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The Future of Toronto
From Sidewalk Labs to the Danish invasion, the major developments happening in the ever-evolving city.
10 Architecture Projects that Will Shape Toronto’s Future
9 Danish Designs Changing Toronto’s Architectural Landscape
Sidewalk Labs, Toronto, Quayside,
Smart City Prototypes Debut at Sidewalk Toronto’s 307
Inside 307, Sidewalk Toronto’s Experimental Hub
BIG Unveils New Renderings - and Interior Designs - for KING Toronto Condos
BIG Unveils New Renderings – and Interior Designs – for KING Toronto Condos
The Future of Toronto

From Thomas Heatherwick’s expressive timber proposals for Sidewalk Toronto to Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s stacked-volume renderings of U of T’s School of Cities, we have lately seen numerous architectural visions for projects that will have major impacts on the city’s skyline and fabric. Here are 10 that we believe will really shape the future of the city – that is, if they are ultimately realized.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s 90 Queen’s Park for University of Toronto
PHOTO: Bloomimages, courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro

This shimmering yet hefty project has already got critics and proponents buzzing on social media. Situated at 90 Queen’s Park – site of the shuttered McLaughlin Planetarium – the building will be home to U of T’s new School of Cities, and also integrate eight other departments (from law to Islamic studies). It will also connect to its historic neighbours, including the Royal Ontario Museum, Flavelle House and Falconer Hall.

These relationships have informed the project’s appearance. Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the same firm behind New York’s High Line and The Shed, describes the building’s dual identity thusly: “a smooth cohesive block containing faculty offices and workspaces to the north expresses the unity of the building, while the individuality of each constituent department is revealed by an erosion of the facade to the south, which is shaped by an imprint of the historic Falconer Hall.”

The eroded southern facade carves into the nine-storey building’s blocky bulk, creating cantilevers and resulting in a textured massing. As the firm explained to Dezeen, the cladding materials were chosen to optimize this effect: “The northern facade is comprised of a fritted vision glass and metal panel that reads as fairly uniform in tonality to contrast to the stepped, eroded side of the building which features low reflective glass and aluminium.” Inside, a central atrium and stair links the lounge, study and meeting spaces. DS+R is working on the project in collaboration with local studio Architects Alliance (the project’s executive architect) and ERA Architects (its heritage consultant).

Snøhetta and Thomas Heatherwick for Sidewalk Toronto
PHOTO: Picture Plane for Thomas Heatherwick

The city’s most polarizing development proposal by far, Sidewalk Toronto recently unveiled sketches of what the neighbourhood might look like should it be given the green light. Snøhetta and Thomas Heatherwick have envisioned buildings – a pair of high rises by the former and Google’s future Toronto HQ by the latter, among them – that transform hardy timber into a visually expressive material. As illustrated in Sidewalk Toronto’s February 2019 project update, the buildings feature fan-like balconies and balletic structural beams as if to say: this isn’t your typical wood architecture. Alongside these nascent developments, Sidewalk Toronto is planning to move forward with the unveiling of two scale prototypes of concepts first proposed in spring 2018: Carlo Ratti’s interactive roadscape and Partisans and RWDI’s building raincoats are being built onsite at their 307 building and will be unveiled early next month.

PHOTO: Picture Plane for Thomas Heatherwick
Heneghan Peng’s Canadian Canoe Museum (in Peterborough)

This project is close enough to Toronto – and sublime enough architecturally – for us to be very amped about it. Dublin’s Heneghan Peng Architects is working with Toronto firm Kearns Mancini Architects on the 7,500-square-metre, landscape-hugging building, which snakes along a canal in Peterborough, Ontario. On its completion, the new Canadian Canoe Museum will replace the museum’s current home in a warehouse-like structure and hold the world’s largest collection of canoes and kayaks. One of its greatest achievements will be a green roof nearly a hectare in size that will overlook the canal – a popular spot for recreation – as well as the historic lift locks that connect Lake Ontario to a network of smaller lakes, once crucial shipping routes serving Central Ontario. Read the full story here.

