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.
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.
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.