View from the southeast; Image courtesy of Gehry International, Inc
Frank Gehry can't help leave his mark on cities. Having worked extensively in metropolises like LA and New York, the renowned architect is returning to his native city of Toronto for his largest urban project yet, a mixed-used complex that promises to transform the city's downtown. Gehry has unveiled his conceptual plans for an arts and entertainments district, complete with a pair of large exhibition halls and three soaring towers that will hold 2,600 condo units with retail on the ground floor. Developer David Mirvish, Gehry's partner on the project, says that the 85-story skyscrapers will rival Toronto's other sky-reaching landmarks, while the complex as a whole will do much to establishing the city as a preeminent cultural center.
Podium; Image courtesy of Gehry International, Inc
Mirvish and Gehry designed the project to be built in three stages over a ten-year period. Two six-story podiums will preserve the scale of the street and mark the first phases of construction. The towers, each of which bears a "complementary but distinctive design", will be built atop these bases. The plan will stretch from over a block and a half, with new public spaces weaved throughout. The program will include new facilities for OCAD University Public Learning Center for Visual Art, Curatorial Studies, and Art History, plus a 60,000 square foot gallery space where Mirvish's expansive collection of abstract art will be exhibited to the public for free. The final part of the plan has already sparked some controversy because it requires the demolition of the Princess of Wales Theatre, a beloved local landmark (owned by Mirvish) that will be sacrificed--"replaced" in the developer's words--for Gehry's plan.
That is, if it's ever approved. The proposal has yet to be presented by city officials, who may object to the scheme. Still, Mirvish is confident that the project will develop unimpeded, given the ties to Gehry--one of Toronto's most storied sons--and the potential economic boost that that represents. "We see an opportunity to join our history with Frank Gehry's history and continue our ongoing commitment to the neighbourhood," Mirvhish announced at the unveiling, making reference to his family's legacy and commitment to Toronto. "This area was transformed 50 years ago after my father purchased the Royal Alexandra Theater, and this project will continue the theater’s future and transform the neighborhood again for the next 50 years. I am proud that we can continue this legacy that my father began."
Despite the scale of Gehry's decidedly urban intervention, it's the "neighborhoods" that the architect sought to engage. Speaking about the design, Gehry says he intended to preserve the district's historic character, while energizing its spaces: "I wanted to create buildings that were good neighbors to the surrounding buildings and that respected the rich and diverse history of the area. I also wanted to make nice places for the people who live in and visit the buildings."