A new project in Toronto aims to break the city’s monotony of steel and concrete with shimmering mountains of terraced gardens and glass.
Its designers believe it will be fit for a King – as in King Street West. The King Toronto development, expected to be completed in 2024, will be a 600,000-square-foot, mixed-use project taking up a block of former industrial land in the increasingly trendy neighbourhood.
The developers believe the showstopper will be the crystalline mountains – a 16-storey assembly of stepped, terraced glass-brick covered apartments overlaid with vertical gardens, with a pedestrian-oriented commercial and retail area at street level. When viewed from the street, it is supposed to resemble four mountain peaks.
There are also heritage buildings on the site that will be interspersed throughout the property.
— Michael Braun, director of sales and marketing at Westbank Corp.
The LEED Gold building is inspired by Habitat, the iconic residential building opened at Montreal’s Expo 67 and designed by Canadian-Israeli architect Moshe Safdie.
“We asked ourselves if we could imagine an urban-integrated equivalent of Safdie’s Habitat half a century later,” said architect Bjarke Ingels of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) in a statement.
Another inspiration is Maison de Verre, an early modern glass building in Paris that was completed in 1932, says Michael Braun, director of sales and marketing at Vancouver-based Westbank Corp.
Westbank has partnered with Allied Properties Real Estate Investment Trust and BIG, and Toronto firm Diamond Schmitt Architects is also assisting in the project.
The design includes a public plaza that will connect directly to the maze of narrow alleys, passageways and small lots in the area.
“There are also heritage buildings on the site that will be interspersed throughout the property,” says Mr. Braun.
“It’s not a typical building that’s a podium with a tower above it. The authorities didn’t really know what to do with it, and the approval process was extraordinarily long. We may not see anything like it again,” he says.
“It really is based on the concept of a mountain. The idea is that if you walk up a mountain, you’ll see different types of trees and vegetation as you go up.”
Nearly every one of the 440 residential units will have its own terraced garden. Such individual spaces are consistent with “the way mountains work,” Mr. Ingels says. The concept also meshes with Mr. Safdie’s architectural motto of “for everyone a garden.”
The centre of the project will have about 150,000 square feet of office and retail space, some in the heritage-building part of the project and some in the newly constructed parts.
“There are lots of fascinating spaces [like] a courtyard with a cloud area with fog machines,” Mr. Braun says. The machine is a feature that holds rainwater and graywater and condenses it into a cloudlike vapour that will sprinkle cool, dewy mist through the public area.
“There’s also a secret garden,” he adds. “Toronto doesn’t have a lot of greenery in its buildings.”
King Toronto hopes to attract upscale retail with high-end shopping similar to Yorkville and the Bloor-Yonge Streets area, Mr. Braun says.
The project is designed to be pedestrian-friendly as well as awe-inspiring in the hopes of attracting affluent strollers, he explains. “You can look on one side and see the heritage building with stained glass windows and on the other side there are glass blocks.”
Building development that is more attractive to pedestrians goes beyond simply designing projects with public access, pathways and shopping, says Brent Toderian, former Vancouver chief planner and now head of TODERIAN UrbanWORKS (TUW) consultants.
“You need something to reward the pedestrian for choosing to walk,” says Mr. Toderian, who has consulted in the past with Westbank and has followed Mr. Ingels’s earlier work.
“I was a fan of Bjarke’s work but told him that he should work on making the ground floors and the activity at street level more interesting. In his earlier works the ground floors were either blank-looking or they were underwhelming,” Mr. Toderian says.
“For example, he did a project in Copenhagen – ironically called ‘the Mountain’ – where there was retail, but it didn’t work because the area was too sparse.” By 2020, an Ingels’-designed project with an unusual tower called Vancouver House opened, where the street-level was more people-friendly, Mr. Toderian says.
“Everyone notices the tower at Vancouver House, but it’s how the building ‘lands’ that makes a difference – it creates a community on the ground.”
Despite Mr. Braun’s doubt that another project as distinctive as King Toronto will be easily approved, Mr. Toderian thinks the development could be a sign of better designs for future buildings in the city.
That started to happen in Vancouver, he says. “We understood urban design and community building, but our architecture was somewhat monotonous.” When he was chief planner, people would ask him why all the buildings looked the same.
“Great urban buildings and streets and blocks promote walking, biking, transit and embracing the street. Attracting star architects to design urban projects can be a way to promote this. But you have to show that your buildings contribute to the street and are green at the same time,” Mr. Toderian adds.
Downtown redevelopment competes with suburban projects, which may be cheaper to build and easier to drive to, he adds.
“So, the goal is to design buildings that show that the city can compete with the suburbs, by being more attractive,” Mr. Toderian says.