The future cityscape: 11 buildings that will change Toronto
These development projects will change how we experience the city – for better or worse
By Julia Mastroianni
May 27, 2021
Torontonians may have been locked down over the past year during the pandemic, but construction and development kept going. Now, with the city on course to slowly emerge, we’re taking a look at some of the most interesting buildings and developments slated to go up in the next few years that will transform how we experience the cityscape – for better or for worse.
From developments billed as sustainable to future skyline icons and hyped neighbourhood game-changers, we looked at projects that will alter the city in environmental and aesthetic ways, impact the city’s heritage buildings and attempt to address the city’s affordable housing crisis.
Who is involved: Foster + Partners, Core Architects Location: 1 Bloor West Categories: Skyline
How it will change the city: The condominium tower will become a skyline icon – and the tallest building in Canada.
The One, an 80-storey (306 metres) condominium combined with retail use, is set to become the tallest building in Canada, and the second-tallest man-made structure in the country after the CN Tower. Located at the heart of Yonge and Bloor, the team behind this skyscraper has plans to make it the first vertical retail icon of its kind in Toronto, and create a second, more northern visual focal point in the skyline.
Giles Robinson, an architect and senior partner at Foster + Partners, says the multi-level retail components of the buildings will be distinctly sectioned off from the rental units above, reflecting the unique design of the building.
Tall buildings continue to be a point of contention in the city of Toronto; while considered necessary to add densification, some residents have advocated for more mid-rise buildings out of concern for the aesthetic and shadowing that comes with towers.
Cheryll Case, founder and principal urban planner of CP Planning, says that if the city wants to achieve income and housing equality, there would be more of an investment in spreading housing density across neighbourhoods instead of backing construction of tall buildings in the core. “Whatever benefits come from that individual building, there is a loss in capacity for areas outside the core to develop as walkable neighbourhoods, therefore increasing car dependency and transit inefficiency,” she says.
St. Lawrence Market North
Who is involved: City of Toronto, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, Adamson Associates Architects Location: 92 Front East Categories: History, Heritage
How it will change the city: Bringing back the historical connection between St. Lawrence Hall and the iconic market.
The development of the much-anticipated St. Lawrence Market North building has been over 10 years in the making. There have been multiple iterations of this building so far since the 1800s, acting as a sister building to the South Market and St. Lawrence Hall. Ivan Harbour, architect and senior partner at Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, says the project will attempt to bring the scale of the South Market back to the North Market.
“The main aspect to the project is to find a way to create a building which is very human and engages with the area of the neighborhood around it,” he says. “This will help further regenerate and bring life to this part of town.”
The development will combine courtrooms, offices and a large market in the open hall that will continue to operate as a covered, outdoor marketplace that can be adjusted to the seasons. A parking lot will also be constructed underground. Harbour says a standout element of the design is the connection between the two markets through St. Lawrence Hall. “In the old building, there was no connection, so hopefully again in the future, that sort of overlapping of activities through the Hall and into the new North market will expand beyond the boundaries of what used to be there,” he says.
The site has operated as a makeshift open market for years as the development has been delayed, but once the construction of this building is done, the St. Lawrence district will be open for business in all its former glory once again.
Who is involved: George Brown College, Moriyama & Teshima, Acton Ostry Architects Location: 185 Queens Quay East Categories: Environment, Skyline
How it will change the city: One of Toronto’s first large span mass wood structures will also make a mark on the skyline.
The Arbour is an environmental and architectural first in Toronto and a groundbreaking development worldwide for large span mass wood structures. The 10-storey building will be a research hub at George Brown College and a community space for the entire neighbourhood. Thanks to its height and its mass-timber design, the waterfront building will be a new icon along the Toronto skyline. The team of architects behind the design plan on incorporating solar chimney systems to capture and harness light and air for natural ventilation and ground-source geothermal energy for heating and cooling, making it Ontario’s first mass-timber, low-carbon institutional building.
Union Park Development
Who is involved: Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, Adamson Associates Architects Location: 211 Front West Categories: History, Skyline
How it will change the city: Changing the look and feel of Toronto’s most well-known buildings.
This four-acre mixed-use development will alter one of the city’s most well-known locations as we know it. The development is situated adjacent to the CN Tower and Rogers Centre, and will create 800 new residential units, including family units. The development also incorporates a three-acre urban park over the Union Station rail corridor, bringing green space into the downtown core. Office units and retail space will make this a true multi-use development, including a daycare, public art and a giant glass winter garden. The residential additions to this area will densify the area further and change the previously entertainment-heavy focus of the downtown core into its own contained neighbourhood. The iconic CN Tower and its accompanying buildings will be forever changed by this development, with three of the towers included in the development designed to peek out from behind the Rogers Centre and sit side by side alongside the CN Tower, but the hope is to provide some residential densification for the already-packed area.
