Toronto's tallest neighbourhood is about to get a whole lot taller. QuadReal made a splash back in December when they revealed their proposal for Commerce Court 3, a redevelopment of the Financial District site with a new 64-storey office tower and glass pavilion. The most exciting thing to hit the Financial District since Trump's name was dumped from the Adelaide Hotel, the eye-catching Commerce Court 3 (CC3) appeared before the distinguished Toronto Design Review Panel last week for its first run before the experts.

Rendering of Commerce Court 3 along Wellington Street, image courtesy of QuadReal.

The redevelopment would replace the two smaller buildings of 5 and 13-storeys in the four-building complex, while redesigning the connections between the existing buildings and renovating the underground PATH level. Designed by DIALOG and Hariri Pontarini Architects, the proposal includes public realm improvements from Claude Cormier + Associés, and would tie for the title of tallest office building in Canada, matching First Canadian Place at a height of 298.1 metres (978 feet). More details about the proposal can be found in our feature story, here, but for now, we will focus on the comments of the Panel.

Rendering of Commerce Court 3, image courtesy of QuadReal.

The issue of heritage conservation was central to much of the discussion around CC3, as the site's existing building stock plays an important role in Toronto's architectural history. The first building of the complex, Commerce Court North, was completed in 1931 by architects Darling & Pearson in the Art Deco style, and remained the tallest building in Canada for 31 years. Next, Modernist architect I.M. Pei developed a master plan for the site and constructed the remaining three buildings of Commerce Court West, South, and East in 1972, arranging them in a pinwheel configuration encircling a central public courtyard along with the North building. Finally, Zeidler Partnership Architects carried out renovations at the ground level from 1993-95 that enclosed the courtyard with vestibules connecting the buildings and reconfigured the retail below grade. All four structures are designated heritage buildings.

I.M. Pei's pinwheel master plan, image courtesy of QuadReal.

The proposed redevelopment would replace the South and East buildings, but aims to maintain the pinwheel configuration of Pei's master plan around a central courtyard. ERA Architects are leading the heritage interpretation of the new proposal, and justified the removal of the two buildings as a necessary evolution of the Financial District, citing the spirit of Pei's pinwheel configuration and the juxtaposition of old and new as ways in which the new building respects the heritage character of the site.

Aerial rendering of proposed Commerce Court, image courtesy of QuadReal.

Panelists were unconvinced by the presented heritage arguments and felt that more needed to be done to properly acknowledge the heritage qualities of the site. They lamented the loss of the two buildings, praising them as Modernist gems that captured the zeitgeist of the era, but they understood the economic environment that necessitates their replacement and were in general agreement that the new building proposed is of an acceptable quality that justifies demolition. However, they voiced serious concerns about the preservation of the pinwheel layout, claiming that the new proposal diminished these qualities that were present in Pei's master plan.

Proposed site plan of Commerce Court, image courtesy of QuadReal.

The spacing between the new tower and glass pavilion, and the reduced spacing between the new and old buildings, were criticized by the Panel, who claimed that the smaller gaps did not adequately replicate Pei's pinwheel scheme. The importance of the materiality of the existing buildings also came up in discussion, as the new buildings are much more transparent than Pei's more opaque stone-clad structures. ERA claimed that the materiality of the two buildings slated for demolition was not significant enough to merit heritage consideration.

Rendering of the Wellington Street frontage, image courtesy of QuadReal.

Panelists also pointed out that the central courtyard would be reduced in size to accommodate the new tower, and that the popular fountain at its centre would need to be shifted to a new location. They urged designers to come up with a solution that would maintain or maximize the size of the courtyard and preserve the fountain in situ.

Rendering of the new courtyard, image courtesy of QuadReal.

Several Panel members also encouraged designers to make the courtyard public, as the current proposal does not allow public access to the central space. While Zeidler's previous renovations enclosed the courtyard, the new proposal will be replacing all of the Zeidler additions, presenting the opportunity to reopen the courtyard as a publicly-accessible space.

View of the courtyard from the glass pavilion, image courtesy of QuadReal.

Aside from the critiques of the heritage considerations and the courtyard, Panelists were generally pleased with the proposal. They praised the landscape and streetscape improvements as a positive move, which would reconfigure the stairs along Bay Street and add planters and seating to the largely empty plazas around the buildings. They were also enthusiastic about the proposal to introduce skylights into the PATH system below, which they claimed would greatly improve the quality of the experience in the sprawling underground network.

Rendering of improved streetscape at the corner of King and Bay Streets, image courtesy of QuadReal.

In the end, Panel members were pleased overall with the proposal and voted unanimously for refinement of the current design. Given their critiques and comments, and the early stage of the planning process that CC3 is currently in, we can expect some design tweaks as the proposal moves forward.

Skyline rendering, image courtesy of QuadReal.

We will keep you posted with updates as this exciting proposal evolves, but in the meantime, you can get in on the discussion and tell us what you think by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.

Related Companies:  Adamson Associates, Claude Cormier + Associés, ERA Architects, Hariri Pontarini Architects, QuadReal Property Group, The Mitchell Partnership Inc., Urban Strategies Inc., urbanMetrics inc.