The intersection of Bloor and Yonge streets is where downtown Toronto ends and everything else begins. It's the site of the most important nexus in the subway system, and a spot where the city's varied scenarios – from posh shopping to grabbing fast food, from mansions to seedy digs – come together and add up to an image of Hogtown civilization.
For all these reasons, architecturally, the crossing ought to be brimming with sophisticated energy and visual imagination.
Bloor and Yonge, however, has not been lucky in the artistic department. The office blocks on the northwest and northeast corners are desperately dull, and the looming concrete carcass of the Bay department store is an aesthetic calamity that should never have been allowed to happen.
But potentially significant things are afoot. Take, for example, the tall mixed-use building, called One Bloor East, now under construction on the southeast corner. If it lives up to its renderings, this graceful tower by Toronto architect David Pontarini will have a romantically sculpted glass skin that sets it apart sharply from the city's more usual, sober-sided modernist condo stacks. Mr. Pontarini's expansive operatic gesture could provide the architectural exclamation point that the intersection has long called out for.
Another project in the vicinity worth keeping an eye on: 1 Yorkville, the $450-million revamping of Victorian shops and raising of a 58-storey tower, which developers Bazis Inc. and Plazacorp Communities are aiming to do at the corner of Yonge Street and Yorkville Avenue. If built out as proposed, this work of restoration and construction will add considerable density to the Bloor-Yonge juncture, emphasizing its importance in Toronto's imagination of itself and likely enhancing the city's inventory of artistically interesting tall residential structures put up since the onset of the current condo boom.
The project will contain 622 suites ranging in size from 475 square feet to more than 2,000 square feet and in price from the mid-$300,000s to more than $2-million. The interior appointments, including three floors of luxury amenities, are by Allen Chan of Toronto-based
DesignAgency. In a nod to the culturally cool residents who will likely be among 1 Yorkville's first customers, DesignAgency's scheme features a roof-top movie theatre suitable for twilight screenings in summer. And in a nod to those who enjoy cutting through Yorkville's little passageways, landscape architect Sibylle von Knobloch, of NAK Design Group, will be greening the widened pedestrian lane that will connect Yorkville Avenue and Cumberland Street.
The architectural designer of 1 Yorkville is Rosario Varacalli. Like the other tall buildings he is doing around town – E Condominiums at Yonge and Eglinton, Exhibit on Bloor West, and others – this one echoes his dissatisfaction with the monotony that characterizes too many glassy Toronto towers. So far, he has used subtle surface patterns (E Condos) and has even rotated the levels of a building (Exhibit) in order to animate his exteriors.
This time around, he intends to clad the tower component of 1 Yorkville with 3,000 vertical ribbons of shiny, silvery, twisted metal (aluminum or titanium). These three-dimensional elements, if everything works out according to plan, will give the structure a shimmering, mercurial appearance – all in sharp contrast, that is, to the stolidity of the concrete and steel skeleton underneath this fabric-like surface. Windows will be tall but not wide, and balconies will be inset behind the metallic pilasters. Such moves should give onlookers the sense that the tower is only lightly tethered to the ground – that it is a creature of the sky, not the earth-bound object it is in fact.
Toronto has not seen a high-rise exactly like what 1 Yorkville seeks to be, although the problem Mr. Varacalli is trying to solve is as old as the skyscraper itself. In the early days, especially, when Louis Sullivan was crafting his pioneering tall buildings in the U.S. Midwest and the Europeans were making their first experiments, architects argued about the best way to dress these nearly unprecedented structures. Should cladding conceal the modern bones under premodern garments? Or should it boldly celebrate the skyscraper's material and artistic newness?
The plan for 1 Yorkville is Mr. Varacalli's answer to these questions. Here, he opts for fiction over function, for romance over realism – for an architecture of fugitive visual effects, as opposed to one that refers the viewer back to the hard facts of modern science and engineering.
He is not the only contemporary architect to take this suggestive approach – which involves a kind of return to the inspirations of Baroque design – but he is one of the few in Toronto who is working out his ideas wholly in the midst of the local real estate market. I, for one, look forward to seeing how this creative venture turns out, when it's finished about five years from now.