Moss Park redevelopment
Who is involved: City of Toronto, the 519, MJMA Architecture and Design Location: 150 Sherbourne and surrounding area Categories: Community
How it will change the city: A controversial city project that will change the layout of one of Toronto’s most underserved communities
The Moss Park development has been a point of contention among residents and city officials. The area is home to lower-income people and a large unhoused population, including a homeless encampment. While the city works to move people into temporary shelters, the officials have devoted efforts to other “revitalization” plans, which has seen an influx of wealthier residents moving into the downtown east. Residents and housing advocates have worried the proposed mixed-use Moss Park redevelopment will lead to gentrification. The city maintains the goal is to “create safe and accessible spaces for all members of the community” and, due to the high proportion of residents living in apartments, “provide the critical indoor recreation and outdoor space to serve both the existing and growing community.”
Talks of redevelopment of the Moss Park neighbourhood started back in 2015 between the city, the 519 Community Centre and an anonymous donor. However, after four years the original plan was scrapped due to feasibility concerns. The city is now working on a new redevelopment plan, with a tentative completion date in 2026. The plan would design and construct a new John Innes Community Centre, along with “revitalizing” Moss Park itself, according to a statement from the city. The redevelopment is supposed to include a children’s playground and splash pad, a community garden, an open-use lawn and more. The city is also working with Metrolinx on the construction of the Ontario Line, which would include Moss Park Station on the site of the redevelopment.
Block 8 West Don Lands
Who is involved: COBE Architects, architects—Alliance Location: 125 Mill Categories: History, Heritage, Affordable Housing
How it will change the city: Offering affordable housing options in one of the city’s remaining heritage districts
Block 8 is part of a larger revitalization project in the entire West Don Lands area, some of which has been a source of controversy for residents nearby. Block 8 is the site of a former industrial area, near the Distillery District, and the mixed-use development will be primarily turned into rental units along with some retail space. Project director Thomas Krarup from COBE says the team took design inspiration from the surrounding neighbourhoods. “What we tried to do was to have this series of stacked buildings, where we tried to make the layering of podiums, and took our cues from the warehouse topology from the adjacent Distillery District,” he says. “Then for the mid-rise component that helps form a street wall, that takes its cues from the Canary District.”
Krarup says that instead of creating a historic reinterpretation of the red-brick warehouses in the area, they did a contemporary interpretation. Of the 461 rental units, 30 per cent are designated affordable, which Krarup says are distributed evenly throughout all three buildings.
The project is an example of a private development that includes affordable housing. Sean Meagher, coordinator of the Housing Issues Network, says that while the inclusion of a small number of affordable units in these projects is an “inescapable approach” to increase the city’s affordable housing supply, he says more diverse approaches are needed. “An equally necessary component to addressing the housing crisis is governments, including municipal governments, using their own revenues to build affordable housing, and invest in the building of affordable housing as well,” he says. “Private developers aren’t going to build deeply affordable supportive housing, for example, because there’s no market mechanism that makes that work economically.”
Meagher adds the city is currently working on an inclusionary zoning bylaw, which would make it mandatory to dedicate a specific percentage of units in a development to affordable housing. He says that will be an important step, because currently, without any regulations, the city spends a fairly large amount of money in terms of subsidies and tax breaks to deliver those affordable housing units within private developments. “In fact, we spend on the units that are provided by the private market about twice as much as we spend for every year of affordability we get on units in the not-for-profit sector,” he says.
Who is involved: Studio Gang Architects, WZMH Architects Location: 1 Delisle (St. Clair) Categories: Environment, Skyline
How it will change the city: Creating a new green-focused model for future residential buildings.
Studio Gang is designing the unique structure of this 47-storey condo building, which is billed as a sustainability first for the city. The design team created eight-storey elements that interlock up the building. The balconies are designed to lean outwards, helping with sun-shading and wind protection. The design maximizes sun exposure while minimizing shadows, along with creating protected green space included on many of the balconies. One Delisle could set a precedent for the future of density-solving buildings if this style of “sustainable” balconies becomes the new normal for condos. Due to the angling of the design, the building can house a more diverse range of unit layouts and differing floor plans, offering a variety of options for residents in the St. Clair neighbourhood. One Delisle meets Tier 1 of the Toronto Green Standard, a set of sustainability requirements for new private and city-owned developments proposed after 2018.
Ultimately, environmental sustainability will have to go further than just meeting building standards. “Inequality is not environmentally sustainable,” says Case. “This is kind of a greenwashing issue, because if [companies] really wanted to support environmental sustainability, they would be investing more in housing affordability and dispersal of density.”
Port Lands projects
Who is involved: Waterfront Toronto, City of Toronto, Grimshaw Architects Location: Port Lands and waterfront region Categories: Environment
How it will change the city: Opening up acres of additional land and an entirely new island
This elaborate waterfront project will change the city’s physical landscape by moving the mouth of the Don River 500 metres south, opening up acres of land for development and creating another entire island, the soon-to-be Villiers Island.
Chief planning and design officer Chris Glaisek says the Port Lands have long been considered the future for city expansion, not only because the area is large and underutilized, but it has waterfront access and is close to downtown. Part of the development includes installing four large bridges that will provide transportation to and from the newly constructed island and around the developed area, including vehicle use, cycling, light rail transit and streetcars.
