TORONTO – Do Frank Gehry’s condo towers represent a rare chance to launch Toronto into the architectural stratosphere – or a blight on the city's crowded skyline and the heritage buildings at its foundation?
This is the debate raging in Canada’s largest city, as Toronto oggles the three tower condo project proposed by architect Frank Gehry and David Mirvish, a local theatre and devlopment magnate.
The proposal for the three buildings, each 80 to 85 stories high, will encase an entire city block in the downtown entertainment district. The towers will rest on a six-story podium that will house Mirvish’s collection of contemporary art (fashioned into a free public gallery) and space for an art and design university, OCAD.
Toronto is often accused of lacking architectural vision and failing to attract the kinds of big-name design projects that stud other major cities.
But those who hope an ambitious project could put the city on the map say Gehry and Mirvish are the men to do it. Toronto native Gehry previously re-designed the Art Gallery of Ontario, while Mirvish is the son of ‘Honest Ed’Mirvish, a famed developer who founded the iconic Honest Ed’s department store.
Together, Gehry has assured hand-wringers that their respect for the hometown vibe will turn the development into a thriving mixed-use hub for the arts and culture scene, without destroying local flavour.
Nonetheless, the buildings will flatten a 12-year-old theatre and four century-old warehouses that have been declared heritage buildings. In a young country like Canada, older buildings are rare and the levelling of similar structures has caused public outcry in the past.
The design itself has faced little dissent, though few details have been released, but it’s the size and viability that is causing concern in a city where condos are prolific, expensive and divisive. More condos are under construction in Toronto than any other city in North America, and 400 unbuilt developments are already seeking residents in the metropolitan area (according to the Globe and Mail).
Downtown areas have seen resulting strains on hospitals, schools, transit and other infrastructure as density increases. Resources for families will have to expand considerably if buyers are to choose to raise children on an apartment on the 80th floor, over the Canadian predisposition toward big houses and backyards.
The towers must now go to city council for approval and councillors will consider the merits and drawbacks of a development that would permanently alter this downtown district. But the ultimate test will be the city’s residents themselves. When Gehry’s ambitious design heads to market, will the reality represent a Toronto where residents actually want to live?
Photos courtesy of Gehry International