At a marathon session last week, Toronto's Design Review Panel got their first glimpse at Phase One of the Galleria Mall Redevelopment, and Panel members were more than pleased with what they saw. Led by ELAD Canada and Freed Developments, the Galleria Mall site will be transformed into a new mixed-use high-rise community, with 8 residential towers, over 3,400 new dwelling units, a new park and community centre, and retail scattered throughout.
The Hariri Pontarini Architects-designed master plan for the Galleria Mall site was approved for rezoning earlier this year, and the first phase has gotten underway with a submission for Site Plan Approval earlier this month. Phase One involves a complete makeover of the park to the south, a new Wallace Emerson Community Centre constructed in the northwest corner, and the first of the residential blocks - Block 5- constructed just east of the community centre. The western portion of the mall will be demolished, but the eastern portion will remain standing and operational to ensure continuous provision of key services - namely the bank, pharmacy, grocery store, and fitness centre.
The design of the new park is being undertaken by Public Work, and their approach centres around two main themes: creating a multi-functional community hybrid that incorporates flexibility both spatially and temporally, and creating an inclusive park that has something for everyone. Much of the existing programming in the park will be included and expanded upon in the new, larger design.
The new park is imagined in three main character areas. The 'Nature Heart' is the easternmost portion, and will feature lawns and forested areas with meandering paths leading from Dufferin into the park. The 'Play Heart' in the middle portion will contain an artificial hill will flexible play space and a multi-purpose sports field with the potential for hosting events and performances. The 'Community Heart' is the westernmost part of the park adjacent to the community centre, and will contain a BMX/skateboard Park, a winter skating trail, and gathering spaces.
Just south of the community centre, the designers have created a 'Forum' courtyard space created by the community centre building to the north and a smaller pavilion on the opposite side of the space that will contain change rooms and maintenance facilities. The skate trail loops through the Forum, at the centre of which is a forested area, imagined as a gateway into the park and a protected courtyard space with active uses.
The community centre itself is designed by Perkins + Will and features a signature blue and green terracotta facade that sweeps along the curve of the diagonal street. The 3-storey building will contain a pool, gymnasium, fitness centre, indoor running track, childcare centre, and multi-purpose activity and community rooms.
The building responds to the shape of the site with its curving facade, while the terracotta cladding lifts itself off the ground to reveal a glazed ground floor, attempting to merge the interior and exterior between the community centre and the park.
The building is accented by the pool, which is located at the northern tip fronting onto Dupont, providing a view terminus for eastbound traffic at the jog in Dupont. A landscaped rooftop terrace will also be accessible to the public where the building steps back at the third floor.
The proposal for the community centre and park also includes activation of the laneway bordering the western edge of the site. An 'activity porch' is proposed to front onto the laneway, allowing performances and events to take place, while the laneway itself will be redesigned and landscaped to better integrate with the park. The design team sees this as an opportunity to demonstrate the hidden potential to use laneways in Toronto to enhance the public realm.
Panel members were very impressed with the project. Calling it an "award-winning project in the making", "spectacular", and a "very very strong project conceptually", they openly expressed their excitement and their appreciation for the quality and depth of the work provided. They also offered some tips and suggestions to make the community centre and park even better.
Most Panel members agreed that the west elevation needed a little bit more attention to make it match the quality of the rest of the project. Here, the terracotta cladding ends and the building is faced with grey brick and more typical punched windows. Calling it a bit too utilitarian, the Panel suggested continuing the terracotta all the way around the building, or at least more closely matching the qualities of the terracotta on this elevation, as this western face will be seen from afar and also from the houses backing onto the laneway.
Some Panel members also questioned the proposed activation of the laneway. While all Panelists agreed that something should be done to improve and activate the laneway, they were skeptical that events and performances would be appropriate here, as it was faced with garages and backed onto a more quiet residential neighbourhood. They suggested perhaps a more granular, fine-grained intervention to match the rhythm of the garages, rather than just having the 'activity porch', which they described as being only halfway there to truly transforming the laneway into something special.
Other minor comments included potential privacy concerns over having the pool glazed and located at such a prominent location; the lack of dog facilities provided in the park design; and a question regarding whether the social and community aspect of the existing Galleria Mall was fully captured in the design of the community centre, or if a bit more should be done to accommodate the existing residents' social habits. Panelists also commented that they appreciated the use of colour, something they do not see very often these days.
Overall, the Panel was very pleased with the direction of the community centre and park's design, and voted unanimously in support of the project.
We will keep you updated as design work continues on the new Wallace Emerson Community Centre and park, but in the meantime, you can join in the discussion by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.