The Well blends redevelopment with a historic community in Toronto’s west end
Each of the seven commercial and residential high-rises in a new development on the west edge of Toronto’s downtown has a different style to complement the eclectic historic neighbourhoods to the north. Running through the city block is the Spine, a new brick-paved street lined with three levels of retail and restaurants beneath a glass canopy that protects against the elements but allows fresh air and even some snow inside.
The Well will soon be a community where 11,000 people will live and work each day and will also be a hub for the fast-growing King West district. The design grew from a global survey of successful large-scale urban redevelopments, says Jonathan Gitlin, president and chief executive officer of RioCan REIT, which, along with Allied Properties REIT, is an equal partner in the Well.
When the deal to buy most of the high-profile city block north of the rail lands closed 10 years ago, “we gave each other high-fives,” Mr. Gitlin says. But there was a realization: “We were faced with having nearly eight acres in one of the most populated areas in Canada to redevelop. We knew we had to do something forward-thinking, innovative and worthy of this historic location.”
The planners and architects looked at successful large mixed-use redevelopments in Europe, the United States and Canada. “What evolved was a plan to extend the eclectic feel of the King West neighbourhood with its open aesthetic and industrial looks of brick and steel and laneways.”
The result is a community of office and residential buildings that each have unique looks. Already opened is the 36-storey tower at 8 Spadina Ave. with 1.2 million square feet of office space. The office lobby includes an art-deco door frame from the entrance to the old Globe and Mail building, which formerly stood on the site. (The Globe has now moved to a building next to what was originally the site of the Toronto Sun, and among new tenants at 8 Spadina is the Toronto Star, which is moving into offices here.)
The three-level commercial zone running through the complex is expected to open in the second half of 2023 with a total of 320,000 square feet of retail and food service. A total of six rental and condominium towers around it will have 1,700 residential units.
“The Well [brings] an extraordinary dynamism through its diversity of uses and high urban density,” says Adrian Price, principal at architectural services firm BDP (Building Design Partnership Ltd.), which led to the design of the retail zones at the Well.
It was something that the city hadn’t really seen on this scale before, and as difficult as it often is to get things approved by the city sometimes, I have to say they embraced this concept.
— Jonathan Gitlin, president and CEO of RioCan REIT
Materials were selected with the surrounding neighbourhoods in mind, pulling visual cues from the existing architecture along Wellington Street West and King Street West, he says. “The design vision includes a multilevel streetscape that reflects the materiality and industrial feel of the surrounding King West neighbourhood, honouring this identity with a rich brick-and-terracotta palette that references the surrounding buildings.”
Multiple architects worked together to create varied building designs that draw from the century-old buildings in the neighbourhood, which has evolved from a needle-trades and warehouse district to one of the most prestigious communities in the city.
Design partners included Hariri Pontarini Architects, architectsAlliance and Wallman Architects. The mix of residential is spread throughout six rental and condominium buildings, including FourFifty The Well, a 46-storey luxury rental building with 592 units co-owned by RioCan and Woodbourne Canada Management Inc.
The Spine that ties the buildings together includes walkways on multiple levels with metal bridges designed to evoke the industrial heritage of the area, north of Toronto’s former rail yards. The curving corridor was deliberately designed so that when you walk in off Spadina Avenue, you have a view all the way down the streetscape, Mr. Gitlin says.
Overhead is a glass canopy that includes 2,000 individual panes. That curved design created a challenge because each pane of glass in the 30,000-square-foot canopy is a unique size and shape.
The canopy’s structure and windows were fabricated in Germany and shipped to Toronto. Ten of the panes were broken in construction and production in Germany required a 24-week lead time.
The glass canopy is designed to provide cooling shade in the summer and retain heat in the winter. The coating of the glass minimizes solar heating in the summer and will keep the corridor two degrees warmer than the outside in the winter. The canopy has gaps along its edges to allow natural ventilation and seasonal diversity of temperature.
The Well is also technologically advanced; for example, eight million litres of water from Lake Ontario are stored in tanks beneath the site. The system that enhances cooling in the summer and heating in the winter is a westward extension of Enwave Energy Corp.’s deep-lake water cooling-and-heating network for the Well community and buildings in neighbouring areas.
In addition to the fully licensed Wellington Market, with a capacity of 4,200 people and a wide range of restaurants, the complex will include a 5,000-square-foot event space. The streetscape along Wellington Street is also being rebuilt to include a broad landscaped brick sidewalk designed by Claude Cormier + Associés, a conceptualist landscape design firm.
“It was something that the city hadn’t really seen on this scale before, and as difficult as it often is to get things approved by the city sometimes, I have to say they embraced this concept,” Mr. Gitlin says.
The project also benefited from consultation with people who live on Draper Street and work on King Street and walk through this neighbourhood all the time, he says.
“RioCan maintains an ownership interest in one of the big residential towers and in partnership with Allied, we own the office building and retail and expect to own it 100 years from now,” he adds. “And that’s why we built it – it will always have relevance in the city and this neighbourhood.”
SOURCE: The Globe and Mail