As anyone who has taken a drive through Toronto’s downtown recently can attest, the city is changing at a Bugatti-like pace.
There are more cranes in the sky than New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston combined, according to the Rider Levett Bucknall Ltd. “Crane Index” (120 cranes at work, as of July 2019).
Quantity is good. But what about quality? Toronto is also a city starved for great architecture. And that’s where the revolutionary KING condo project will stand out (the project is close to a sell-out), developed by Westbank Corp. and Allied Properties REIT, in partnership with architect Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).
“It’s all about bringing people into our quest to make cities like this more beautiful,” Westbank’s Ian Gillespie says.
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.
Enter Ingels, 45, the Danish “starchitect” 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 have been coming here for the last five years, and we have been trying to dream up a new form of neighbourhood for Toronto, between King St. and Wellington St.,” he says. “Toronto has gone through a tremendous transformation, but too much of the development has been uniformly focused on large towers on an urban podium. It’s a standard that solves urban challenges, creates a street wall, develops some density, but it also becomes a very uniform approach, more of the same. (KING) shows how the city is going – beyond glass towers.”
The Safdie project, what Ingels describes as, “one of the most exciting and experimental, architecturally, socially, and environmentally, urban typologies” remains an intense inspiration for him.
“It’s a mystery why the ideas launched by Safdie didn’t have a greater impact on Canadian and world architecture. 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, and with an abundance of sunlight reaching down to the life at street level.
“Imagine an urban form that is completely rooted in King Street West,” he says “What’s striking is that it’s a transforming neighbourhood, full of warehouses, lofts, and has all these laneways that have become the eco-niches for new kinds of urban life around King Street. So we wanted to maintain that permeability, and tried to imagine a city block that would be porous and allow people to flow through. Expanding and enhancing the urban structure and human scale that is already prevalent there.”
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 … 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 … a three-dimensional puzzle of these different types, all of them having significant access to outdoor space.”
He added they will make sure the vegetation on the terraces, including on the peak of the structure, with the trees there, will have soil and light conditions conducive to creating an alpine-like architecture, with mountainous vegetation.
“Creating something extraordinary out of the ordinary,” Ingels says. “In many ways that’s what architecture should be.”
Gillespie says he spends 20 per cent of his time on public art projects, transitioning, as he said, “leftover space into spectacular space.” Westbank is moving from being a development company to a cultural company.