Westbank’s Ian Gillespie took one look up at the capacity crowd that had gathered at Roy Thomson Hall to take in a discussion about his company’s new revolutionary KING Toronto condo project (just west of Spadina) in partnership with “starchitect” Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). He knew right away why people had come.
“This says everything about a city starved for great architecture,” he told the crowd. “It’s all about bringing people into our quest to make cities like this more beautiful.”
KING promises to be the antithesis of the “tower and podium” standard residents of Toronto have unfortunately come to accept. As a tip of the hat to Canadian architect Moshe Safdfie’s Habitat 67 in Montreal, KING will blend art and architecture into something functional set in one of the city’s fast-evolving communities, sets of pixels that extrude upwards, incorporating the heritage buildings on site. There will be space for housing, retail and offices, with plenty of green space. The latest city development hurdle has been crossed and sales are starting.
Gillespie told the crowd he spends 20 per cent of his time on public art projects, transitioning, as he said, “leftover space into spectacular space.” Artist and author Douglas Coupland was also at the event, speaking to the audience. Westbank is moving from being a development company to a cultural company.
Then it was time for Ingels to take the stage.
“This shows how the city is going – beyond glass towers,” he said. Ingels, 44, is the Danish architect known worldwide for buildings that defy convention while embracing sustainability. Projects include 8 House housing complex, Amager Bakke (a combined heat and power waste-to-energy plant – incorporating a ski hill and climbing wall on the exterior!), Superkilen public park. Now based in New York City, noteworthy projects there include VIA 57 West in Manhattan, and now the Two World Trade Center building. Time Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in 2016.
“We are dreaming up a new form of neighbourhood for Toronto,” he said. “Toronto has undergone a tremendous transformation but there’s been much concern placed on large towers on an urban podium. It’s a mystery why the ideas launched by Safdie didn’t impact others. So we thought, what about a new urban form rooted in King Street? It’s a neighbourhood transforming, with laneways and niches for a new kind of urban life. Imagine a European-style city block, ensuring a lively streetscape.
As Ingels described the project, it will look like a “organic man-made mountain range growing over existing structures,” with trees and vegetation not only at street level but also growing on terraces.
A cave-like park off Wellington, alleys that become a “big urban room”, and a courtyard that could be an, “amazing canvas for some kind of public artwork (Coupland, perhaps, bringing public work projects to Toronto like he has done in Vancouver) – “art intervention,” Ingels said. Let’s just say the developers won’t settle for a simple statue out front.
For people looking to live there, Ingels said there will be 45 different condo layouts for buyers to choose from, “evoking the transparency and translucency of the facade.”