It’s not often that a single development proposes to transform Toronto’s skyline and dramatically alter a well-known city streetscape. For one, it takes owning blocks of prime real estate. But, more than that, it takes a bold vision about what the city could be.
The plan calls for thousands of new homes in three condo towers, soaring as tall as 85 storeys; a public museum for Mirvish’s extensive collection of abstract paintings; an art gallery and classroom space for OCAD University; and new retail space. But, as envisioned, it is much more than the sum of its parts. The project could enhance Toronto’s arts and culture scene and international reputation.
This proposed development is probably years away from breaking ground and it will garner plenty of controversy before it does — starting with the height of the condo towers and the need to demolish the Princess of Wales Theatre to make way for them.
But this is the kind of dramatic thinking that Toronto sees far too rarely, and should be embraced. For such a big city, Toronto often acts very small. We routinely complain that Toronto lacks the architectural statements that mark other great cities around the world but we seldom see proposals to do much about it. The Mirvish-Gehry collaboration offers exciting possibilities for the city.
There will be challenges ahead, certainly. Gehry will have to live up to the hype by ensuring that what is ultimately built is in keeping with the dramatic images that are used to get Torontonians onside. The bottom six storeys, he says, are intended to be “evocative of old Toronto.” Achieving that, while the height and originality of the condos could rival the CN tower in future skyline postcards of the city, won’t be easy.
City hall, through its public consultation and zoning process, will have to make sure a development of this size can be a success on King St. W. Where will the residents of these “sculptures” in the sky shop for their groceries? Where will their kids go to school and will they be able to squeeze onto the King streetcar? The city needs to sort all that out.
But it should do so with a view to making this project the most it can be, not the least. As the local councillor, Adam Vaughan, has already said, the coming debate should be about city building — and not just the height of the buildings.