Blog

Part 3: The Architecture of Change

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This is the third of a four-part blog series chronicling the proposed redevelopment of Mirvish Village.

At first glance, the proposed changes to the built environment in Mirvish Village are dizzying. Towers, trees on roofs, a mélange of midrise buildings with equally variegated facades, and a glass covered public market combine to create a built environment that is unrecognizable from the low rise massing currently inhabiting the space. It is what makes this project so complex, and so fascinating to be a part of.

Having worked as a member of the consultation team over the course of the summer, one of the first questions we are often asked is about the proposed height of the tallest tower at Bloor and Bathurst. After inspecting the model, it is no wonder residents use this as an entry point into broader discussion on the project: it is tall. 29 storeys tall, in fact. For some this is a major source of umbrage, for others it makes sense in a city seeking to intensify to accommodate a surging population.

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Bloor Street, looking south

In planning land, it is conventional wisdom that pedestrians only engage with the first eight storeys of a building; whether 15 or 29 storeys, there is negligible impact on the pedestrian. But perhaps the main source of concern is the shadow impact on the adjacent neighbourhoods and businesses. To mitigate these effects, a typology common to Vancouver has been proposed: the micro tower. Micro towers are narrower than typical buildings erected in Toronto, having a smaller floor plate, thus casting narrower shadows. Moreover, they accommodate spaces for micro retail – similar to the surrounding fabric east and west of Bloor and Bathurst – and increased access to natural light for residents of the towers.

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Bloor Street, looking southwest

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Union Square in New York City

The massing of the micro towers is something of a pastiche, borrowing from Union Square in Manhattan. Shown in concert, the buildings abutting Bloor Street look of a similar vintage, but through the use of variegated facades not of the same development. The aim is to produce a built form that looks more organic than master planned while providing a vibrant streetwall for pedestrians. Rather than a sprawling podium, buttressing so many of Toronto’s new build residential buildings, the varying facades will activate the street via individualistic design, while providing retail spaces that reconnect the fabric disrupted by Honest Ed’s.

And yet one cannot run away from the height. As mentioned, the model puts into stark relief the height of the tallest tower, and its relationship to the adjacent built form east of Bathurst. It represents an injection of height and density heretofore unseen in the neighbourhood. There is planning rationale to support height, but that remains cold comfort for residents whose sky views will be compromised.

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Aerial view of the proposed redevelopment of Mirvish Village

The proposed plan also takes heed of the City’s directives for new development vis-à-vis scale. The buildings scale down to be in accord with the surrounding context, reaching only two storeys at the site’s southwest corner. In this way, the stable neighbourhood unit in Mirvish Village will be respected. New buildings on the western portion of Bloor are similarly respectful, with heights scaling down so as to not dwarf the adjacent avenue style structures as they currently exist.

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Lennox Street, looking north (Markham Street on the left hand side)

Scaling on Markham Street is accomplished through the incorporation of midrise typologies. The western portion of the street will see a combination of midrise buildings and Victorian houses retained as part of a larger commitment to heritage preservation. On the eastern side of the street, Victorian houses will be adjoined to new midrise buildings, creating a combination of new and old.

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Markham Street, looking east

Markham Street will see marked change beyond that of the built form. The street has been reimagined as a space where the car is the guest. Traffic calming measures, including street trees, furniture, patios, and curb removal, will provide a safe space for pedestrians and cyclists, an important measure given the impending influx of people to the site. The pedestrian experience will be further enriched through enhanced permeability through the introduction of an east-west laneway connecting Markham and Bathurst, and a plaza connecting the corner of Bloor and Bathurst to the public market. Additionally, Honest Ed’s alley will be reimagined as an incubator space for entrepreneurs and small businesses, offering new commercial spaces for pedestrians to interact with.

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Mercat de Santa Caterina in Barcelona

Perhaps the cornerstone of the project, the public market, an amenity desired by many residents at early consultation events, will operate year-long. The design of the market is yet to be pinned down, but inspiration has been drawn from international precedents, including Mercat de Santa Caterina in Barcelona. The market invokes the image of the market city, anchoring the site and engendering a tangible sense of place. Further, it will serve the needs of residents while simultaneously creating a destination point for tourists and the wider population.

For those interested in urban infrastructure, all loading and servicing will be contained below grade, allowing buildings to operate in a three hundred and sixty degree fashion. Similarly, the bulk of parking will be located in underground parking lots, with entrances off Lennox Street and a new alleyway connecting Markham Street to the current laneway between it and Palmerston Boulevard. The relocation of servicing and parking underground allows for an enriched pedestrian experience, unencumbered by exhaust and rattling trucks.

There are, however, some outstanding issues that have yet to be addressed. The availability of green space has been criticized for being insufficient; and the amount of density that will be introduced will have an impact on the existing transit infrastructure, placing increased pressure on an already taxed subway line. Important to note, however, is that the project remains in its infancy – it should be expected that some kinks will emerge and need to be worked out.

Taken in concert, the proposed changes to the design of Mirvish Village are incredibly dense. For this reason, there is much to celebrate or criticize, and in some cases both. Discussing the project with Toronto residents has afforded me the ability to engage in philosophical questions about the city, and our role as citizens. About staticity and movement. About what was, what is, and what can be. I have heard much excitement about the project – about what it will deliver to the neighbourhood and the city more broadly. But there also exists some doubts. It would be naïve to think that we could all agree on how the City’s growth manifests physically, but it is nevertheless encouraging to see so many people engaged in the process.

Photo credits: photo 1 by Corey Bialek; 2, 3, 5-7 by Westbank; photo 4 by Shinya Suzuki (via Flickr CC); photo 8 by Cecilia (via Flickr CC).

Corey Bialek is currently in his second year of the Master of Science in Planning program at the University of Toronto. His primary interest is located at the intersection of urban design and social policy, tapping into his passion for design that is equal parts aesthetically pleasing and socially equitable. He is currently writing his Current Issues Paper on the relationship between policy and design in the revitalization of Alexandra Park in Toronto, Ontario.

In an effort to achieve full disclosure, Corey works for both OpenCity Projects and Brook Pooni, the planning firm responsible for conducting public consultation and outreach for the Honest Ed’s redevelopment.

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