Frank Gehry, Eyeing His Legacy, Aims To Remake Toronto

Gehry, who grew up in Toronto, and art magnate David Mirvish plan a massive, mixed-use complex, intended to serve as both mens’ legacy.

When Frank Gehry was a kid, he would walk down Toronto’s King Street, collecting wood shavings that he would use to build "cities" in his grandma’s backyard—or so goes the legend, established in Salon’s 1999 profile. On Monday, the 83-year-old L.A. transplant announced he will return to King Street—this time, to build a very literal city.

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Gehry and Toronto theater and art mogul David Mirvish have unveiled a sweeping proposal for a cultural and residential complex in the city’s King Street theater district, which sits parallel to the Lake Ontario shoreline. The duo, who are friends, presented a plan to build three residential towers—each topping 80 stories—containing around 2,600 individual condo units. One of the towers will host the 60,000-square-foot Mirvish Museum, housing the family’s impressive private collection. Another will be dedicated to galleries, studios, and classrooms of Ontario College of Art and Design. As with many of Gehry’s urban schemes, a dense six-story podium will connect the towers and house street-level commercial space.

Their proposal promises to be controversial. First of all, it would necessitate the demolition of a 20-year-old theater that Mirvish himself owns—not a huge loss, especially considering that a century-old theater nearby will be preserved. More significantly, Toronto has a complex relationship with large-scale urban developments, and building three of the continent’s largest residential buildings in a historic district is ambitious at best, aggressive at worst. Only a short distance away, in the Regent Park neighborhood, dozens of 1960s housing blocks are being torn down and replaced with glassy condos—a reminder that history is cyclical, and today’s iconic towers could be tomorrow’s ruins.

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The project still awaits approval by the city, and even then, it may not be built—so design details are scarce. One tower is striated with exaggerated floor plates, another is glassy and transparent. Gehry and Mirvish call the towers "sculptures," so we can expect them to take after Gehry’s popular 76-story Beekman Tower New York by Gehry. One real estate developer called the project an "instant landmark," which doesn’t do the architect’s familiar brand of urban-regeneration-through-iconic-design any favors. Still, it will be interesting to see how Gehry (and Mirvish, who is an icon in Canada) sums up his legacy, as he returns to the city where he grew up.

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  • Steve Pender

    Trash architecture is so... elitist. Only the ultra-wealthy can afford to waste money on inefficient, sub-optimal "long tail" designs. Look at the problems Gehry's structures have had, from sun reflections creating 100 degree heat spots in neighboring apartments, to ice sliding off sloped roofs... the architect has no clothes. This is junk, like modern art. If you want mature, *sustainable* novelty, look towards Paolo Soleri's skycraper-city "arcology" structures, or the idea of Linear Cities (mile-long cities built above railroads, highways). There are literally infinite ways (the "long tail") of creating buildings for humans, but there are only a few optimal ways that maximize volumetric utility while minimizing resource consumption. Frank Gehry's buildings are way down in the "long tail". No more, please.

  • Simongood

    the time icon architecture has passed. integration to the community and liveability is the future. gehry has had his moment in the sun. we need to move on.

  • jl05xi

    Wow. Just wow. I attended OCAD and am fascinated by Mr. Genhry. I may or may not have visited his house in Santa Monica and taken photos years ago...

    I'm going to start saving up for this!