Weiss Manfredi and Teeple’s Innovation Centre for U of T
9 Danish Designs Changing Toronto’s Architectural Landscape
Four leading Danish design firms are introducing new design sensibilities to Canada’s largest city.

Another ambitious project by the University of Toronto, the 14-storey, 23,225-square-metre Innovation Centre will house U of T Entrepreneurship, the Innovations & Partnerships Office and the Vector Institute – an international leader in AI technology. Slated for the corner of College Street and University Avenue – where it will replace the western portion of the Banting and Best complex – the project will reside directly across the street from the MaRS Discovery District and its roster of innovative companies. Expected for a 2021 completion, the gently sloping tower designed by New York-based Weiss/Manfredi Architects in collaboration with Toronto’s Teeple Architects, will accommodate startup companies and established corporate partners.

Jeanne Gang’s One Delisle tower at Yonge and St. Clair

Why so tall? That is the question often lobbed at a high-rise proposal. And Jeanne Gang heard it herself when she came to town last year to present her One Delisle tower proposal (a project of Studio Gang’s in collaboration with local firm WZMH) for Slate Developments. The gleaming-white, multi-faceted, cylindrical tower rises 48 storeys near the intersection of Yonge and St Clair to finally create a soaring landmark for this important-yet-non-descript intersection. But, in conversation with Azure, Gang expressed that by knitting the tower podium into the street’s preserved historic facades, the building’s height is rendered irrelevant. “The thing I notice is that this is the scale you perceive when you’re walking,” Gang said, referring to the sidewalk. “Whether the building is 50 stories or 60 stories or 30 stories, that isn’t something people really can perceive so much. Which is why it’s really important to keep this character.” Read the full story here.

Claude Cormier’s Love Park for Waterfront Toronto

When a number of local and international architects were invited to submit designs for Toronto’s two new waterfront parks, a wealth of wonderful ideas were put forth, from toboggan hills to modular green spaces. But we fell hard for Claude Cormier’s Love Park, described as a “green space with a pinch of whimsy.” (It was chosen for development alongside wHY Architecture and Brook McIllroy’s equally pleasing Rees Street Park concept.) Cormier, the designer behind Toronto’s dog- and cat-themed parks and Montreal’s 18 Shades of Gay, characterized Love Park – which zigzags trees and promenades around a 40-by-50-metre heart-shaped reflecting pool – as an “alter-ego” to its glassy surroundings. We can’t wait for it to be real.

Shim Sutcliffe’s 51 Camden Street

Taking shape in Toronto’s Fashion District, 51 Camden is a hospitality project cut from a different cloth. In fact, it boasts a façade that feels more textured than most new developments in the downtown. That’s because the 13-storey, 130-unit brick and weathering steel building is by Shim Sutcliffe, the renowned Toronto architecture firm known for its attention to craft and detail. Which explains its swooped entrance, like a lifted veil that welcomes visitors in, and its massive exposed concrete columns. Shim Sutcliffe is best known – and best loved – for its seminal projects, like Integral House, Wong Dai Sin Temple, and the Sisters of Saint Joseph residence. With 51 Camden, more Torontonians will get a more immediate chance to experience the firm’s magic. Read more here.

Renzo Piano’s Toronto Courthouse

One of the world’s most respected architects, Renzo Piano Building Workshop has unveiled designs for the new Toronto courthouse at 10 Armoury Street (in collaboration with NORR Architects & Engineers) . With a facade composed of layers of glass and embossed metallic back pans, the building will be elevated on columns; a public plaza on the ground level and a 20-metre-high atrium will be welcoming to passersby, making the building a modern, open and accessible symbol of the city’s civic precinct.

The building’s transparency will “create an immediate and strong image which will extend the public realm into the building, as well as expressing the public nature of the courthouse within the city,” the firm says. The new facility will provide a home for a number of law courts that are currently scattered across Toronto.

