For half a century, a city block at the intersection of University Avenue and Dundas Street West in Toronto was the heart of a publishing empire. It’s about to become one of the most central residential and office addresses in the city.
The project to transform the block is complex because the structures of two large and significant heritage office buildings are being retained. The existing 10-storey commercial buildings will keep their foundations and exterior appearances, while their cores will be removed to excavate for two storeys of parking and retail floors below grade. A new tower with 45 storeys of condominium residences will rise between and over them.
The complex is called The United Building and it’s part of a trend of adding residential space to downtown University Avenue, which until recently was predominantly commercial. Across the street, the Residences of 488 University by Amexon Development Corp. are rising in a tower built above the former 18-storey Global House office building, built in 1968. To the south of Dundas, Tribute Communities’ 42-storey residential complex has risen above the historic Royal Canadian Military Institute.
Developer David Hofstedter, president and chief executive officer of Davpart Inc., sees his company’s United Building as part of a growing international phenomenon as well. “The concept has been successful in New York, Paris and other major metropolitan centres, where apartments cohabit with corporate, commercial and retail venues on grand thoroughfares,” he notes.
The University Avenue location lends itself to living and working because it’s within walking distance of the University of Toronto, the Ontario Legislature, many hospitals, the financial district and the Eaton Centre shopping mall, among other notable downtown destinations and employers.
This project will retain as much as possible of the block’s two heritage buildings, says Graeme Stewart, a principal at ERA Architects, the Toronto firm hired as heritage consultants to plan the restorations of the façades to their original looks.
Both were built for Maclean-Hunter Publishing, a company that expanded under John Bayne Maclean to include Maclean’s magazine (formerly The Busy Man’s Magazine, founded in 1905), The Financial Post and a roster of trade publications including Canadian Grocer, Dry Goods Review and Farmer’s Magazine.
In addition to its printing plant, the company built offices in the 1930s in a decorative style known as Collegiate Gothic, designed by Toronto architect Murray Brown, with New York’s Schultze & Weaver. In 1960, a 10-storey limestone office building in the Classical Modern style designed by Marani & Morris architects was added to the block. It’s notable for its prominent incised art panels featuring communication themes designed by Canadian sculptor Elizabeth Wyn Wood.
(In the 1980s, Maclean-Hunter moved off the block to nearby College Park.)
The United Building, expected to open in 2025, will become North America’s tallest architectural heritage-retention development, Mr. Stewart says. ERA’s heritage consultants had been studying the prospects for restoring the buildings and adding more density even before the block was bought by Davpart in 2014 from Crown Realty Partners.
The original buildings, one fronting University and the other Dundas, were designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and are listed on the City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties. The city was concerned about how a development would preserve the heritage elements. “Coming up with a plan that satisfied the city required using the right materials and careful location of the residential tower block,” Mr. Stewart says.
A big key to getting approval was an incredibly challenging technical feat to do most of the construction from the inside and leave the exteriors intact, says Mark Berest, a principal of B+H Architects, the project’s prime consultant and design architects. “Nothing at this scale has been done in Toronto before and it’s a really exciting concept.”
There is a large additional cost in keeping and restoring the 10-storey buildings, but because of the scale of retention and investment in the original form, “there was a real enthusiasm among city planners about the idea and working with them has been a pleasure,” Mr. Berest says.
“It took a lot of research, especially for the Dundas building which has a high degree of craftsmanship. Details of the original windows were lost in later renovations and we are installing modern high-performance windows that have spandrels that bring back the original 1930s patterning and profile.”
A heritage colour scheme and materials including brass, copper and decorative mullions and window frames will be used.
The 481 University building has also had additions to its elegant limestone façade over the years and these will be brought back to a more classic look, Mr. Berest adds.
“We’re working to declutter and simplify the look and modernize the building’s performance in terms of a new roof and flashings and high-performance windows, but doing it in a way that is in keeping with the original design.”
A six-storey modern podium to be built above the historic buildings will contain a mix of residential units and amenity spaces, including fitness facilities, an indoor-outdoor pool deck, a bocce court and lounge and dining areas. Tomas Pearce Interior Design Consulting Inc. is handling the interiors and Baker Real Estate will manage sales.
“We’re pleased in how we’ve found ways to keep the structure intact all the way down, but it’s going to require some really complicated underpinning. The interiors of the buildings will be removed and we’re going to do the excavation not with scaffolding on the street but from within,” he adds. The main entrance to the building on University will include a new connection to the St. Patrick subway station and beneath ground there will be a retail level, connections to the pedestrian PATH system and two levels of parking.
Staging for construction and what will become the lobby of the residential tower will be at 88 Centre St., on the northeastern corner of the block, where a brick building that was a printing facility but is not historically significant will be removed.
An additional challenge on the site was accommodating additional pedestrian traffic on Dundas Street, where the sidewalk is only about two metres wide. “We rolled up our sleeves and said how do we increase the capacity of Dundas? We didn’t want to do an interior mall; we wanted it to be more public,” Mr. Berest says.
“We came up with a plan to open the building and create a two-storey retail arcade, because a one-storey space would seem too tight. It’s in keeping with the general era of mid-century urbanism which the 481 [University] building was from. It is an intervention to the building, but we think it’s in keeping with the spirit of the design and it will be an urban amenity that will be brightly lit and will create an expansion of the sidewalk all the way along Dundas,” he says.
The Dundas arcade will be created by removing the windows on the ground floor and second levels and moving the exterior wall in to create an overhang over the widened sidewalk.
“For many years, University was the city’s pre-eminent business address and that’s why it’s exciting to be able to revitalize these buildings and bring mixed use and more life to the street,” Mr. Berest says.
United it stands
Number of storeys (605 feet or 185 metres).
Floors of offices and retail.
Storeys of residential.
Number of residential units.
Square footage of commercial office space.
Square footage of retail space.
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