Alongside Allied and Westbank's BIG proposal for 489-539 King Street West, another big project was assessed by the City's of Toronto's Design Review Panel on Thursday, June 16th. Located in north St. James Town, a 58-storey proposal at 591 Sherbourne Street was also reviewed, with general—albeit reserved—support for a project of this scale expressed by the panel.
Proposed at the southeast corner of Sherbourne and Howard Streets, the Medallion Corporation's Page + Steele / IBI Group-designed tower would join an area quickly becoming a dense high-rise nodes. Directly across the street to the north, Lanterra's 50-storey North St. James Town tower will join the Sherbourne-Howard intersection. The west side of Sherbourne is already home to new density, including Tridel's completed 32-storey James Cooper Mansion and MOD / Tricon's 50-storey The Selby, which is currently under construction. Immediately south of the site, Medallion's 43-storey infill project at 561 Sherbourne is now rising into the St. James Town skyline.
Replacing (most of) the row of low-rise structures that meet the corner, the red-tinted tower would incorporate the entirety of the 1902-built Thomas Cruttenden Building that fronts the intersection at 601 Sherbourne. While other existing structures would be demolished, the heritage-designated Edwardian building would be preserved in-situ, retaining its prominent place on the corner. The proposal also entails the enhancement of St. James West park, with the lot at 583 Sherbourne set to be incorporated into the green space via a land swap deal that increases the size of the tower site in exchange for giving over the Medallion-owned property to the City.
Assessing the proposed density, the panel generally felt that the re-zoning sought would be appropriate for the area. There was some discussion about whether a slightly shorter tower would better suit the site, though the scale of the project was not regarded as a particularly problematic element of the design. As one panelist put it, "I think the site can handle it." Although the 640-unit building would rise to of 58 storeys, the shorter 8' ceiling heights (new condos are typically 8.5', 9', or higher), mean that the height will match Lanterra's neighbouring 50-storey tower.
Given the surrounding scale and density, the proposed height did not present an inherent point of contention, the panel felt that many of the design elements presented seem idiosyncratic, with an "unresolved transition from the tower to the park" identified as an area of concern. "It doesn't feel like a park building," a panelist observed. Similarly, "a lack of cohesion" between the tower's multiple volumes was deemed as evidence of a somewhat unrefined—and incomplete—design process.
The tower's massing was also critiqued by some panelists. Compared to the City's relatively slim 750 m² floor plate benchmark, the approximately 845 m² floor plate planned between the 4th and 28th floor makes for a noticeably bulkier presence. Though the tower slims out to 743 m² from the 29th floor, and eventually to 540 m² from the 53rd floor, the massing at the lower levels was regarded as potentially overwhelming. With the tower seeming to "come down on top of" the Thomas Cruttenden building, the panel recommended a more sensitive—and stepped back—approach to the transition between the heritage component and the tower.
In terms of heritage, there was some discussion—and disagreement—among panel members as to how the design should negotiate the transition between old and new. As proposed, the heritage facade would be met by a similarly scaled brick frontage to its south. Featuring 420 m² of retail space, the new frontage would be separated from its historic counterpart by a narrow, recessed glass facade. While some panelists felt this treatment was appropriate, several members argued that this "neo-traditionalist" approach offers an "overly timid" design solution.
Though numerous refinements were suggested for the tower levels and base building, the majority of the criticism concerned the park space surrounding the site. Notwithstanding the design approach proposed, the park's status is complicated by an unusual legal predicament. While the green space is currently operated as a public park, the land is actually owned by Medallion, with the City's lease expiring in 23 years. The expiring lease complicates any sort of intervention planned, with panel members questioning the value of longterm planing for a park whose future is in doubt. "23 years is a blink of an eye," a panelist warned, admonishing the City and the developer to seek a more long term solution for the space.
The proposed park design includes passive seating areas and a new playground, alongside a fire pit and an art installation. With the playground positioned directly adjacent to the tower's loading area—and separated only by a wall—the panel implored the designers to seek an alternate solution. According to the design team, the park's landscaping will also pay homage to the region's "inadequately acknowledged" first nations heritage.
Panel members strongly argued that any design reference to first nations heritage necessitates significant consultation with the first nations community, which has apparently not yet been undertaken (landscape architect Paul Nodwell of Schollen & Company was not present to confirm). Panelists also noted that tribute to first nations heritage that faces potential erasure in 23 years (when the lease expires) could prove a sadly ironic gesture. Finally, the panel also implored the team to consider a design treatment for the blank Shoppers Drug Mart facade immediately south of the park.
The panel also found lots to like with the project. The rental tenancy, street-level retail, and parking garage configuration (which would see existing garages retrofitted to serve the building) were hailed as significant positives. Ultimately, panelists were fairly comfortable with the re-zoning plan. While some stringent criticism directed at the design elements, the scale and density of the proposal did not prove a point of serious contention.
In the end, the panel's vote was split 4-4 between "redesign" and "refine," though panelists and proponents agreed that neither decision could accurately reflect the scope of the commentary. The re-zoning plan was seen as essentially viable, though many of the project's design elements will need to evolve significantly.
Source: Urban Toronto, 6/17/2016