3XN’s Church + Wellesley

Another significant intersection will be transformed by a major development in the next few years. A key node of the LGBTQ community, the corner of Church and Wellesley is the site of a rental tower – that’s correct: apartments, not condos, although there’s no word yet on affordability. What is known is that the project is being designed by 3XN, one of Denmark’s, and the world’s, most innovative and sustainably minded firms. In fact, this is its first ever high-rise in North America (though it also designing another hotly anticipated Toronto project: The Waves at Bayside) and it seems to have gotten off on the right foot. 3XN consulted with the community before it even began sketches, and what has resulted from this process is game changing.

The proposed 43-storey, 153-metre-high building features a dual level plaza with retractable glazed walls for hosting community events, including for huge annual events like the Pride Parade. From there on up, the massing is broken up into four metal-clad segments of apartment units, staggered by terraces in between and stepped away progressively from the sidewalk. Read the full story here.

Morphosis, Teeple and Two Row Architect’s Creative City Campus at OCADU

Morphosis will once again team up with Teeple – the two firms collaborated on U of T’s Graduate House, completed in 2000 – on this future project for OCAD University, which will also include a major contribution by Two Row Architect, a 100 per cent native-owned and operated firm. Two Row will lead on the creation of the Indigenous Visual Culture and Student Centre, which is but one aspect of the development’s scope. The project encompasses the renovating and repurposing of OCADU’s properties along McCaul Street as well as the addition of 5,110 square metres of new construction. Renderings have yet to be released, but we’re excited to learn more about this one.

In Canada’s largest city, a 20-year wave of high-rise development continues to crest, bringing an enormous influx of density to Toronto’s downtown. Befitting the city’s nascent global swagger, many of the world’s most acclaimed architects – from Renzo Piano and Jeanne Gang to Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Snøhetta – are taking a hand in shaping the city’s future. As Toronto’s architectural horizons expand, four Danish studios bring a distinct design philosophy to the evolving metropolis. While 3XN, COBE, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), and Henning Larsen Architects all have strong individual qualities, they share a commitment to material excellence and aesthetic clarity that makes the small Scandinavian country a leader on the global design stage.

3XN. T3 Bayside, Aquabella, Aqualuna, Church and Wellesley, 64-86 Bathurst
T3 Bayside

On March 4, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark was in Toronto to unveil an exhibition of Copenhagen-based 3XN’s waterfront architecture. It was an auspicious occasion, coinciding with the design reveal of 3XN’s latest competition-winning project for the Toronto waterfront. Known as T3 Bayside, the newly announced development is currently the tallest mass-timber office project planned in North America. Consisting of two 10-storey buildings, T3 Bayside is set to be constructed with an eye to adaptation, allowing for disassembly or expansion of the buildings as needs change. The use of wood also makes the buildings significantly less carbon-intensive than their concrete counterparts, while imbuing the interiors with a (very ‘hygge’) sense of warmth. Across the facades, the natural wood hues are complemented by a cladding system that introduces an organic tone across the varied – though highly legible – building envelopes.


Remarkably, T3 Bayside already represents 3XN’s fifth Toronto project. The firm – which was founded in Aarhus in 1986 – is quickly making its mark on the Bayside community, where the residential Aquabella and Aqualuna buildings are now under construction. The neighbouring waterfront projects are designed to maximize outdoor space and lakeside views, with massing strategies that break up individual upper-level suites into smaller volumes. Accommodating spacious terraces, the staggered configurations maintain an impressively cohesive relationship with the rectilinear lower volumes of both buildings, a feat accomplished through the consistent repetition of patterns. At Aquabella, crisp white cladding frames individual units, establishing a visual pattern that carries across the body of the building. At Aqualuna, the balcony wave patterns create a similar sense of aesthetic unity, establishing a clear (and eye-catching) identity.


