Frank Gehry’s ‘homecoming masterpiece’ to begin sales after decade-long wait

After nearly a decade-long saga, world renowned Canadian architect Frank Gehry’s major development project in downtown Toronto is at last about to begin sales, with the final iteration considerably more simplified than the original design.

Ahead of the condo sales for the eastern tower, set for June 16, developers unveiled plans for the building’s interior and the lobby. But the two-tower complex — known as Forma, marking Gehry’s first residential tower in Canada and his tallest building in the world — has endured years of negotiations and adjustments since David Mirvish announced he was partnering with Gehry to build a trio of towers in Toronto’s Entertainment District in 2012.

The architecture of the towers has been noticeably whittled down and value-engineered in scale and design after city officials reacted with fear and loathing when Gehry’s initial proposal was brought forward in 2013. But urban designer and architect Ken Greenberg says the result is tasteful and appropriate for the city.

“The design remains elegant and nicely put together and it’s not extreme,” Greenberg said. “Gehry himself commented that the original project was not appropriate for Toronto.”

Supplied photos of the original trio of Frank Gehry towers proposed for King Street West by Toronto's David Mirvish.

Originally the concept included three super-tall towers of 80-plus storeys on a six-storey podium, which would have required the demolition of four designated heritage warehouses and the Princess of Wales Theatre. The city expressed concern and alarm over the potential loss of several heritage buildings, a reminder of the time when that part of King West was a manufacturing district.

The designs of the triptych towers themselves were more extravagant and touted as the “sculptures that people can live in,” by the Mirvish printer theater, with cascading sheets of glass and steel that culminated in a cloudlike podium. The project was first proposed by a team lead by Mirvish but is now headed by a team of developers: Westdale Properties, Dream Unlimited and Great Gulf, who recently announced the start of sales. Mirvish sold the project in 2017.

Mitchell Cohen, the chief operating officer of Westdale Properties, said he is happy with the result and that the simplification of the project was a natural evolution for the towers and how the buildings balance out the city skyline.

“With the help of the city and consultations with Frank Gehry and with industry consultants, it was determined that it was a little crowded with three towers and we ended up with what we have today,” Cohen said.

Cohen added there were cost considerations and the edges of the towers have been softened with each building reduced by 10 storeys “to make them more responsive to the current skyline.”

At the heart of the Entertainment district, the towers will be located on either side of Duncan Street, addressed to 266 and 276 King St. W., one standing 73 storeys tall and the other at 84 storeys, with more than 2,000 condo units in total.

Interior designer Paolo Ferrari will design the amenity spaces. The eastern tower is expected to be completed in 60 months and Cohen said there was no set schedule for the building and sale of the second tower. Pricing for the condos has not been finalized.

The project name, Forma, comes from the Latin and Italian meaning for form and shape which was inspired by the towers’ dancing movement, capturing the city’s colors and sunlight on the iridescent glass and steel façades.

“This is a homecoming masterpiece by Frank Gehry,” Cohen said about the architect who was born and raised in Toronto.

“This will put Toronto on the map as an architectural destination. We’re going to have the tallest Gehry building in the world.”

But Greenburg warned that looks aren’t everything in a densely populated city like Toronto, already crowded by massive condominium towers and in desperate need of green space and public amenities.

“As beautiful as the building may be … I want to register a reservation about building a city with hyper-tall buildings in terms of sustainability and livability,” Greenburg said.

“Most of these extremely tall buildings coming up in Toronto don’t have great street presence and are not particularly inviting at street level. You can look up at the skyline from a distance, but what people really experience in their daily lives is what it’s like to be next to that building, what does it offer to the public space?”


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