Toronto’s new Waterfront Innovation Centre is about to become a new hive of activity down by Lake Ontario.
Scheduled to open fully this summer, the centre is hosting a launch party on June 4 (June 5 rain date) featuring an atmospheric spectacle by renowned U.S. artist Judy Chicago, to mark the end of this year’s Toronto Biennial of Art.
“A Tribute to Toronto” is the artist’s latest smoke sculpture in which plumes of coloured smoke waft in the air, in this case, from a barge anchored in the lake, about 30 metres away from the new building.
“We’re pleased to be part of the Biennial because we have long been supporters of the arts,” says Peter Menkes, president, commercial/industrial at Menkes Developments Ltd., which developed the innovation centre in partnership with BentallGreenOak.
In 2015, Menkes won the competition to develop the site, held by Waterfront Toronto, the agency in charge of turning Toronto’s lakeshore from the derelict area it once was into a neighbourhood with transit, businesses, residents, offices and retail.
“One of the criteria they set for the competition was innovative design,” Mr. Menkes says. “We were already involved in about 8 million square feet of development in the waterfront area, so this is really a continuation of our work.” Among other Menkes projects are the One York Street complex that includes Harbour Plaza Residences and the Sugar Wharf development that includes the nearby 100 Queens Quay office tower.
The new centre, located next to Sugar Beach in the emerging East Bayfront community, is designed by Sweeny & Co. Architects Inc. and will host tenants including communications giant WPP, The Score sports media and the MaRS Discovery District, to complement the tech incubator’s site at College Street and University Avenue.
“The waterfront gives us more space for startups,” says Karen Mazurkewich, vice-president, strategic communications at MaRS. This enables the not-for-profit corporation that helps innovators commercialize designs and inventions devote more of its existing facilities to laboratories, she explains.
“We want to be at the waterfront because it’s such a dynamic, exciting neighbourhood, with an amazing office environment,” adds Nina Gazzola, senior vice-president for innovation hubs at MaRS.
“Being there lets us apply all the new, hybrid work concepts. The workplace has changed a lot since COVID-19 began, and in the future office, not everybody works with the same people every day,” she explains.
“Both the layout of the building and the neighbourhood itself lets people be flexible as to who and where they meet and collaborate,” Ms. Gazzola says.
As technology and creative sectors continue to merge, the innovation centre – and the ultra-high-speed broadband infrastructure it’s built on – is set up so different types of industries can easily collaborate.
The centre has two buildings and a connecting structure. The large site, known as the Hive, is for anchor tenants; the smaller site, the Exchange, for smaller businesses; and the Nexus, a collaborative space for meetings, conferences and impromptu coffee chats, connects the two.
The centre’s occupants will be able to book space in the Nexus for structured meetings and presentations or simply get together when they have good ideas to share, says Menkes.
“There’s a grand set of stairs where you go through the Nexus into the Exchange and then end up right at Sugar Beach. It’s not your traditional office.”
The 475,000-square-foot complex will be one of the first developments in Canada to receive a new LEED 4.1 certification, the most up-to-date standard architects use to designate a project as environmentally friendly. (While the centre is Canada’s first LEED 4.1 building, in 2021, Canada certified 205 projects of LEED space at earlier standards, representing more than 3.2 million gross square metres of space.)
“We use grey water for plumbing and irrigation, we use lighting sensors [which turn lights on and off when people are there], solar panels that supply some of the building’s energy, a green roof and EnWave’s district cooling and heating system that uses lake water,” Mr. Menkes says.
The buildings also have raised floors to maximize air flow, a feature many new buildings have deployed since the advent of COVID-19 because it helps fresh air circulate better inside.
“People are more productive and comfortable when they feel healthy and safe at work,” Mr. Menkes says.
The developers, tenants and Waterfront Toronto see the new centre as a milestone in the evolution of Toronto’s lakeshore, which used to be largely made up of landfill, industrial buildings and vacant lots.
According to the Waterfront Toronto website, the site, which covers 1.14 acres, is a key component of its East Bayfront Precinct Plan, which emphasizes the importance of a commercial district in the area to support Toronto’s economic competitiveness, accommodate shifts in the economy and respond to the needs of knowledge-based companies and workers.
Many of the approximately 2,000 people expected to work in the area will likely also live there, says Mr. Menkes, adding that easy access to public transit, along with ample bike and walk paths, will make getting in and around the area convenient.
Ms. Chicago’s smoke-on-the-water display will help both the new project and the waterfront itself make a big impression, says Leah MacNeil, director of development for Toronto Biennial.
“I think our ability to reconnect with the waterfront has helped many of us get through the pandemic, so celebrating it with this free, one-time-only performance will be really special,” she says.