At last week's Toronto Design Review Panel, panelists and attendees were treated to their first glimpse of the revised 31R Parliament proposal from Dream and CityScape, a development that includes a 49-storey tower and a 5-storey "ribbon building" that runs nearly the full length along the southern border of the Distillery District.

Rendering of 31R Parliament, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

The project has been in the works for some time, first being proposed back in 2014 as a 57-storey tower with a 4-storey ribbon building, all designed by KPMB Architects. The project was subsequently appealed to the OMB, with a settlement being reached in 2017 reducing the tower to 49 storeys, but increasing the ribbon building to 5 storeys. It should be noted that the ribbon building has always been in the plans for the redevelopment of the Distillery District, but the tower was a more recent addition, as it is located on what is colloquially called the "Triangle Lands" to the southwest of the Distillery, just outside the boundary delineating the National Historic Site.

Rendering of KPMB's previous OMB-approved massing, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

After the City approved the development, the proposal went quiet, but much was happening behind the scenes: Dream and CityScape attempted to sell the property, and a competition was rumoured to be held for the design of the building with one unsuccessful entry surfacing on our Forum. Now, the developers are moving ahead with a combined rezoning and site plan application, with New York-based ShoP Architects and local firm Quadrangle taking over the design.

Rendering looking west along the Ribbon, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

Part of the requirements of the OMB settlement was that the project return to the Design Review Panel during its site plan approval process, which gave us the chance to see the buildings in more detail and to hear feedback from the experts.

Given the size of the development, the design team has chopped up the proposal into four components to make it more manageable. The base of the building is comprised of the Podium of the tower; the Kettle, which provides a focal point at the southern end of Trinity Street where the site bends; and the Ribbon, which encompasses the eastern extension of the building from the Kettle all the way to Cherry Street. The Tower rounds out the project as the fourth component.

SHoP Architects is responsible for designing the Podium, Kettle, and Ribbon, while Quadrangle is responsible for designing the Tower. All public realm and landscape design is being undertaken by Montreal-based Daoust Lestage.

Diagram showing the four components of the building, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

The 5 floors of the Ribbon and Podium are designated for commercial space, with retail lining the full length of the ground floor and a continuous landscaped roof terrace on top. There was no mention of institutional space in the DRP presentation, but a press release in October 2018 indicated that the core tenant of the Ribbon Building would be a new permanent campus for Collège Boréal, a Francophone post-secondary institution based in Sudbury with a satellite campus that has been operating in Toronto across five temporary locations since 2002. As well, a one-storey wood-clad cafe addition will animate the eastern plaza near Cherry Street.

Looking east along the Ribbon, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

For the architecture of the base buildings, SHoP took inspiration from the surrounding historic context and applied subtle details to a simple modern facade to evoke a heritage feel. The exterior cladding is largely glazing, with black anodized aluminum cladding that is stepped in order to give the facade some three-dimensionality. The spacing of the structural bays follows a regular vertical rhythm, which is a characteristic of the vast majority of heritage buildings in the city, and is punctuated by a recessed glazed curtain wall at three locations coinciding with the vertical circulation cores in an attempt to break up the massing of the long uninterrupted facade.

Elevation of the Ribbon, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

Along the top of the retail storefronts, a pattern is applied mimicking the leaded glass of historical storefronts, which will also integrate the vents for the mechanical system. The facade is accented by granite along the base of the building and copper along the top of the fifth floor. On the inside, mass timber construction is being considered for its warm feel—the use of a timber structural system could add a historical aspect by replicating the common structural system of Toronto's old industrial warehouses, while simultaneously adding a contemporary aspect by joining a growing roster of new buildings in Toronto using mass timber following the recent changes to the Ontario Building Code.

Close-up of a retail storefront, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

The Kettle is the central focal point of the building, situated just to the east and asymmetrically off-axis with the terminus of Trinity Street. Clad in smaller anodized aluminum panels with a bronze or copper look, the panels are rotated such that the appearance of the building changes from transparent to opaque depending on the angle of approach. The Kettle is designed as a distinct piece of architecture that provides a point of visual interest within the Distillery District.