Glaisek says that the newly exposed land that will be created through this development has the potential to become the first climate-positive neighbourhood in Canada. The area is set to be developed for a mixed-use community, including residences, an extensive park system and recreational facilities.
Spadina Sussex Residence
Who is involved: City of Toronto, University of Toronto, Diamond-Schmitt Architects, Harbord Village Residents’ Association Location: 698 Spadina Categories: Environment
How it will change the city: Doubling the amount of green space in a neighbourhood after resident intervention.
When Nick Provart, a Harbord Village resident, heard about the plans for this University of Toronto residence back in 2016, he realized green space wasn’t part of the plan. So he started a petition as an independent private citizen to get the university to provide green space through the development.
An application for rezoning was submitted by the university, which the Harbord Village Residents’ Association and the city both opposed. The matter then went to the Ontario Municipal Board, and part of the outcome of the negotiated settlement included added green space for community use. Provart has also been involved in the construction of the sister site, 666 Spadina, which will become a small city park after development. “Those two green spaces are actually doubling our village’s available green space, so it’s quite big,” he says.
Case says green space should be a key component for any development. “It’s very important to be adding park space and ample space for the growth of mature trees,” she says. “The green space should include enough space to, for example, have a pickup soccer game or do some community gardening. There needs to be space for different types of uses.”
She believes consulting with community members and community groups will be essential to future development. “We need to invest in groups like those because they are well educated on planning, and they have a practice of maintaining deep and authentic relationships with those who are marginalized and developing social ties between those communities and the people who are making decisions and policy,” she says.
Mirvish Village (Honest Ed’s redevelopment)
Who is involved: City of Toronto, federal government, Mirvish Village BIA, neighbouring resident associations, Henriquez Partners Architects and Diamond Schmitt Architects Location: 581 Bloor West Categories: Affordable Housing, History, Heritage
How it will change the city: A controversial affordable housing and heritage development that is replacing an old city icon.
Many residents were sad to see discount store Honest Ed’s go in 2017, and years of work and community consultation went into the planning of the current development, which will include heritage elements, retail, residential, green space and affordable housing.
Paul MacLean, a member of the Palmerston Area Residents Association who has been heavily involved in the community discussions around the development, says there have been a few major challenges and roadblocks for all stakeholders to come to an agreement about the site’s future. He says transit accessibility and traffic, green space, building height, heritage preservation and affordable housing were all points he and other residents had to really advocate for.
“Preserving the houses on Markham Street was important to residents, and because of the support of the City Heritage department, we were able to significantly alter the original proposal [by developer Westbank Corp]. Heritage buildings along both Markham and Bathurst have now been preserved,” MacLean says. “This was a key value for residents, even though retaining heritage meant that the overall scale of the original development proposal had to be cut back.”
Meagher says Mirvish Village is a prime example of why the government investing in affordable housing through private developments can result in fewer units that are less affordable. “The federal government provided a lot of incentive to get a fairly large number of units that are only affordable for a pretty short period of time, and they’re not that affordable,” he says. “When you look at the difference between the market rents and what the public sector got for that amount of money, it’s not a particularly terrific deal. One of the tasks of the city and of all levels of government is to make sure that we get a really good deal for the taxpayer.”
The federal government committed $200 million to the site in 2020 for affordable units to be built. The development will now dedicate 30 per cent of rental units to affordable housing.
The ORCA Project
Who is involved: Moshe Safdie, PWP Landscape Architecture, Sweeney&Co Architects, City of Toronto Location: 433 Front West Category: Skyline
How it will change the city: The most complex construction would create a skybridge fortress.
On May 12, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) appeared to rule permanently against the long-standing Rail Deck Park project that Mayor John Tory has been aiming for since 2016 in favour of the ORCA Project (which stands for Over Rail Corridor Area). Rail Deck Park would have transformed the 21-acre space above a central rail corridor into a massive park, covering Bathurst to Blue Jays Way West along Front. Now, the proposed $5 billion ORCA Project, a private developer’s plan to turn the space above the rail corridor into a sky community, will become the most complex construction in the history of Canada – that is, if it actually gets built.
The development would include six residential units, one building for offices and a large multi-level retail space. Many of the buildings would be connected by “sky bridges,” and a space for public use would be included as well – metres above the street level, mostly accessible by stairs and elevators.
During the tribunal, city planners argued that a private development was the wrong choice when there’s such a major need for public green space, and urban planning critics have condemned the “sky bridge urbanism” of this project for creating an inaccessible, fortress-like community rather than a true neighbourhood. While Tory has stated that city staff are “reviewing” the decision, with the approval from the LPAT, Toronto may be home to a neighbourhood in the sky in just a few years.
Julia Mastroianni’s first attempt at writing resulted in the first 20 pages of a novel that she promptly abandoned, a year after starting, at age nine, because she couldn't bear to read her own work. Since then, she’s completed assignments at various publications, including Post City Magazines and the National Post.