On October 12, hot on the heels of the Gehry/Mirvish announcement for a proposed condo tower complex, Oxford revealed its masterplan for a nearby site. The developer would raze the multi-block area to erect four towers, a new convention centre, and a casino, which would sit at the base of one of the towers and is calculated to take up 10 per cent of the project’s total area. The plan’s fate hinges on the casino, a controversial proposal that has the backing of the mayor, although it has not yet been approved by the city council.
While a downtown gambling centre has many detractors, the current state of this stretch leaves much to be desired. The six-minute walk along Front Street’s south side, specifically the stretch dominated by the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, is a dead zone offering little to see but doorless glass façades. Oxford’s plan proposes the demolition of an office building, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and the Intercontinental Hotel to make room for two hotel towers. An additional pair of mixed-use towers would add to the residential and office space, and offer ground-level retail. A new convention centre would occupy what is currently an under-utilized park in the shadow of the CN Tower, while 2.25 hectares of landscaping will fill the gaps between these structures.
These green zones would take over newly usable real estate created by covering the train tracks, a sizable area that at its widest spans a dozen parallel lines over Simcoe Street. The most transformative aspect of the plan is the reclamation of a wide swath of railroad yards, a below-grade chasm that today severs the Rogers Centre stadium and the CN Tower from the rest of the city to the north.
If we are to judge by Foster + Partners’ past work, the Oxford masterplan may also incorporate sophisticated structures, with state-of-the-art sustainable features and systems. Led by Sir Norman Foster, the firm is the mastermind behind Masdar City on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, touted as the world’s first carbon-neutral city. In Canada, Foster + Partners is responsible for the University of Toronto’s pharmacy building, defined by its suspended classrooms that glow at night, and the Bow, a recently completed super-green skyscraper in Calgary. Yet the firm has no qualms about working with controversial clients; it recently won a bid to design a new headquarters for Lehman Brothers in New York.