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Mirvish + Gehry

I was reading Novae Res Urbis this morning and they had a piece on the 3 tower Mirvish + Gehry proposal in Toronto’s Entertainment District. It was talking about David Mirvish’s “sales pitch” to the Empire Club of Canada this week, an attempt to help overcome the criticism around the design, height and overall density of the project. The article ended by saying that the developer will be appealing to the OMB this January.

I know that I’m probably biased in this matter, but I fail to understand the concern around height and density – particularly since the site is 2 blocks from a subway station. Why are we – citizens and policy makers – so obsessed with building height? Good architecture and urban design involves a lot more than the number of floors. Can we not have more sophisticated conversations about built form rather than fixating ourselves on building height?

Secondly, whenever a building gets proposed in Toronto that attempts to, literally, step outside of the box it gets pegged as controversial. Take, for example, the Royal Ontario Museum by Daniel Libeskind. When people used to ask me what I thought of the crystal addition, I used to say that I was a fan simply because it was pissing off so many people. Love it or hate it, it’s architecture. The same can’t be said for a lot of the other stuff going up in this city. Why doesn’t mediocrity invoke the same response? It should.

So my issue is that we seem to be far more comfortable accepting banality than we are with accepting bold new changes like the Mirvish + Gehry proposal. And frankly, if we could actually pull off three 80+ storey towers, it would be down right impressive in this market. How many cities in the world have a real estate market robust enough to support this scale of development?

But this is not a post of unconditional support. I do have concerns.

I’m concerned that 4 heritage designated properties will need to be destroyed in order for this project to move forward. This makes me wonder: What’s the point of a designation if the building can still be demolished? I’m actually surprised that this topic hasn’t been getting its fair share of attention. Again, we’ve been more interested in talking about building height.

Further west along King Street, I have similar concerns with a development proposal that would demolish “restaurant row.” This a spectacularly successful – albeit touristy – restaurant strip and I would hate to see it go. It’s difficult to create this kind of fine grain retail experience from scratch. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in development. I am a developer, after all. But I don’t believe we should be so quick to erase our history.

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