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Frank Gehry has won some of the world’s most prestigious prizes for architecture — the Pritzker in 1989, the AIA Gold Medal a decade later — and became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2002. He was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2019.
So it may come as a surprise to learn that Gehry has contributed just a single permanent structure — the 2008 expansion of Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario — to both the country and city of his birth.
That number is slated to double by 2028, however, when developers Great Gulf Group, Dream Unlimited and Westdale Properties complete the 73-storey East Tower of the Gehry Partners LLP-designed Forma condo project at 266 King St. W. Together with its 84-storey West Tower, Forma will add 2,034 residences to downtown Toronto’s Entertainment District, along with space for offices, retail and an arm of OCAD University. Topping out at 308 metres, the strikingly asymmetrical towers which in renderings resemble soaring stacks of gleaming boxes, will also be the world’s tallest Gehry-designed structures and his first entirely new builds in Canada.
“There is a feeling of Toronto that I had as a kid, and I wanted that to be in the DNA of what I was going to do,” Gehry, 93, explains in a promotional video for the project. “There’s a sense of belonging to something special in this city.”
Increasingly, that special something includes world-class condo architecture. In 2012, after winning the Emporis Skyscraper Award, Mississauga’s curvaceous Absolute World condo towers were named the best tall buildings in the Americas by the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Seven years later, the Chicago-based non-profit gave its Award of Excellence for Best Tall Building Under 100 Metres to the 29-storey River City 3 project in Corktown, with the 2022 award for Best Urban Habitat: District/Masterplan Scale going to Hariri Pontarini Architects’ King Portland Centre and Kingly Condos.
Now, a new crop of pre-construction condo projects, Forma among them, is turning architectural cachet into buyer interest.
“Toronto is a city with thousands of condo units coming on board annually, and architecture is what really sets certain ones apart,” says Mitchell Cohen, chief operating officer of Westdale, which co-launched Forma sales in mid-June. “Condo purchasers are becoming more discriminating, and the idea of living in Frank Gehry’s homecoming masterpiece is about as compelling as it gets for them. Why buy a piece of art when you can live in one?”
Some Toronto buyers are paying a pretty penny to do so. According to developers Westbank and Allied Properties, a penthouse atop the 514-unit King Toronto condo project — the work of the Copenhagen-, New York- and London-based Bjarke Ingels Group of architects and currently in pre-construction on King Street West between Portland and Spadina — was acquired for $16 million at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s said to be the highest price paid for a Toronto condo during 2020 and 2021.
“Really pushing the envelope and bringing in world-class architects was something we only used to see in cities like London and New York, so people were initially kind of hesitant,” says Riz Dhanji, president of the RAD marketing firm leading sales for King Toronto, which in renderings evokes an alpine landscape of peaks and valleys. “But it is being so well received because Torontonians now feel like we are a world-class city, on par with London and NYC.”
Similar buzz is accompanying sales of Slate Asset Management’s One Delisle. Spiralling upwards from a retail podium one block north of Yonge and St. Clair, the 47-storey 263-suite tower is the first project in Canada by Jeanne Gang’s architectural firm Studio Gang, which has designed such striking structures as San Francisco’s rippling Mira tower, the uniquely splayed One Hundred building in St. Louis, and Chicago’s undulating Aqua and St. Regis skyscrapers, which at 82 and 101 storeys respectively are the world’s tallest buildings designed by a woman.
“People in Toronto are becoming much more interested in the quality of urban spaces and the quality of architecture, and are really starting to demand beautiful pieces of architecture that give back to the city,” says Brandon Donnelly, Slate’s managing director of development. “That’s why when we came across this high-profile development site, we knew we had to do something remarkable.”
Not every design-forward pre-construction condo in Toronto is part of a mega-project, however. Biblio, winner of the 2022 BILD Award for Best Mid-Rise Building Design, is a relatively diminutive seven storeys tall and houses 10 one-plus-dens and 20 two- and three-bedroom suites overlooking Leslieville.
Taking its exterior design cues from the brick-framed sleeping porches adorning a historic edifice across the street, Biblio’s four-storey façade features eye-catching arches and four tiered terraces fronting the upper floors. A pair of clever lightwells, meanwhile, illuminate interior spaces along the sides of the building.
“Sometimes good architecture is about the scale of development, which in the case of Biblio can be challenging for a developer to undertake,” says Heather Rolleston, principal and design director at BDP Quadrangle, the architecture firm designing the building. “When they’re done well, communities really love these types of projects, because they’re knit right into the fabric and the heritage of their surroundings.”
In the case of Biblio, she adds, architects have already purchased units in the building. “In this city today, people who know good architecture are definitely having an easier time finding it.”