The regeneration of Toronto's desolate industrial shoreline took another bold step forward last week, when Waterfront Toronto, the crown corporation overseeing the transformation, unveiled its first private-sector development in the 55-acre East Bayfront district. The $200-million project by Great Gulf Group of Companies will go up just south of the Gardiner Expressway, on the east side of the new Sherbourne Park, and a critical piece of a new urban neighbourhood will be in place.
Called Parkside, the proposed mixed-use building will contain some 540,000 square feet of residential and commercial space, distributed throughout two elements: a tower rising to about 36 storeys beside the Gardiner and a six-level podium extending south from under the tower to Queens Quay.
What makes this plan important, however, is neither its substantial size nor its basic configuration: The tower on a podium is, after all, a familiar - perhaps too familiar, too routine - way to pack maximum population density into a restrictive site. Parkside's real significance lies in its design.Great Gulf has chosen world-renowned designer Moshe Safdie as its architect.Parkside is his first residential commission in Canada since Montreal's famously innovative Habitat opened in 1967.
The exact appearance of Parkside is unknown. Once Mr. Safdie has submitted schematic designs - something that has not yet happened - the project will undergo rigorous scrutiny by Waterfront Toronto's design review panel. That body's decision is crucial to how the building will look in its dense downtown location.
But at this early point, Mr. Safdie's artistic intentions are clear. As depicted at last week's press conference, Parkside's base will be a massive affair of glass in precast concrete frames fronting on Queens Quay and lying alongside a leafy promenade that separates the building from the adjoining park.
The monotony possible in this arrangement of a long promenade and a tall, long façade will be relieved, at least during the summer months, by shops and cafes spilling out of the bottom of the structure. The stolidity of the base will be further offset by a couple of notches in the façade above the fourth level, and the addition of a recessed three-storey penthouse block (topped by a garden and swimming pool) at the podium's south end.
In contrast to its serious base, Parkside's sturdy tower is almost playful. Long panels of concrete frames, projecting outward from the building's skeleton and alternating with recessed expanses of glass, slash diagonally across the east and west facades of the condominium stack. This surface treatment on two sides creates an attractively jaunty effect on the south façade, which looks like so many short and long slabs of perforated masonry piled on top of each other.
Parkside incorporates some design moves I've noticed in other recent high-rise projects, notably the avoidance of vast stretches of energy-wasting glass and the adoption of more opacity in the skin of the building.
Parkside does not make a stylistically daring gesture against the skyline, nor should we expect it to. There is surely room in the city for flamboyant monuments - skyscrapers that radically depart from the cereal-box designs of Modernism's yesteryear and that embody exciting new advances in building and design technology. (We can hope the skyscraper Great Gulf will be putting up at Bloor and Yonge will be such a marquee project.) But, at least for the moment, the Toronto waterfront is probably not the place for such experiments.
What's needed there is solid urban fabric, serviceable structures and parks and transportation systems that serve the common good and contribute to the making of sound neighbourhoods. Mr. Safdie's Parkside promises to be the kind of building the East Bayfront area requires: a solid piece of city, and another fulfilment of Toronto's long-standing desire to be reunited with Lake Ontario.
That reunion, which is the central mission of Waterfront Toronto, is now moving forward. Construction of 1.4 million square feet of office and institutional space in the Dockside tract of East Bayfront is in progress. The 450,000 square foot office and broadcast centre called Corus Quay, home of Corus Entertainment, is nearing completion. Waterfront Toronto expects work to begin this year on George Brown College's Health Sciences Campus, which will attract 3,500 full-time students and 1,000 part-timers to the area.
Some prophets of doom still say it can't be done - that the will and investment needed to extend Toronto's urban fabric to the water's edge will never materialize. The announcement of Parkside is just the latest sign of how wrong they are.
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