The last Toronto Design Review Panel meeting of the year ended on a high note with the distinguished Panel reviewing St. Thomas Developments and Fitzrovia's revised proposal for 88 Queen East. The 3-tower scheme (technically 4 towers, but one is now almost complete under the name 88 North) was submitted for site plan approval back in October, and looks to replace one of the last remaining surface parking lots in the downtown area. Designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects with Turner Fleischer as architects-of-record, the project will bring new residential, commercial, and retail uses to this underutilized stretch of Queen.
Rezoning had been approved for the site based on the previous IBI Group-designed towers, so despite the significant changes, the building heights and general massing envelopes have remained the same. The buildings, however, now look quite different.
The three towers are planned to rise 51, 28, and 27 storeys and will contain a total of 534 condo units and 558 rental units along with over 100,000 square feet of office space. The southernmost tower - Tower D - contains all of the condo units, while the rental units are split between the two middle towers - Towers B and C. The 6-storey podium of Tower D contains office space and ground floor retail, while the 7-storey podiums of towers B and C contain residences and amenities, along with more grade-level retail.
The site itself is infiltrated by a network of pedestrian mews along with a POPS and a new park, which is being constructed as part of the current 88 North project. All sidewalks and mews are lined with active uses - retail and lobby entrances - as the design team managed to successfully consolidate all underground loading and parking for the three buildings into one, with their entrances located at the northeast corner of the site. In total, just over 50% of the total site area is dedicated to open spaces.
The design of the mews and POPS will be largely hardscape, with a uniform parquet-patterned 'brick carpet' blanketing the entire site. Trees and vegetation along with seating and furniture will be provided in the POPS and park, while the streetscapes along Dalhousie, Queen, and Mutual will be improved with more trees and wider sidewalks. The landscape design is being led by Claude Cormier + Associés.
The design of the buildings has changed significantly from the rezoning application. Making more of an effort to fit in with the surrounding historic context, the design team opted for a bronze-coloured finish on the Tower D podium, with ornate detailing and large expanses of glazing to give more of an industrial look. The Tower B and C podiums are finished with brick featuring curved building corners and punched-in windows.
The towers themselves have been simplified in form from their predecessors. Wanting to create more 'fabric buildings' that do not have such a loud presence, the design team opted for more simplified forms with a focused attention on detailing, aiming to create pristine facades with minimal visible joints. Tower D contains balconies with brise-soleils on the north and south facades, while vertical profiled spandrels carry the language of the podium up into the tower on the east and west facades. The same vertical elements are repeated on Towers B and C.
The towers themselves come with some unique amenities, as the number of roof terraces created by the various stepbacks allow for several accessible outdoor spaces. The rental towers are more family-focused in their design, offering an elevated outdoor playground, a basketball court, activities and games rooms, and a child care facility. An elevated dog park is also included, all of which will be accessible to tenants of the rental buildings. The condo tower comes with more of the usual amenities seen throughout the city.
The Panel was generally pleased with the proposal, but also voiced some concerns and suggestions for improvement.
They were very happy with the detailed design of the public realm, saying that the "porosity achieved on the site is to be commended", but they were nearly unanimous in expressing concern over the lack of sunlight afforded to the pedestrian spaces. They pointed to pedestrian comfort with regards to wind and daylight as an issue, also questioning the viability of the vegetation in the POPS.
One Panelist suggested separating Towers C and D, which butt against each other while bridging over a pedestrian walkway on the west side of the site, as a way to introduce more sunlight down to grade.
Furthermore, the Panel was divided on their opinion of the landscape design. They liked the idea of the 'brick carpet' and felt that it was well-executed and strong conceptually, but some Panelists expressed concerns that it felt a bit relentless and that there was potentially too much hardscaping. They suggested incorporating some more green elements to help avoid being overwhelmed with the bricks, which goes hand-in-hand with their previous comments about allowing more sunlight at grade.
Also regarding the public realm, Panelists thought that the scale of the pedestrian mews in some areas felt a bit "compressed", and questioned what would happen with the public spaces in the winter, pushing the design team to give more consideration to year-round active uses and pedestrian comfort.
With regards to the buildings, the Panel offered a mixed bag of reviews. While they felt that the "refinement of detail is gorgeous", some Panelists suggested adding some more substance to the design, both in the literal and figurative sense. Particularly with regards to the podium of Tower D on Queen Street, Panel members felt that perhaps adding some more solid components and reducing the expanses of glazing would help it to blend better with its surroundings. They also wanted to see more character in the facades, though noted that they were "really elegant buildings", they just needed a bit more work to get there.
The Panel expressed disappointment in the design team's sustainability goals. Currently, the rental towers achieve LEED Gold and Toronto Green Standard Tier 1 certification, while the condo tower reaches LEED Gold and Toronto Green Standard Tier 2. Panel members stated that TGS Tier 2 should be the bare minimum that they should be aiming for, and urged them that they need to place a greater emphasis on sustainability in the building design.
A final suggestion was for the design team was to look more closely at the facing condition of Towers B and C, as they are less than 9 metres apart at the narrowest point, meaning that quite a few rental units look into each other. The Panel asked them to consider this condition and perhaps offer a more architectural solution.
Overall, the Panel was encouraged by what they saw, saying that "the project does so much, but still has a distance to go". They voted unanimously in support of the development.
We will keep you updated as 88 Queen continues to work its way through the planning process, but in the meantime, you can join learn more about the project in our Database file, linked below. If you'd like, you can get in on the conversation in the associated Project Forum thread.
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