Station Street is a bit of an odd site for an office tower.

Not because of its proximity to Union Station, however: just west of Union Station, it makes perfect sense for more density to be added to Toronto's skyline here, within such a short walk of Canada's busiest transportation hub. What's odd about the privately owned Station Street—essentially a laneway that allows vehicles to access the parking and loading facilities of a couple of buildings bordering it—is that it screams back alley, while major Toronto office towers typically announce themselves along prominent streets with wide sidewalks and pedestrian plazas that lead to expansive, double or triple-height glass-fronted lobbies.

Station Street in Downtown Toronto, image from Apple Maps

Another thing that major Toronto office towers typically do not have in front of them is an eight-storey brick building. In this case, that's what's between the Station Street building site and a frontage on a prominent Toronto street. To be specific, the eight-storey brick building is a data centre through which pours the bulk of Toronto's voluminous internet traffic, a building that has to keep doing what it's doing, no interruptions, ever. It's staying.

Looking southeast to the Union Centre tower from Simcoe Street with the Data Centre on Front, image courtesy of Allied REIT

If you own Station Street, as Allied Properties REIT does, and also own the data centre, and the SkyWalk beside it which the PATH system runs through—connecting the site to Union Station and the larger PATH network to the north with attractions like the Rogers Centre, CN Tower, and Ripley's Aquarium, plus Toronto's burgeoning South Core in the other direction—then you have prime real estate upon which to build an office tower even if the street frontages are atypical.

Looking east across Lower Simcoe to the Union Centre entrance, image courtesy of Allied REIT

Partnered with Westbank Corp of Vancouver (with which Allied is currently building 19 Duncan and KING Toronto, plus another three projects in Western Canada), the joint venture developers have hired the renowned Bjarke Ingels Group to design a skyscraper that works on this atypical site.

And first thing to address? Fix Station Street. As shown above, the building's Lower Simcoe Street entrance will fit next to the elevated rail corridor and offer escalators and elevators to take people two flights up to the lobby above. Station Street will be run through a green-scaped tunnel, only traveled by vehicles heading to parking, with this section closable to traffic altogether on occasion. Shops built into the base of Union Centre will open onto Station Street throughout most of the street's length.

East of the tunnel through the building, Station Street, shown below with some artistic license in a closed-to-traffic situation, will essentially be a landscaped woonerf designed by Public Work. (Most vehicles accessing parking and loading will arrive from York Street and be underground before the area depicted below.) Most pedestrians accessing Union Centre will arrive either from the York Street sidewalk, in through doors and up an escalator to the SkyWalk, or via the SkyWalk itself, coming from Union Station and points beyond, crossing over York Street on a bridge. 

Looking west along Station Street under Union Centre, image courtesy of Allied REIT

The Skywalk, currently covered by a long arched skylight running most of the length from York to Lower Simcoe, will be mostly rebuilt and incorporated into Union Centre's podium, coursing through the building's lobby. Nestled beside the data centre, the podium lobby spaces will cover the somewhat unsightly back of that building, while providing above it some uniquely designed space, including green roofs and terraces, and a 2,000-person performance venue. Above that, the towers next few floors will provide space for data centre expansion (with its own dedicated vertical access).

Three floors up: Union Centre's lobby, connected to the overhead PATH system, image via submission to the City of Toronto

Narrow north-south, but wide east-west owning to the shape of the property, Union Centre's lobby will eschew the central core elevator banks that face each other in more typical office towers, instead lining them up along the north wall of the tower. The 30 elevators will face a glazed north wall and will be lit so that their travels up and down the building will be legible from the north, reading something like a VU metre on a stereo, but moving a little more slowly. Taking the cue from the elevators, LEDs are also proposed for the building's envelop as a whole, so that Union Centre could create colourful nighttime shows.

Looking south along University Avenue to the Union Centre, image courtesy of Allied REIT

The 30 elevators will travel in 5 banks, as shown below. With a half dozen elevators each, the banks will service about 10 floors—basically the teens, the 20s, the 30s, and the 40s—and then also service the lowest floor of the next highest bank so that transfers can be made. Where each bank of elevators ends, the building will step back, providing a spot for a landscaped terrace above them. At the east end of the building, the last bank of elevators will have special functions. One will be added to the bank of elevators that covers the 40s, making up for the extra time those elevators are travelling, three of them will be service elevators for moving equipment and furniture to all floors, and two of them will be shuttles to the top two floors, also stopping on every level.

Elevator banks at the Union Centre, image via submission to the City of Toronto

The top of the building is terraced and landscaped, wth deep, plumbed planters, and with both glass or trellis walls sheltering plants and trees from direct wind. Public Work is again responsible for creating an urban forest up here. Inside, the two uppermost public levels of the tower (before some mechanical in the northeast corner peak) will be amenities, including a gym on the 51st level, and a restaurant on the 52nd level. Both will have spectacular views of the area around the CN Tower, Harbourfront, The Toronto Islands, and across the Lake.

Looking northeast to the terraced Union Centre crown, image courtesy of Allied REIT

Union Centre, despite its atypical location behind the data centre and on top of a narrow private street, will have a prominent spot on Toronto's skyline nevertheless. With about 1.7 million square feet of space, it's about 400,000 square feet larger than what's approved for the site already, so the application to the City seeks zoning bylaw amendments that would be required for its approval. There are a number other features of the building to cover, so we will be back with more in future articles.

Looking northeast to the Union Centre tower from Roundhouse Park, image courtesy of Allied REIT

In the meantime, additional information and images can be found in our database file for the project, linked below. Want to get involved in the discussion? Check out the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the field provided at the bottom of this page.

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Related Companies:  Kramer Design Associates Limited