Sunday, October 07, 2012

Mirvish / Gehry King West Project Heritage Implications

Visually arresting design?
The base of the Mirvish / Gehry King West proposal
Image courtesy Gehry International
I have mixed feelings about the proposed project on King Street West from local magnate David Mirvish and the renowned architect Frank Gehry.

Even from the preliminary sketches and models, it is easy to tell that the project would be transformative along that stretch of downtown. My hesitation comes from that transformative process. As ever in Toronto architecture, it feels like we are embarked upon a pell-mell rush to forget the past, and to strike forward with new designs regardless of the implications.

Transformative skyline impact
-- and on the downtown core.
Image courtesy Gehry International
What is at risk? The mainstream media have primarily focused on the requisite demolition of the Princess of Wales Theatre.

However, it is actually the obliteration of the flanking heritage buildings which concerns me the most.

The theatre is but a couple of decades old; the neighboring warehouses, meanwhile, have stood for over a century in some cases, and connect us directly to an earlier version of our city.

Here are four useful articles which document the history and heritage of the buildings that may be destroyed in the course of building this project. These Edwardian Classical warehouses may be modest in outward appearance, but they represent a doughty link to Toronto’s manufacturing past. They have cultural and historical significance.

Am I simply being timorous, and resistant to change? Is future progress worth the sacrifice of our heritage stock? As I said at the outset, I’m torn. I’ve written in the past about how gentrification and development produced a creeping conversion of the King-Spadina area just to the west; this project will be considerably less subtle in its impact.
“I am not building condominiums. I am building three sculptures for people to live in.”
- David Mirvish, Oct 1, 2012  

Development in the core bespeaks a thriving, vibrant city. So I’m not against it for the sake of being against it. Many economic benefits would be generated out of this project.

The nightmare scenario would be if the heritage structures were razed, and then the scheme stalled and the site became derelict. Suppose the Toronto condo market went bust at a critical juncture, as it does cyclically. Would the project still be completed? A development of this size and scope invariably faces years of planning, approvals, negotiations, and challenges.

We shall see what happens with this important site.

This interview with Mirvish gives some insight into his goals for the project. His candid answer to the question at 6:56 is illuminating.


What do you think of the proposal? Do you like the design? Are you concerned about the loss of the heritage buildings, or do you think it’s worth it in the name of new construction?

See also
Updated Plans (Feb. 2013)