Fine-Grained Urbanism Evolves 88 Queen East Redevelopment

Just east of the Downtown core, Queen Street's long, full-block parking lot is an obvious chasm in Toronto's urban fabric. Surrounded by this century's towers and the previous centuries' brick frontages, the vacant space between Dalhousie and Mutual Streets has the air of being somehow immune to the city around it. Since late last year, however, a proposal by St. Thomas Developments has quickly taken shape, with four towers—and an animated public realm—planned for the site.

Designed by Page + Steele / IBI Group Architects, the large-scale development is poised to kick off with 88 North, a tower fronting Shuter Street. While approvals for the 29-storey building at the north end of the site are now secured—save for an amendment which would see the Mutual Street sidewalk widened—the scope of development to the south continues to evolve. A recent community consultation offered a closer look at the project's latest iteration, with a specific focus on the public realm.

88 Queen Street East, Toronto, by St. Thomas Developments, Page + SteeleThe towers, north to south (l-r), image courtesy of Page + Steele / IBI Group Architects

When the scope of the redevelopment plan was revealed in February, the proposal drew attention for its ambitious scale as well as the pedestrian-oriented public realm. Fronting Queen Street, a 58-storey tower would  bring a conspicuous high-rise presence to the area, with further density introduced through a pair of conjoined 27-storey towers mid-block. (As most of the site spans helicopter flight paths to St. Michael's Hospital, the highest density is reserved for the unimpeded Queen Street frontage).

88 Queen Street East, Toronto, by St. Thomas Developments, Page + SteeleThe site plan, image courtesy of Page + Steele / IBI Group Architects

Alongside rather dramatic new density, the proposal also called for two new public spaces, including a City park and a Privately Owned Publicly accessible Space (POPS). Linked by a retail-lined pedestrian mews, the two public spaces would provide greenery and communal amenities to a neighbourhood in need of both. Fleshing out the proposal, this month's community consultation brought to light a refined—and more nuanced—plan for the public realm at street level. More conspicuously, the meeting also revealed a substantially revised architectural expression for the tallest tower. 

88 Queen Street East, Toronto, by St. Thomas Developments, Page + SteeleThe new design for the 57-storey tower, image  courtesy of Page + Steele / IBI Group Architects

Slightly reduced to a height of 57 storeys, the design of the Queen Street tower has changed significantly since the project came before the Design Review Panel (DRP) in February. The earlier design (below, right) was characterized by a deconstructionist aesthetic highly reminiscent of Herzog & de Meuron's 56 Leonard in New York. The updated design is not. 

88 Queen Street East, Toronto, by St. Thomas Developments, Page + SteeleThe previous proposal, image retrieved via submission to the City of Toronto

Initially, the design featured a somewhat chaotic interplay of forms, which was likely influenced by Herzog & de Meuron's well-known Manhattan tower. Instead, a more regular pattern of extrusions now sees the tower pick up some of the design elements of the mid-block buildings to its north. Now 29 and 33 storeys tall, with open-air 'sky gardens' between them, the two buildings are no longer fully conjoined. While these central towers feature north-south extrusions, the south tower translates this pattern across its east and west elevations, with notes of colour accenting the structure. 

88 Queen Street East, Toronto, by St. Thomas Developments, Page + SteeleLooking west from the POPS, the mews is configured to showcase the tower oF Metropolitan United Church as a terminating vista, image  courtesy of Page + Steele / IBI Group Architects

Through the 57-storey tower's brick streetwall podium—which mirrors the rhythm of the fenestration across the street—the central pedestrian mews stretches north from Queen Street. Opening out to a tree-lined 880 m² POPS on Mutual Street (above) and the 980 m² public park to the north on Dalhousie, the mews will be bookended by a grocery store in the north building, and a food hall on Queen. Retail planning is being undertaken by Beauleigh.

88 Queen Street East, Toronto, by St. Thomas Developments, Page + SteeleLooking north from Queen Street, image  courtesy of Page + Steele / IBI Group Architects

Throughout the pedestrian mews, the towers' lower podium levels offer a mix of typologies and textures, eschewing flat and monotonous facades. As in Westbank's Mirvish Village plan, a seemingly organic urban realm is sought. Attempting to embody the fine-grain retail character of a vibrant shopping street (albeit with comparatively large retail units), the pedestrian-only space features two east-west connections, each of which terminates at a public space.

88 Queen Street East, Toronto, by St. Thomas Developments, Page + SteeleThe mews (north-south passageway), image retrieved via submission to the City of Toronto

Landscaping and park space will be appointed by Montreal-based Claude Cormier & Associés. Near the northwest end of the site, the public park (below) will be enveloped by a series of river birch trees, framing the central grassy mound to create an outdoor room. The east end of the park will feature a strategically placed water wall designed to mitigate the noise impact of the vehicular access area hidden behind it.

88 Queen Street East, Toronto, by St. Thomas Developments, Page + SteeleThe public park space, image retrieved via submission to the City of Toronto

Most loading and access space is clustered just east of the park off Mutual Street—with a smaller garage entry off Dalhousie Street to the south—leaving the vast majority of the mid-block space to pedestrians. The configuration makes use of truck elevators, allowing loading access for the entirety of the block from a relatively small footprint at ground level.  

88 Queen Street East, Toronto, by St. Thomas Developments, Page + SteeleAnother view of the Queen Street frontage, image retrieved via submission to the City of Toronto

Speaking at the meeting, area councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam expressed enthusiasm about the project. The Ward 27 councillor felt that the development would bring a more vibrant urban presence to the area, while the new public spaces would offer amenities usable by the wider community. Given the relative lack of adjoining residential neighbourhoods, the scale of the development was not seen as a pressing concern by members of the community. Throughout the meeting, no complaints were made about height. 

 

Source: Urban Toronto, 6/27/2016

http://urbantoronto.ca/news/2016/06/fine-grained-urbanism-evolves-88-queen-east-redevelopment

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