At the storied corner of Church and Wellesley, 3XN’s proposed 39-storey residential point tower introduces a substantial new public space in its podium. Open to the elements in good weather, the flexible space – developed following extensive public consultations – anchors the terraced tower above. Rising in a series of angular volumes, the project introduces a note of variety into a Toronto development landscape dominated by highly rectilinear point towers. Similarly, a varied cladding system – combining glazed elements with prominent balcony panels – offers a welcome visual alternative to the window-wall and back-painted spandrel building envelopes that still characterize most of Toronto’s new-build residential towers.

Church and Wellesley

On the west side of downtown Toronto, 3XN is poised to transform a long Bathurst Street parcel with high-rise density. If built, the block-long tower at 64-86 Bathurst would be among Toronto’s very few 21st-century slab towers. Here, an angled balcony pattern attempts to break up the tower’s imposing footprint and an alternating facade treatment also aims to lessen the building’s visual impact by suggesting the presence of discrete volumes.  3xn.com

64-86 Bathurst
Henning Larsen Architects. Etobicoke Civic Centre
Etobicoke Civic Centre, Henning Larsen, Danish architecture in Toronto
Etobicoke Civic Centre

Founded by Henning Larsen in 1959, the eponymous Copenhagen firm is now well-known for its global portfolio of cultural and educational projects. In Toronto, the new Etobicoke Civic Centre promises to combine cultural and educational elements with robust civic programming. Henning Larsen was announced as the winner of an international design competition to design the facility in 2017, in partnership with Toronto’s Adamson Associates and PMA Landscape Architects. Introducing a series of angled volumes organized around a central plaza, the design incorporates a community recreation centre, a public library branch, a child care centre, and a civic function hall into an office complex. A subtle push-pull between the volumes fosters a kinetic energy, enlivening what might have been a dull municipal office development. The quietly playful angularity also negotiates a smooth transition from the towers to the street level, lending the expansive project a (characteristically Danish) sense of architectural unity.

Henning Larsen is also participating in developer First Gulf’s plans for the ambitious East Harbour project. Targeting the redevelopment of the massive Lever Brothers industrial site east of downtown Toronto, the project aims to introduce 50,000 jobs to the site, supported by a mixed-use shopping and entertainment district. The Danish firm’s role in the project as an “ideas generator” will help to guide the early stages of public realm development for the master-planned site.  henninglarsen.com

COBE Architects. The James at Scrivener Square, Block 8 at West Don Lands
The James at Scrivener Square, COBE, Danish architecture in Toronto
The James at Scrivener Square

In 2017, COBE Architects was announced as the design firm for a mixed-use development in Toronto’s upscale Summerhill community. Now marketed as The James at Scrivener Square, the project features a 21-storey residential tower rising from a series of carefully articulated brick-clad podium structures. The project’s footprint takes on a slightly irregular site to accommodate surrounding heritage buildings, while incorporating a network of pedestrian gallerias at street level and a retail program housed in the attractively textured brick base buildings. The articulated brick frontages bely the bulky footprint and deftly reference the scale and texture of surrounding heritage architecture; in fact, the project reads as a natural evolution of the existing urban fabric. Clad in a clean pattern of deep-punched windows, the tower above is also broken up into smaller volumes, translating Yonge Street’s fine-grained urban rhythm to a high-rise typology.

Block 8 at West Don Lands

With The James at Scrivener Square continuing to progress through Toronto’s planning process, COBE’s second Toronto project was announced in late 2018. Filling out the vacant “Block 8” strip of the quickly growing West Don Lands, the Block 8 development is being designed in partnership with Toronto’s architectsAlliance. Light tower volumes top a trio of brick-clad podium structures. Like The James at Scrivener Square, the design evinces COBE’S finely developed sense of depth, texture and urban grain.  cobe.dk

Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). KING Toronto
King Toronto
BIG Unveils New Renderings - and Interior Designs - for KING Toronto Condos
BIG Unveils New Renderings – and Interior Designs – for KING Toronto Condos
Bjarke Ingels and Westbank have unveiled new images of KING Toronto’s architecture, interiors and details – and introduced the city to a next-generation gesamtkunstwerk.

