Foster to build Toronto tower with what looks like the largest living wall in North America

base of building with green wall
© Mizrahi Developments

Mies Van der Rohe is famous for his phrase "less is more", but really these days, in cities like New York and Toronto, everybody is channelling Morris Lapidus, architect of flamboyant hotels, who said "too much is never enough." So now we have Norman Foster designing a 72 story tower at the corner of Bloor and Yonge in midtown Toronto (with local Core Architects). That will make it the tallest inhabited structure in Canada. (The CN tower is taller but even its revolving restaurant is uninhabited) They call it "The One." No doubt Toronto's greatest export, Keanu Reeves, will want a unit there.

Bloor is known as Toronto's Mink Mile and Yonge Street is Canada's Main Street, so it is an important corner. The northeast and northwest corners were desecrated in the seventies with two terrible buildings (the designer of one retired from architecture and got into the fried chicken business instead, a wise career move) so having an architect the caliber of Foster is good news.

Living wall closeup© Mizrahi Developments

Foster is an environmentally sensitive architect, notwithstanding his panopticon in Cupertino and his bicycle highway in the sky, and no doubt the building will be full of green features. One is what looks like the biggest living wall in North America going up the side of the shorter office building. I also like the fact that the corner is open and the sidewalk is widened, it is a crowded corner.

garbage can© Mizrahi Developments

Foster also always does beautiful renderings, although I don't know who convinced them to render the corner with no traffic lights or stop signs but to poorly photoshop in one of Toronto's terrible Astral garbage bins.

city scene© Mizrahi Developments

The building will be more flexible and adaptable than most, with an exoskeleton taking the structural loads and creating clear spans inside. According to Alex Bozikovic in the Globe and Mail,

This exoskeleton model has commercial advantages. The condo floors would be highly flexible and the retail space (more than 240,000 square feet) would be free of structural columns, with 22-foot ceilings. “We call it uncontaminated space,” [Developer] Mr. Mizrahi said. “This is for global retailers who haven’t been able to bring their vision to Toronto because the space they need doesn’t exist.”

christmas© Mizrahi Developments

It is a major intersection and deserves some decent density. But how much is too much? In Fast Company, architectural critic Inga Saffron notes that there are limits to what a city can take all in one place. Of course there are virtues to density, as she notes:

By increasing density in our cities and towns, planners say we can reduce dependence on carbon-spewing automobiles, slow environmentally destructive sprawl, increase our stock of affordable housing—while making cities safer and more fun places to live.... What gets lost in the conversation is that density is a function of existing transit and infrastructure.

She concludes:

Just because it’s physically possible to cram in more people and buildings into our cities doesn’t mean that density will make them better. We want and need a variety of scales, just as we need other kinds of diversity in our cities.

One might complain that putting 72 stories of luxury condos on top of a subway station so crowded that people are almost falling off the platform might be a mistake. It's probably not; the people who can afford to live here don't need to take the subway at rush hour. And who can complain about having such a big green living wall.

tower from a distance© Mizrahi Developments

Tags: Green Roofs | Toronto

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