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“Architecture reveals the values of the city and the culture that built it,” says Forma’s architect Frank Gehry. “Great architecture can set a bar for others to strive for.”ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF GREAT GULF GROUP, DREAM AND WESTDALE PROPERTIES

One of the world’s foremost architects is returning to his home city. Frank Gehry’s latest masterpiece, Forma, in Toronto’s entertainment district, will soon make its debut in a world-class city with an everchanging skyline.

Many of Gehry’s buildings – like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Louis Vuitton Foundation art museum and cultural centre in Paris, and the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle – are both architectural landmarks and world-renowned attractions.

As Frank Gehry’s first residential tower in Canada and his tallest building in the world, Forma is set to leave an indelible mark on the skyline in Toronto. From the onset, Forma has been an exercise in defining the urban space along King Street and Ed Mirvish Way in Toronto with a set of towers that would inject visual dynamism and movement onto the skyline.

Forma’s two towers, at 73 and 84 storeys – Gehry’s tallest residential project – will be an artistic, iconic counterpunch to a sense of architectural sameness you see in other big cities around the world.

The views will be stunning and each of the suites will feature the finest in bespoke finishes, with five-star hotel-like lifestyle amenities and services, outdoor spaces, lounges and wellness spaces. Forma will inject a visual dynamism and a sense of movement onto the skyline, as the changing light throughout the day reflects on a building façade of undulating, rippled steel and glass, in a twisting form.

There will be a striking custom art installation in the Gehry-designed lobby in the 73-storey east tower, a motif of maple leaves that will shimmer to the eye and will be viewable to those walking along King Street. Gehry and his design team were inspired by the Group of Seven in coming up with the vision.

Overall, Forma will be a testament to the city he loves and a salute to the Toronto he remembers from his youth.

Q: You spoke about the “feeling of Toronto” that you have, working it into what you wanted to do with Forma. Is that something you can even put into words and, if so, what does that mean?

As a kid, I remember Osgoode Hall, University Avenue, the Parliament Buildings, and the Royal York Hotel. There was a modest optimism to those buildings. That is the feeling that I was trying to capture in Forma.

Drawing on the vocabulary of the façade, alternating stainless steel and glass canopies wrap the corners of both towers at street level, giving coverage to future potential commercial tenants and maximizing the public realm with active street frontage. Inside, the Gehry-designed lobby is inspired by the Group of Seven and the ties between the natural landscape and Canada's identity.

Q: How long did it take for you to capture that feeling with Forma?

We started working on Forma about 10 years ago with David Mirvish. David had his own values and desires for the project. The current partnership, with Great Gulf Group, Dream and Westdale Properties, has its own vision for the project along with some of its own financial realities. Toronto has changed a lot in the last decade and, with it, the way people think about housing, so the project had to change along with it.

My process is iterative, and it involves a lot of models. That allows us to ebb and flow with the shifting needs of the client and the market. Those changes across time, I think, have helped the project get better. We have boiled the design down to its essence.

Q: What does great architecture do for a city? How does it benefit a city?

Architecture reveals the values of the city and the culture that built it. We have all been to cities that were welcoming and exciting. Those cities make you energized and excited about exploring. Architecture and city planning can give identity and inspiration to its citizens. What we build tells the world who we are and what we care about.

I was just in Bilbao celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum. That building cost $100-million to build in 1997, and it has generated billions of dollars since for the Basque economy.

My design wasn’t the “conservative choice” but, from a financial standpoint, it turned out to be the best business decision they could have made. The city is alive with activity and optimism.

The government of Bilbao went all-in on architecture and culture as a way to turn around their flagging economy, and it has paid off like a slot machine. It took visionary leadership and diligence in execution across many levels of government. They laid the groundwork for the incredible success of the museum. At 25, the museum still looks great and over 1.5 million people a year are coming to see it still.

The material palette of Forma’s east tower lobby offers a counterpoint to the stainless steel of the tower, with curved wood furniture and accents, along with limestone cladding the walls and flooring. The ceiling is dominated by a sculptural installation designed by Gehry’s design team, offering a shimmering motif of maple leaves that can be viewed from the street.

Q: And, more importantly in the case of your objective for Forma (not having the building sit as a lone wolf, but having it connect to its surroundings and to the scale of existing buildings), how can great architecture impact or shape a community, especially in downtown Toronto?

We worked very hard to scale the buildings appropriately to the neighbourhood. I didn’t want them to feel like a monolith, so the various breaks in the form and the shifts and angles are quite intentionally scaled to the surrounding buildings. I also wanted it to be a pedestrian-friendly building. As such, we don’t have a mega-podium. The towers come down to the sidewalk, creating a very friendly, human-scaled experience. When both buildings are finished, there will be quite a nice pedestrian experience in the space in between on Ed Mirvish Way.

Great architecture can set a bar for others to strive for.

Q: Would you consider Toronto a world-class city from an architectural perspective, or is it getting there?

Toronto has the potential to be a world-class city architecturally. But they need to continue designing buildings that mark the place as uniquely Toronto. I think the city planners would agree with me, and I think they are working to make this happen.

Forma’s lively fitness studio, top, is complete with the latest equipment, including a dedicated spin room. The Grand Suite on the 73rd floor, middle, was conceived as a generous extension of the building’s residences and features an intimate theatre intended for smaller groups of 10 or 12. Within the Grand Suite, residents can also enjoy interconnected entertainment rooms, bottom, that take advantage of spectacular views of the city.ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF GREAT GULF GROUP, DREAM AND WESTDALE PROPERTIES

Q: What do you want buyers of Forma to take away, after they have lived in the building, experienced it? And what do you want the residents of Toronto to take away from it – those who won’t be living there, but will still be experiencing it?

For those living there, I hope they feel that this is a special place and that they feel proud to call it home. For those not living there, I hope that they see this as a sculpture on the skyline – one that changes as you move around it and one that captures the unique light of Toronto.

Q: Can you tell us how special this project is for you, which in the end will be such a signature piece for the downtown skyline of your hometown?

Building in my hometown is very special. It is an honour that the city has entrusted me with such an important and special site. I will do my best to make it the best building that I can.

Q: How often do you get back to Toronto, and what do you like to do when you come here?

I have been able to get back to Toronto a few times a year for the last handful of years. When I’m in the city, I am usually working, so I am seeing my clients and checking on the project. I do try to get back to AGO whenever I am in town, and I visit with my family who still live here.

Q: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to young architects starting out today?

Stay curious and be yourself. Your unique experience and perspective are what will make your work stand apart from others.


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