Half a century after the completion of Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) has offered a Toronto analogue to the Montreal landmark. While the Danish starchitect cites Safdie’s project as an inspiration, the urban context is very different. Located on a vibrant, historic stretch and organized around an inner courtyard, KING Toronto introduces new density over and around the city’s existing urban fabric. In effect, Ingels reimagines the urban realm as a human-made mountain. Set to be entirely clad in glass block, KING Toronto combines its formal daring with material innovation. While the project’s first iteration was strongly criticized for its lack of deference to the site’s heritage buildings, the updated design is set further back from the site’s existing built form, with the green-scaped mountain appearing to grow out of the old city. Nonetheless, the BIG design tips the scales from contextual restraint to iconic ambition, while maintaining the material quality and formal cohesion that defines much of the best Danish architecture.  big.dk

Sidewalk Labs, Toronto, Quayside,

Amid the myriad vacant lots and construction cranes of Toronto’s eastern downtown waterfront, the nondescript building at 307 Lakeshore Boulevard is previewing elements of its city of the future. Here, at the central office and “experimental workplace” of Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs, a sort of futuristic tent hangs from a building now fronted by a series of heated and LED-infused concrete pavers.

Sidewalk Labs, Building Raincoat, Toronto, Partisans, RWDI

Building on Sidewalk’s initial aspirations to create new paradigms for street-level urbanism, the first prototypes of a heated hexagonal sidewalk, and a notional “building raincoat” awning system, are on display to the public at 307 Lakeshore.

Sidewalk Labs, Building Raincoat, Toronto, Partisans, RWDI

Immediately drawing the eye, the raincoat is a flexible tensile awning designed by Partisans in collaboration with local climate engineering firm RWDI. Made from a thin but highly durable ETFE membrane, the structure is pitched against the building, creating a protected pedestrian space below. In a city as cold as Toronto, the hope is to create more comfortable year-round conditions, and a livelier public realm. At street level, the liminal space is meant as an intermediary between the built environment and the outdoors. If the raincoat system can help bring people outside, Quayside could become a hub of year-round activity.

Sidewalk Labs, Building Raincoat, Toronto, Partisans, RWDI

Partisans has created an engagingly kinetic design for the raincoat, guided by RWDI’s analysis of wind-flow mitigation to devise a comfortable pedestrian environment. RWDI’s data suggests that the raincoat could effectively double the amount of time people could comfortably spend outdoors. Would it work? There’s reason for optimism. Part of the raincoat’s ingenuity is in its ability to serve dual purposes, with a public art projection already displayed to enticing effect on the prototype. Even in the dead of winter, it sparks curiosity. It’s an intriguing and worthwhile concept, though it might risk imposing a sense of street-level homogeneity if applied on a larger scale.

Sidewalk Labs, Toronto, Quayside,
An early rendering of a building ‘raincoat’ system.

Then there’s the hexagonal concrete pavers. Heated and lit, the pavers promise an antidote to Toronto’s notoriously icy sidewalks. For people with mobility issues, the promise is nothing short of liberating. The LED lighting system allows for flexibility of uses, with the colours denoting whether space belongs to pedestrians, cyclists, or vehicles, at any given time. This allows for a mix of uses throughout the day, and for pedestrian space to be maximized during low-traffic periods. The hexagonal mosaic conjured by the pavers is also touted as a place-making gesture, one that offers a distinctive design in knitting together a cohesive urban identity.

Sidewalk Labs, Toronto, Quayside, Toronto
LED pavers now on display outside 307 Lakeshore.

These prototypes are the latest in a series of technological innovations proposed as part of an increasingly controversial development that promises to be North America’s largest smart neighbourhood. In 2017, Sidewalk Labs was awarded a contract to develop the 12-acre Quayside site as a community built “from the internet up” in partnership with public agency Waterfront Toronto.

