The Well's recent ribbon-cutting ceremony ushered in the major new complex in Downtown Toronto as a beacon of innovative development, while also acting as a kick-off for its holiday programming. Conceived as the city's most ambitious mixed-use endeavour by RioCan REIT in partnership with Allied Properties REIT, Tridel, and Woodbourne Canada Management, Inc., this sprawling complex bordered by Spadina Avenue, Front Street, and Wellington Street, is redefining the west end of Downtown Toronto.
Featuring seven buildings encompassing 1.1 million ft² of office space, 500,000 ft² of retail and food services, and 1,700 residential units, The Well has been a popular topic of discussion on the UrbanToronto Forum, thanks to its modern architectural prowess and urban design. This week, UrbanToronto was taken for an exclusive tour of this nascent hub, offering a firsthand look at its transformative impact on community and public space.
This is the first of two articles from this site tour. This piece will delve into The Well’s public spaces and community engagement, highlighting the design work by CCxA, Hariri Pontarini Architects, BDP Quadrangle, architects—Alliance, Wallman Architects, and Adamson Associates Architects. The second article will take a look at the retail and office spaces of the site.
The 8 Spadina Lobby
The UrbanToronto team was toured by Anthony Casalanguida, General Manager of The Well, starting at the 8 Spadina lobby. Our journey kicked off with an insight into how The Well is redefining the traditional office and public space.
The lobby — occupied as of last May — aims to immediately distinguish itself from conventional office environments. Casalanguida pointed out its unique design ethos: creating a warmer, more welcoming atmosphere than the typical office tower. This was illustrated by the choice of holiday decor, which eschewed a traditional Christmas tree to foster a more inclusive environment for the public.
The lobby also showcases a commitment to sustainability, with furniture crafted from reclaimed wood harvested directly from the construction site — a tactile piece of The Well's history. Additionally, Casalanguida emphasized the site's pet-friendly nature, with the lobby welcome to canines.
Casalanguida shared the project's overarching goal: "Do the small things better."
The Well's Core Philosophy: "Eat, Shop, Work, Live, Play"
As we ventured deeper into The Well, we entered the central atrium, which aims to be an embodiment of the project's "Eat, Shop, Work, Live, Play" philosophy. This hub is designed to seamlessly integrate various aspects of urban life. Casalanguida emphasized how this space was crafted to cater to the diverse needs of a modern urban populace, intentionally designed without doors to eliminate physical barriers for the neighbourhood.
The forthcoming Wellington Market, a key component of this vision, is designed to reflect Toronto's cultural diversity. Casalanguida expressed a need for a space in Toronto that truly mirrors its multicultural ethos, and a way to distinguish itself from the St Lawrence Market.
Wellington Market, set to open in 2024, will span 70,000 ft² and be a European-inspired space offering locally sourced products. It aims to mirror Toronto’s diverse gastronomic landscape, offering a platform for local artisans and chefs.
Architectural Innovations: Canopy and Geothermal Features
We looked up to the canopy, spanning over 30,000 ft², a structural cover designed for protection from the elements, and complemented by glycol lines underneath the pathways to melt snow and reduce the need for salt, and heat tracing along walls and in gutters. The use of granite pavers adds to the aesthetic appeal.
A notable feature of The Well is its geothermal system, with the site's name partly a play on words of the deep excavation at the centre of the site that makes this system possible, bringing in cold water from the depths of Lake Ontario to provide a sustainable source for summertime air conditioning in this complex, and other buildings hooked up to Enwave's extensive system in the area. Casalanguida also shared the primary reference that gave The Well its name, of course its frontage along Wellington Street.
Our visit coincided with The Well's first year of holiday programming, taking place weekly from Thursday through Sunday. The glass canopy overhead glows with Aurora Borealis-themed lighting, setting the stage for a colourful ambiance in the evenings. The Rink, presented by Scotiabank, quiet when we were there but ready for complimentary skating for everyone, along with professional exhibitions, brings a festive spirit. We learned that revenue generated from skate and holiday rentals are directed to the Out of the Cold charity, reinforcing the development’s goal of community well-being.
Nearby, the Veuve Clicquot Champagne Lounge offers a retreat, while NORDIC by BarChef serves up holiday cocktails amidst stage performances. The site's live performances will showcase emerging talents in collaboration with Warner Music and RBC. This initiative, we were told, is a glimpse into The Well's future activation programming, acting as a way to ease into these kinds of offerings and hint at the cultural events to come.
Community Engagement: Art, Community, and Pets
Our exploration of The Well took a delightful turn as we arrived at the East Lane, a uniquely envisioned "dog-centric lane," close to some of the residential lobbies, that exemplifies the development's inclusive and thoughtful urban planning. This lane has been transformed into a haven for pet owners and their furry companions, offering a welcoming and engaging space for dogs to explore and socialize.
Here, we encountered 'Neighbourhood Stroll,' an art installation by Vanessa Spizzirri. Comprising a series of panels, it celebrates the joyful and diverse spirit of urban canine life. The installation, with its bold colours and minimalist design, captures the essence of a lively dog park. Casalanguida referred to it as a symbol of The Well’s commitment to creating pet-friendly environments, fostering a sense of community among residents and visitors alike.
A dog relief station is in the works, complete with colourful old-fashioned fire hydrants, catering to the cleanliness and comfort of canine visitors. Adding to this pet-friendly environment, The Well offers 'pup cups,' akin to Starbucks' Puppuccino, and even a blanket check hut for humans and pets, a novel take on the traditional coat check service.
Another highlight of our tour was 'Emergence' by Dustin Yellin, a 10-foot-plus stainless steel sculpture located in the central atrium. The closer one gets to this public art piece, a seemingly unending number of fascinating figures make up its whole. Emergence is intended to symbolize the union of earth and the cosmos, embodying The Well's vision of interconnectedness and cultural diversity.
In planning The Well's inclusion in the community, Casalanguida pointed out how the buildings along its Wellington Street face have been set back to create a wide public realm that will welcome outdoor dining in places next summer, and that its office tower along Spadina was redesigned from its initial concept to avoid casting a shadow for an additional half-hour on Wellington Square Park across the street to the northeast. This further demonstrates the development's commitment to mindful urban planning and community impact.
The Well as a New Urban Benchmark
Our tour of The Well’s public spaces revealed not just an architectural achievement but a commitment to community, sustainability, and thoughtful urban integration. It was a glimpse into how The Well is setting new benchmarks for mixed-use developments in urban settings.
We will return tomorrow with another article sharing exclusive photos and details on the retail and office spaces, including a look at architectural firm BDP Quadrangle's office. Until then, you can learn more about The Well 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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