It’s taken a while to get to this point, with some bumps along the way, but developer Peter Kofman is satisfied that the reworked plan for Mirvish+Gehry Toronto will deliver the city a landmark development the likes of which it’s never seen.
Unveiled to much fanfare in 2012, Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry’s initial design for the project called for three super-tall towers (95, 90 and 85 floors, a total of three million square feet), and levelling all the buildings on the David Mirvish-owned King Street West site, including the Princess of Wales Theatre.
It may have been a homecoming for the iconic architect, the first tall towers Gehry has designed in the city where he grew up, but his preliminary vision met with pushback from city staff. “They didn’t like it much,” Kofman says in an interview with Epoch Times at the King Street HQ for his firm Projectcore Inc., located on the site of Mirvish+Gehry Toronto.
The development team was directed to rethink the proposal, which it did over six months via a collaborative design and urban-planning exercise with staff and council, and consultations with local stakeholders in a working group process.
The design that’s resulted features two towers—one 92 storeys, the other 82—with 1,950 residential units and an enhanced public realm at the base, including an art gallery housing the Mirvish Collection and an OCAD University facility (parts of the original plan). Crucially, the new plan preserves the Princess of Wales and protects many of the site’s architecturally significant heritage components, including the entire Eclipse Whitewear Building and the façade of the Anderson Building.
“By taking away one of the towers, we ended up with a very different project,” Kofman says, noting it’s been transformed from a commercial-retail-entertainment development into a living-cultural project. He sees the site becoming a “focal point” of the Entertainment District, a once-industrial area redeveloped by Ed Mirvish starting in the 1960s. “Given where we are at this moment in time in the city, I think this [iteration of the project] is much more Toronto.”
While the form might have changed, it’s still a Gehry masterpiece in the making. The towers, with dramatically undulating surfaces of glass and stone, will have a “sculptural relationship” to one another, with the form of the space between them as important as the towers themselves, according to a visual guide to the revised design.
Each of the towers will have one facade in glass (the south side of the west tower and the north facade of the east tower), with the reversal giving the impression of a dynamic rotation. “The towers dance with each other,” the guide says.
The west tower will have a pattern running down its north-facing side that evokes Group of Seven-esque renderings of the Canadian landscape, resembling “flowing water that ends up in two glittery pools at the base of the podiums,” Kofman says. “We’re trying to create art in the exterior of the building, trying to be true to the architecture and do something different.”
Gehry’s work generates an interest that’s “almost unparalleled,” one of only a few designers in the world who inspire architectural tourism. “People are really moved by seeing his buildings,” says Kofman, predicting Mirvish+Gehry Toronto will become an essential stop on the tour.
Residential ownership opportunities will be varied. “We’ll probably stratify the building, with luxury units, premium units, and then really exclusive units at the top,” he says. Despite the project’s high profile, however, “it’s not going to be an impossible building to live in, in the sense it’ll be too expensive—we’ll have a very good range of price points.”
At the base of the buildings, the goal is “to get as much life on the street as we possibly can,” Kofman explains. Ed Mirvish Way, which runs through the centre of the site, will be turned into Ed Mirvish Square, a flexible urban space between the two towers for public events. There will be retail in the two six-storey podiums—potentially restaurants, cafes, and a prepared-foods grocer—that’ll tie in with the various activities planned for the adjacent John Street Cultural Corridor. The project will include office space as well.
In addition to the art gallery housing the Mirvish Collection, OCAD will be taking two levels at the base of the east tower for its Princess of Wales Centre for Visual Arts, a learning facility with studios, seminar rooms, galleries, a public theatre, and a lecture hall.
Mirvish+Gehry Toronto commands most of Kofman’s attention these days. “It’s consuming, but I believe there are just times you come across an opportunity in your career, and you need to focus fully on it. It’s every day all day long we’re working on this, but we’re going to make sure we get it right.”
His team will seek site plan approval for the project “hopefully in the next few months,” followed by a phased release of the buildings for sale. “We’re not going to do both at the same time.”
Kofman points out that those who act fast may have the option of completely customizing suites at the top of the towers. “If you want to come along and buy a whole floor or two floors,” he says, “that would be just fine.”
Ryan Starr is a Toronto-based freelance journalist.