As the controversies ramped up, so did the architectural ambitions.  In 2018, Sidewalk revealed plans to use mass timber as Quayside’s primary high-rise building material, with Katerra and Michael Green Architects (MGA) tapped to develop a flexible new building system for the 12-acre site, which would include a mix of market-rate and subsidized housing, and a combination of rental and condominium tenancy.

Sidewalk Labs, Toronto, Quayside,
Inside 307 Lakeshore, a wooden mock-up shows the workings of the hexagonal paving system.

This year, Sidewalk has gradually rolled out details of its evolving plans, each step dogged by growing concerns about data privacy, lack of public input, an opaque RFP process and, just last month, the revelation of Sidewalk’s hopes to gain a portion of public tax revenue in exchange for building transit and infrastructure.

Sidewalk Labs, Toronto, Quayside, Toronto

This ambition to collect public tax revenue has been cited as a fundamental encroachment of corporate influence in public interests by those who have been calling for the project’s wholesale cancellation. Writing in the Toronto Star, data governance advocate Bianca Wylie argues, “Sidewalk Labs isn’t just relying on utopian architectural renderings of new construction to entice us: they are selling us fear. Fear that our government will fail us yet again. Fear that if this company doesn’t do it, nobody will.” It’s a sobering thought, and one that’s difficult to reconcile with the proposal’s laudable aspects.

The project’s design strengths and public-policy weaknesses are at such odds that they make any attempt at holistic evaluation difficult. How do we judge a heated sidewalk against concerns about data privacy? What’s the value of an artful awning system compared to the threat of private encroachment on public goods? To be sure, the new prototypes have merit, but they’re hard to weigh amidst these larger concerns.

Since the announcement late last year that Sidewalk Labs would develop a proposal for a chunk of Toronto’s Port Lands, the Alphabet/Google entity has hosted many roundtables, panel discussions and info sessions. This community engagement has been a proactive way of showing the city and its residents how transparent its smart-city enterprise is and will be – and of assuaging concerns about how data will be collected and personal privacy protected – and emphasizing the importance of community feedback and collaboration. But concrete details were scarce about the still-tentative project (Sidewalk Labs has been invited by Waterfront Toronto to present a plan but the city will still need to green light it) and many have struggled to visualize what Toronto’s smart city on a 12-acre L-shaped chunk of waterfront property would look like.

That changed this past weekend when Sidewalk Labs opened 307, its Lakeshore Blvd. E. hub, and shared with the public the tangible ideas it’s exploring in partnership with numerous architecture, planning, and technology firms. Some 2,000 locals dropped in to the space (designed by Lebel & Bouliane) to once again provide feedback, take in talks and participate in workshops; this time, they were also able to see and interact with physical prototypes of buildings, technologies and infrastructure.

Most prominent: a reconfigurable street platform made of hexagonal tiles with light sources at their centre. The idea is that in a future of (hopefully safer) autonomous vehicles, the lights can be programmed to efficiently redirect traffic and pedestrian flows. Sidewalk Labs invited Carlo Ratti Associati, the Turin-based firm run by MIT Senseable City Lab founder Carlo Ratti, to prototype the system in wood; its built-in dexterity allows for tiles to be popped out as needed for repair work, bollards to be screwed in, pavement finishes to be specified and more.

“With autonomous vehicles,” Ratti told Azure, “you can dynamically redefine the road – according to if you need one lane, two lanes, et cetera. Autonomous vehicles will also change the amount of parking we will need. So it seems very important to create a platform that can allow flexibility that benefits citizens, who can see how technology evolves and adjust to different conditions.”

The dynamic street, partly inspired by a pilot project underway in France, will take fuller shape when Sidewalk builds a heated-concrete version to scale on its site this fall. “Sidewalk has an internal mobility and public realm team that has been doing design and has been thinking about streets for years,” explained Jesse Shapins, director of 307 and lead of Sidewalk Labs’ public realm team. “This is about bringing that thinking together with the work that Carlo and his team have been doing in order to then prototype those ideas. I love Carlo’s kind of thinking – the emphasis on people and not just how new technology on its own can make great cities. You actually create an experience of people first.”