Rendering looking south on Trinity Street toward the Kettle, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

The uses within the Kettle vary by floor: the ground level will be retail, the second floor will house a restaurant, the third floor will be an event space, and the fourth floor will be office space. A multi-functional gathering space will be located on the roof, as part of the landscaped terrace running the length of the building.

Also to be noted is the accommodation of a future tunnel passing underneath the rail corridor, connecting the Distillery District to the new waterfront communities due to sprout up to the south. Once the City gets around to constructing the tunnel, access will be provided at the base of Trinity Street through the interior of the Kettle. This important connection is visually marked in the architecture of the building by a small gap left between the Kettle and the Podium.

Rendering looking south on Trinity Street toward the Kettle, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

For Quadrangle's Tower portion, the aim was for simplicity so as not to conflict with the main attraction of the Distillery. Having a simple rectangular floor plate, the building is clad with vertical fins that change colour and profile across the facades to create a pattern that varies in appearance by day and season as the sun moves across them. The Tower will contain 496 rental residential units with amenity spaces and a rooftop terrace above the Podium on the sixth floor.

Rendering of the tower from ground level, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

The landscaping around the building is kept simple, with mostly hardscaping along the east-west street and the two plazas at the east end and at Trinity, along with a spattering of street trees. A fountain feature is proposed in front of the Kettle at Trinity, though it was unknown what would happen to the large public art piece that currently occupies that space.

Rendering of 31R Parliament, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

The Panel picked out aspects of the design they liked and disliked, offering a neutral, if not slightly more positive critique of the proposal. They were most pleased with the base building designed by SHoP, stating that they approved of the thoughtful detailing and finishing of the Ribbon, Kettle, and Podium. Many Panelists did, however, comment on the "relentlessness" of the facade, saying that the designers should probably break up the massing a little bit more to avoid excessive monotony and repetition.

Looking west along the Ribbon, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

Regarding the Kettle, there was some debate about whether its asymmetrical placement off-axis with Trinity Street helped or hurt the project, but it appeared that most Panelists liked the moment of intrigue created by partially obscuring the Kettle with its off-centre placement. Panel members were a little disappointed about the uses proposed for the Kettle, asking instead for a more public or grandiose use for the building rather than the conventional retail, commercial, and event space currently proposed. They also wondered if the rooftop terrace on top of the Kettle could be made publicly accessible, which they argued would create a special moment within the Distillery District. Panelists further asked that more emphasis be placed on the connection to the tunnel under the rail corridor, which will be an important access point in the future.

Rendering looking south toward the building along Trinity Street, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

The Panel was less pleased with the design of the Tower, saying it was a bit underwhelming and underdeveloped. They remarked that it lacked the same level of detail and "finesse" seen in the base buildings, and that it felt divorced and disconnected from the rest of the project.

Close-up rendering of the Tower, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

The proposed fountain in front of the Kettle was also called into question, with Panel members saying that it would take up too much space in the plaza and would prevent other activities from taking place there, diminishing its potential to become a great multi-use outdoor space. Regarding the remainder of the public realm, Panelists asked for more trees and more lighting, but otherwise felt the approach was appropriate.

The Panel commented that simplicity seemed to be the approach for all aspects of the project, which they whole-heartedly agreed with. They pointed out that in order to not become an overwhelming presence that detracted from the qualities of the historic district, it should be kept more simple and minimalist. They agreed that the project was "headed in the right direction" with many great aspects to its design.

The final vote from the Panel was unanimous in support of the project.

Rendering of 31R Parliament as seen from the Gardiner, image courtesy of Dream and CityScape.

We will keep you updated as 31R Parliament continues to work its way through the planning process, but in the meantime, you can 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:  Cityscape, Daoust Lestage Architecture, Dream Unlimited, Hatch, Quadrangle, SHoP Architects