massing of each one skewed at a different angle to add some relief to the homogeneity.
The podiums of Buildings D, E, and F are being treated as separate buildings, each designed by Hariri Pontarini and Adamson and slated to be constructed prior to the towers, with construction on the towers coming at a later date dependent on market conditions. Unlike the towers, each podium has a very different architectural expression that sets them apart from each other and creates visual interest at ground level. Building F shares its podium with that of Building G, as described above.
The podium of Building E rises six storeys and features a distinct arched facade reminiscent of a historic structure, but with clear contemporary detailing. The building will be clad in grey or white terra cotta, with metal spandrels between the windows, setting it apart in character and appearance from its neighbours. The ground and second floors will be retail while the upper levels are marked as office space.
The podium of Building D rises 4 storeys and has a distinctly more opaque appearance than the other podiums, by virtue of the functions it is planned to house: above the grade-level retail and loading dock/parking entrance, a cinema will be located on the upper floors of the building, while a fitness centre is proposed for the top floor and a child care centre is proposed for the ground floor. The podium will be finished with recessed metal panels overlaid with an extruded red brick pattern, arranged in long irregularly-spaced vertical columns. An occasional band of windows pierces the metal, but for the most part, the upper portion of the Building D podium is largely opaque.
Moving to the north side of the site along Wellington Street, the upper portions of Buildings A, B, and C are designed by Wallman Architects and feature a similar architectural style. Building C, the westernmost of the three, rises 14 storeys to a height of 55.9 metres (183 feet), and contains 153 units with a breakdown of 34 one-bedrooms, 80 two-bedrooms, and 39 three-bedrooms. Just to the east, Building B will rise 16 storeys to a height of 62.5 metres (205 feet), with 168 units comprised of 68 one-bedrooms, 78 two-bedrooms, and 22 three-bedrooms. Finally, Building A, the easternmost of the three, rises 16 storeys to a total height of 62.5 metres (205 feet), containing 180 units with a breakdown of 74 one-bedrooms, 77 two-bedrooms, and 29 three-bedrooms.
All three mid-rises feature a similar C-shaped massing that rises to the seventh or eighth floor before stepping back considerably from Wellington in a series of cascading terraces. From the ground level to the seventh or eighth floor, which accounts for the bulkiest part of the building, the exterior cladding will be brick, while the upper stepped-back floors will be clad in glass curtain wall. The brick portion features a varying pattern of rectangular volumes on each building, while the three buildings will be distinguished from each other by colour: Building A will have red brick, Building B will be finished with yellow brick, and Building C will feature brown brick.
The podiums of the three mid-rises, while designed by Hariri Pontarini and Adamson, are more similar to the architectural language of the upper portions than their counterparts along Front Street. The podiums of each mid-rise will be only two storeys in height, and each will be finished with brick to match the colour of each building. The two podium levels will contain retail spaces.
The interstitial spaces between the buildings are still slated to be a grandiose multi-level shopping concourse, complete with a curving glass canopy and a central full-height atrium space. The finishes of this shopping concourse appear to be consistent with the exterior-facing facades of the podiums, giving each building a distinct presence within the site. More information on the retail components can be found in a previous feature story, here.
A lot is happening below ground that will go unnoticed to the average visitor of The Well. Six underground levels will fill the entire footprint of the site, eventually servicing all seven buildings in one integrated and continuous base stretching down to roughly 22 metres (72 feet) below grade. Levels P6 and P5 will contain parking, while level P4 will contain all loading docks for the retail and commercial units, accessed by a long ramp at the southwest corner of the site off of Front Street. Level P3 is dedicated to parking, while Levels P2 and P1 will contain retail and commercial spaces along the main atrium, with parking and service spaces integrated into the residual space around them. Access for car parking is provided on the western edge of the site from both Wellington and Front Streets.
Interestingly enough, plans on the P2 level call out two locations of knockout panels in the south foundation wall, which would currently lead directly onto the rail corridor. These are intended to accommodate future connections to a potential SmartTrack/GO station at Front and Spadina, the construction of which is still hypothetical at this point. This transit station would be located directly beneath Rail Deck Park, another very much hypothetical project that would bridge over the rail corridor between Bathurst and Spadina with a new public park. Surface access to the new transit station would potentially be from directly within Rail Deck Park and off of Spadina Avenue, in addition to the underground connections from The Well.
A preliminary phasing plan was revealed last spring, but it is unclear if this is still the case, as the organization of the SPA submissions reveals a slightly different project breakdown. The Well is broken up into five different SPA applications: Building G was grouped with the podiums of all seven buildings as part of one document; the tower of Building F stood as its own submission; the towers of Buildings D and E were grouped into one application; the tower portion of Building C comprised one application; and the towers of Buildings A and B were combined into a single submission.
If the organization of the SPA applications is any indication, a unique approach to building out a master plan is being taken with The Well that may bode well for the city and local residents. While master plans often present grandiose visions of city building, it usually takes years or even decades for a master plan to be fully realized, and often there are changes along the way that alter the final product from what was originally proposed. Planning and construction is usually phased as one stand-alone building at a time without any relation to each other, the result of which is a lack-lustre interim period of half-realized schemes, and on occasion a disappointing end result that falls short of expectations.
In the case of The Well, by treating the podiums separately from their tower components and presenting them together as a cohesive, unified vision, it provides more of a guarantee that the public portions of the project will be fully realized sooner rather than later, and it also provides somewhat of a buffer from market conditions. The implication is that the podiums will be constructed first along with the retail and public realm, regardless of whether the residential tower components are ever built out, and this affords some flexibility to the residential towers to respond to any changes in market conditions without negatively impacting the project as a whole. This analysis is merely speculative, but the scheme as proposed offers promise and hints at an intriguing approach to master planning that could reshape development in Toronto.
Construction is now well underway on the site of The Well, so stay tuned as we provide more updates on progress as it happens. In the meantime, you can get in on the discussion by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.
+ + +
ED NOTE: This story has been edited to recognize Diamond Corp as one of the developers of The Well.