Where will people gather in Sidewalk Toronto? Saturday’s open house offered a possible answer to that question with a presentation by architecture firm Partisans and the engineers at RWDI. They are testing out a series of outdoor comfort zones also to be prototyped as 1:1 mockups in fall/winter. The team has performed weather pattern analyses and built a number of evocative prototypes that balance the need for outdoor shelter with the desire for openness, flexibility and a healthy dose of formal audacity.

“What Sidewalk has recognized is that most Torontonians feel the city is not comfortable most of the time,” says Partisans co-founder Alexander Josephson. “The city’s architecture hasn’t taken into account the realities of our extreme climate.” In response to the frigid winter/oppressive summer temperature differential, and informed by the dynamic structures of Buckminster Fuller, Frei Otto and other visionaries, the firm and RWDI have created a series of “outdoor comfort zone” models – hexagonal forests and origami shells with inflatable skins that Josephson calls “inflatigami” – conceived as kinetic and adaptable to address the shoulder seasons. In essence, they’re comfortable public spaces that also promise to provide unexpected and delightful architectural moments.

Everywhere you looked, the 307 open sidewalk was replete with great city-building ideas. It satisfied a preliminary checklist of everything that we believe urban centres need: One of the interactive tools visitors could experience was a generative design game, created in collaboration with Montreal’s Daily tous les jours (best known for having designed the musical swings in that city’s Quartier des Spectacles) and New York’s KPFui. It allowed people to visualize how radically a neighbourhood morphs when we toggle for increased density, different street grids, more trees and so on.

But there were also a few surprises, such as a digital electricity generator that is being used to power 307’s Big Ass Fans, and that might be considered as an energy source for the tall timber buildings that might one day populate the smart city. But perhaps the biggest innovative concept of all is that of the endless feedback loop. Not only is Sidewalk engaging the community at the planning stage, but it’s hoping to build the kind of flexible neighbourhood that could be adjusted to citizens’ needs and aspirations even after everything is in place.

This is a departure from the planned cities of the past, from Chandigarh and Brasilia to the latest desert-city-from-scratch. While Ratti is so far only a small part of the 307 “explorations-in-progress” phase – he’s excited about Sidewalk Toronto but was only recently called on to create the dynamic street prototype – his is the perspective of a major disruptor and future-city creator who is also fully aware of the need for transparency around privacy issues. He told Azure, “Usually what fails is when a city is such a complex system, one where you try to design everything and then just implement it. The important thing is, how do you create feedback loops so you build something, you get feedback from users in the community, and you can change it? You need to build a flexibility.”

Sidewalk plans to host its “open sidewalk” series, with a changing program of design explorations and collaborations, on a monthly basis.

BIG Unveils New Renderings - and Interior Designs - for KING Toronto Condos

Last night in Toronto, a capacity crowd gathered at Roy Thomson Hall to hear developer Ian Gillespie of Westbank, Danish architect Bjarke Ingels and Canadian artist Douglas Coupland discuss the intersection of art and architecture in Westbank projects. The three recently collaborated on the Telus Sky tower in Calgary, an inversion of BIG’s Vancouver House project – rectangular-footed at grade and tapering up sinuously – for which Coupland created the digital artwork that animates the facade. Gillespie positioned his full-fledged embrace of art, which has involved collaborations with the Art Gallery of Ontario (on Zhang Huan’s Rising at the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto) and the Vancouver Art Gallery, as a driving force in his company’s transition from developer to cultural enterprise.

“I spend 20 per cent of my time on our public art practice,” he told the audience. Among other upcoming projects, he’s working with B.C. artist Rodney Graham to install the Spinning Chandelier and with Bjarke Ingels to affix digital paintings Sistine Chapel-style under the roof of the Granville Street Bridge (directly next to Ingels’ Vancouver House). He’s also enlisted Frank Stella to contribute an ensemble of sculptures to Mirvish Village (a Stella painting famously hung in David Mirvish’s Markham Street gallery for many years).

