After over a decade of anticipation, the ceremonial start of construction of Frank Gehry’s tallest project ever will take place later this morning in the heart of Toronto’s Entertainment District. The story of Forma is more of an odyssey really, and one that is uniquely connected to UrbanToronto, where the announcement of the project was first leaked to the world back in the Fall of 2012. In the years since, we have followed the project through every twist and turn, and now on the day of the ground breaking ceremony, we are looking back on the journey that has led to this pivotal moment in the history of the Toronto Skyline. 

Looking south at the complete 2-tower design for Forma, from Gehry Partners, image from submission to City of Toronto

It all started on September 29th, 2012, when UT Forum contributor golodhendil stumbled upon a video touting plans for a new development that would bring three soaring towers to King Street West, and the design had Gehry written all over it. In a matter of hours the video was taken down, but by that time a conversation was already flourishing in the UT Forum, where screenshots from the video had been posted.

Model of initial design fro Mirvish+Gehry as seen in leaked promo video

As news of the project continued to spread throughout the day, things went fully public when it was announced that a press conference was being pulled together, hosted by Gehry along with David Mirvish, the owner of the Downtown site. The event took place just two days later, on October 1st, and revealed to the media several drafts of the three-tower design with a series of models. In this version of the proposal, the towers were to stand 86, 84, and 82 storeys, and each would enjoy its own unique sculptural massing.

Different models displayed at October 2012 press conference, image by Craig White

Six months later, the initial design was overhauled thoroughly to bring an even more dramatic expression to the exterior, defined by a cloud-like cladding that connected the three towers visually. The design was generally well received, but what the public wasn’t crazy about was the approach to the public realm, and the plan to demolish five King Street heritage buildings along with the Princess of Wales Theatre. 

What followed was an extensive period of negotiations between the Toronto Planning Department and the development team, which was now being led by Projectcore. These negotiations culminated in a December 2013 report recommending that the proposal be scaled down significantly, reducing the height and density, while working to more thoughtfully manage the site’s existing heritage properties. 

Updated design for Mirvish+Gehry from 2013, image courtesy of Projectcore

Seeing the report as an opportunity to allow public input to influence the design for the better, the team came forward with a completely new plan for the development in May of 2014. Bearing a close resemblance to the project we know today, this iteration dropped one of the three towers and instead contemplated greater heights of 82 and 92 storeys. We also saw a new massing with this version, based on the assertion that, as a pair, the buildings needed to be more intimately connected visually.

Meanwhile at the pedestrian level, the demolition of the Princess of Wales was no longer required due to the removal of the third tower. What’s more, the building immediately to the east of the theatre, slated for demolition, was now to have its heritage walls incorporated into the podium of the west tower.

Looking south to the scaled down, 2014, two-tower Mirvish+Gehry design, image courtesy of Projectcore

In the eyes of the Planning Department, this draft was an improvement across the board, and just a few months later, in July of 2014, the proposal was approved by City Council. Many commenting on UrbanToronto rejoiced at this time, expecting that sales and construction would be just around the corner, but they learned soon though that the project was not a done deal yet.

For almost two years, things remained quiet, until it was announced in 2016 that, after obtaining site plan approval, the project would finally launch sales. Before that could happen though, developers Projectcore left the project, once again putting a pause on realizing the plan here. Things wouldn’t get back on track until over a year later, when Mirvish reached a deal with Great Gulf to take over the development effort. Since that time, both Dream Unlimited and Westdale Properties have joined the development ranks as well. 

Rather than seeking Site Plan Approval though, the new developers opted to send the project back to rezoning, which was formally submitted in January, 2019. The goal was to gain approval to hike both towers up by a margin of almost 30 metres each in order to increase the ceiling height of the units while adding new hotel programming into the west tower. 

The 2018 iteration of the design, seeking approval for heights of 92 and 82 storeys, image from submission to City of Toronto

When the rezoning application came back unsuccessful, the project returned to the drawing board yet again. In 2021, almost a decade after the project was first announced, the next draft came forward. Here, the west tower was reduced to 82 storeys, standing at a height of 308 metres due to the lifted ceilings, while its sibling to the east dropped down to 72-storeys, measuring in at 266 metres. This iteration was eventually approved, with the project to move onto the Site Plan Approval stage. 

Just a few months shy of its 10th birthday, the project was launched under the name “Forma”, which is Italian for form or shape, and which saw the release of the first proper renderings of the buildings. A turbulent decade of planning had finally reached a breakthrough, and even after the long wait, there was no denying that the product was something special. 

Forma launched in 2022, and has officially begun construction as of today, image from submission to City of Toronto

With the earlier half of 2023 spent clearing the site for phase one, the east tower, today’s groundbreaking is a story 11 years in the making, so far, and one that we are thrilled to have followed every step of the way. 

UrbanToronto will continue to follow progress on this development, but in the meantime, you can learn more about it from our Database file, linked below. If you'd like, you can join in on the conversation in the associated Project Forum thread or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

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UrbanToronto has a research service, UrbanToronto Pro, that provides comprehensive data on construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area—from proposal through to completion. We also offer Instant Reports, downloadable snapshots based on location, and a daily subscription newsletter, New Development Insider, that tracks projects from initial application.

Related Companies:  Adamson Associates Architects, Bousfields, Dream Unlimited, Great Gulf, Isotherm Engineering Ltd., Monir Precision Monitoring Inc., Platinum Condo Deals, RJC Engineers