After acquiring the entire Celestica site at the northwest corner of Eglinton and Don Mills last year, Aspen Ridge Homes has been going full steam ahead on pushing the various components of the Crosstown Community master plan (formerly Wynford Green) through the planning process. A couple months ago, we saw the first phase of the master plan presented to the Design Review Panel, involving the trio of residential towers within the footprint of the former Parkin building, which left a positive impression on Panel members. Now, the next phase of the project made an appearance before the Panel, revealing a flashy new design for an office building being developed on the site by Metrus Properties that once again received positive reviews.
This next phase involves Blocks 1A and 1B, located directly on the corner of Don Mills and Eglinton, where a 9-storey office mid-rise is proposed. Also included in this parcel is a secondary entrance to the new underground Science Centre LRT station; a linear POPS connecting the transit station to the retail promenade to the north; and a separate retail pavilion on the west side of the linear POPS.
In the original Wynford Green proposal that was approved for rezoning, the 9-storey mid-rise was designed by Sweeny &Co Architects in a modernist style, with extruded mullions and sun shades creating rectangular patterns on the facades.
Since Aspen Ridge acquired the master plan, Metrus Properties has taken on commercial office development at the site, and Core Architects was given the design of the office mid-rise, revamping it with a much flashier design with cutting angles and faceted surfaces. While the overall massing has remained the same between the original proposal and the new design, several key changes have been made that have altered the layout and expression of the building.
The most visible change is the articulation of the facades, with the formerly flat curtain wall now popped out in a faceted triangular pattern. To avoid the greenhouse effect that extruded glass volumes would have on the interior of the building, the skyward-facing panels will be highly reflective glass, a move that both helps to deflect the sun's rays from entering the building and also serves to accentuate the pattern on the exterior through contrast with the more typical glazing used on the ground-facing panels.
Several significant changes have occurred on the ground floor of the plan that have altered the interior layout. First, the elevator core has been shifted from the western edge of the building into the centre of the building. This has created a larger office lobby that offers a through-connection with entrances onto both Don Mills and the linear POPS. The interior design of the lobby takes inspiration from the angular facade on the exterior, continuing the same architectural language through the interior spaces.
Next, the ground floor retail has been reconfigured while keeping roughly the same gross floor area. Citing difficulties in finding a tenant for the triangular retail space that formerly spanned the western edge of the building, the design team has now moved this unit into the stand-alone retail pavilion on the western side of the POPS, which has been enlarged. As well, the retail unit in the southeast corner fronting onto the transit plaza has been significantly enlarged, and now occupies the full southern facade. The separate office space that once occupied a portion of the ground floor has been removed.
The shifting of the retail into the stand-alone pavilion has now exposed the entrance ramp into the underground parking garage and loading dock, which borders a sizable portion of the linear POPS. In order to mitigate the presence of the ramp, the designers are proposing to install an innovative living wall over top of the concrete. The green wall will be triangulated to match the angled patterns throughout the remainder of the building, and lifts off the ground to seamlessly blend with the faceted canopy over the lobby entrance and transit pavilion.
A daycare is also incorporated within the mid-rise, with the main entrance located at the northeast corner and the bulk of the space situated at the northern end of the second floor. The daycare will have a large outdoor terrace protected by a glass canopy. Finally, the mechanical penthouse on the roof has been shifted to align with the new elevator core, relocating from the western edge of the building to the centre of the building.
Overall, the Panel was quite happy with the changes to the building, complimenting the design team on the playfulness and simplicity of the design. While there were only a few minor suggestions for the mid-rise building, such as increasing the size of the canopy at the LRT pavilion and better integrating the mechanical penthouse into the design, the majority of the criticism was aimed at the POPS and retail pavilion on the western edge of the site.
A concern of the Panel was the shape of the POPS and the relationship of the retail to the public space. A by-product of the master plan, the POPS currently bottlenecks at the transit pavilion and opens up toward the north, where it becomes the main pedestrian retail street through the neighbourhood. The Panel wanted to see a bit more careful thought given to the landscaping of the POPS and how it interacts with the retail pavilion. They also urged the design team to think of the larger context when designing it, particularly how it opens up to the neighbouring block to the north. In terms of public realm, the Panel also wanted to see more improvements along the Don Mills elevation.
With regards to the retail pavilion, the Panel was hoping to see something a bit more playful than the simple rectangular volume presented that would match the playfulness of the mid-rise architecture on the opposite side of the POPS. Suggestions on what to do with it varied: it could be reshaped to better suggest and facilitate pedestrian movement along the north-south POPS; it could take more inspiration from the faceted design of the mid-rise; or it could act as a foil to the mid-rise by being a very simple building. Either way, the Panel agreed that more work was to be done.
The one highlight of the POPS was the living wall, which Panelists thought was a really encouraging and interesting addition to the project that would serve well to animate the space. They did, however, caution that a good amount of research would need to be done to ensure the success and longevity of the living wall so that the plants do not perish, by choosing the right plant species, ensuring the correct soil depth, and appropriately detailing it to keep everything in place and facilitate maintenance.
In the end, the Panel was happy with what they saw and encouraged the design team to continue, with the majority voting in favour of the project, and only one member voting for non-support mainly with regards to the public realm.
We will keep you updated as this phase, and all other previous and future phases, of the Crosstown Community make their way through the planning process. In the meantime, you can join in on the discussion by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.
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An earlier version of this story omitted Metrus Properties' involvement in the development of the building.
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