The atrium of KING Toronto, facing a courtyard

What all of these projects point to, for both Gillespie and Ingels, is the enduring idea of the gesamtkunstwerk – the holistic merging of architecture and art, of form, function and detail.

This concept is at the core of Westbank’s KING Toronto project – which is what most of last night’s audience members (many realtors among them) were there to hear about. Seldom has there been so much excitement over a condo project, but this residential development drew rush-ticket crowds to attend a panel discussion at the Roy Thomson Hall, an Arthur Erickson icon that, Gillespie pointed out, “reminds us of what really great architecture represents to a city.” From the new renderings of KING Toronto, it is apparent how dramatically this “boxilated landscape” (Ingels’ coinage) will transform Toronto for the next generation. Yes, the project will alight on one street – King West – but its impact will be felt across the city, perhaps sparking the galvanizing effect on architecture and city-building that, as Ingels lamented, failed to emerge from its inspiration, Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 in Montreal.

A cavelike gateway from King West to the courtyard

The gesamtkunstwerk notion partly speaks to how the building will change the face of the street. The modular massing will bulge out like a treed mountainscape from around and between the red-brick heritage buildings that give this stretch of King West its character, “like a new organic growth climbing over them,” Ingels explained. In the public courtyard (with landscaping by PUBLIC WORK, the firm behind The Bentway) there will be shops, cafes, restaurants, and of course a public artwork. Viewed from afar, the architecture might seem overwhelming, but (as Ingels showed) the significant building volumes will be balanced by a variety of openings – niches, cavelike gateways (from the street to the courtyard and beyond) – and by the volumes’ material palette.

“We wanted to have a dialogue with local materials. We tried all kinds of brick – red brick, yellow brick, black brick – and finally ended up with glass brick,” Ingels explained. This translucency as well as the vegetation that will grow on exterior walls and terraces make the project porous to its surroundings. And the building’s pixelation fed into the myriad floorpans that make up the interior compositions. “We created room-sized lego pieces – places for living, sleeping, outdoor space – and with those elements you can compose any kind of home,” Ingels explained.

A penthouse suite

Francesca Portesine, Director of Interiors at BIG, further elaborated on the main design moves with Azure. “It’s very important, this holistic view of the project – the ability to coordinate and ‘masterize’ everything, from the architecture to the details,” she said. Plant life was treated as a material on the interior as well. “At BIG, we have a landscape department, so we are more and more experts on what to do and where, and have made many studies in relation to light exposure and soil retention.”

The firm also created the Gople light fixture with Artemide, a lamp that increases the wellbeing of both people and plants and that will be in every condo dining room. (Another high-end Italian manufacturer, B&B Italia, collaborated with Westbank and BIG to provide the condo’s furnishings.)

The options for the kitchen with rhomboid wood flooring

In the building’s common areas, the emphasis was on connecting indoors and out. “The ground floor is the most permeable – styled to be more urban toward the city, and more green towards the greenest parts of building,” says Portesine. This “living room” leads to the public courtyard and also features an area that is itself open to the public. The amenities – including the gym as well as the pool with its Nordic-inspired granite and basalt surfaces – have generous views to the city. “It was very important to increase the views and the ways in which we can enjoy natural light for personal wellbeing.”

Materiality was a huge consideration in both these common areas and in the condo suites. The main inspiration was the neighbourhood’s industrial feel. In the lobby, corrugated concrete panels clad the elevator, for instance. In the condo kitchens, cabinetry comes in three wood options as well as a corrugated textured glass with a mirrored backing (the best and most daring choice, obviously). “This idea of translucency comes from the facade,” Portesine explains. The wood and terrazzo floor tiles on offer – comprised of rhomboid shapes evoking flattened boxes – refer back to the building itself. From city to building to detail, KING Toronto is a thoughtful project – and one that deserves the excitement it has unleashed for both design and art in this city.