Frank Gehry moves one step closer to building major Toronto project

Gehry’s towers will bring softer, organic shapes to Toronto’s skyline.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

After a decade of planning, one of the world’s most famous architects is one step closer to building a major project in his birthplace of Toronto.

A group of developers has announced they will begin condo sales this year on a long-planned two-tower project, designed by Los Angeles-based Frank Gehry, on King Street West in downtown Toronto. It will be called Forma, and is planned to include towers that are 73- and 84-storeys tall.

The project promises to be among the largest and most complex buildings in the city’s history. It will include 2,034 condo apartments, retail, either office space or a hotel, and a new facility for OCAD University.

“Forma is Frank Gehry’s homecoming masterpiece,” said Mitchell Cohen, the chief operating officer of Westdale Properties, which is developing the project along with partners Dream Unlimited and Great Gulf. “It will be his tallest and largest project anywhere.”

Condo sales will begin in May or June, Mr. Cohen said. Toronto’s Adamson Associates is designing the project alongside Gehry Partners.

Born as Frank Owen Goldberg in 1929, Mr. Gehry left Toronto for California in 1947. But he has often spoken of his connection to his city and country of origin, where he spent his boyhood.

He launched his own architecture firm in 1962, and beginning in the 1980s began to focus on personal work that connected to his deep interest in visual art. His reputation grew steadily until 1997, when the opening of his Guggenheim Bilbao gallery established him as a star.

The Toronto project replaces loft buildings on King Street West, flanking Duncan Street. These were assembled by the Mirvish family, who own the adjacent Princess of Wales Theatre. David Mirvish first unveiled the project with Mr. Gehry in October, 2012.

In the decade since, the project has changed repeatedly, evolving from three towers to two. In that time, the city’s real-estate market has changed; condo sale prices and construction costs have both climbed dramatically.

Mr. Gehry’s design has been simplified over time. In the current version, each tower reads as a set of unevenly stacked boxes. Each is wrapped with glass curtain-wall and stainless steel with a partially reflective finish. The facades fold in and out slightly to achieve a play of light – what he referred to last year in an interview as a “crinkle” and which is characteristic of his recent buildings.

Mr. Cohen said this design, fully approved by the city, is technically and economically feasible.

“We are very confident the project will be realized,” Mr. Cohen said. “A project of this magnitude, of this importance, doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve spent the last number of years working with the city, the consultants and with Frank, and we are ready to go.”

In an interview last year, Mr. Gehry said he aspired to create a complex of urban buildings distinct from the bottom-line-driven architecture of Toronto’s recent condo boom.

“Rockefeller Center in New York still stands out as an ensemble,” he said. “Can we do something like that? Can we create something in a modernist vein that has that feeling of coherence, that’s different than the buildings that are being built in Toronto?”

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