Fifty years after Toronto erected its first skyscraper, a city full of them isn’t showing signs of slowing down.
In 1967, when Cadillac Fairview and TD Bank built the TD Centre — the city’s then-tallest building — it ushered in an era of growth.
And as the city runs out of space, Cadillac Fairview continues to look for places to expand beyond its now six-tower, 4.3-million square foot business complex on the site.
“We couldn’t be more proud,” said Steven Sorensen, Cadillac Fairview’s vice president of operations, of the anniversary. “We really were instrumental in introducing the first modern workplace to Canada and led the development of Toronto’s financial district.”
“There was a tremendous amount of surface parking 50 years ago,” added Toronto’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat. “There was a whole period where the planning policies were all framed around trying to be catalytic, taking away restrictions to encourage as much growth as possible and to create a really mixed use downtown core.”
By necessity, after growth ramped up in the 1970s, the city’s approach to planning – and to approving skyscrapers – has changed in recent years.
Keesmaat began working with the city five years ago with a mandate to manage growth, not catalyze it.
Still, the city is building up.
Toronto developer Menkes is in the process of finishing Canada’s highest residential tower, a 78-storey project as part of its 2-million square foot residential and commercial Harbour Plaza.
It will be the tallest development in Toronto’s south core and connect the city’s waterfront below the Gardiner Expressway to the PATH network — which began with the TD Centre’s underground space five decades ago — for the first time.
Carla Swickerath, the principal architect in charge of Toronto’s new L Tower, says it was designed to silhouette the skyline through its bending sculptural form.
“Toronto is a thoroughly contemporary city that looks to the future when it comes to building,” she said. “The goal was to create a recognizable landmark on Toronto’s dramatic skyline.”
Developers like Menkes don’t plan on stopping redevelopment as space runs thin, either. Jared Menkes, the company’s vice president of highrise residential, says it won’t be long before all of the old surface parking lots are gone.
Menkes just purchased 11 acres of the LCBO’s property along the waterfront for another redevelopment into another six towers.
He believes Toronto’s skyline now belongs on the world stage.
“What big towers are able to do is create a true live, work, play city. These large towers help create that vibrancy as well as creating a beautiful skyline,” Menkes said. “I do see it as beauty. We don’t have mountains and I think that a beautiful tower can really add to the skyline. If you look at that postcard view if you go to any of the islands and look back at the city, it’s a wonderful view.”
The city has had to be cautious with developers to make sure they’re maintaining sky views and working public spaces and larger sidewalks in to their plans, according to Keesmaat.
“In the past five years, we’ve seen growth and we’ve seen proposed new densities and levels of intensification that were never anticipated,” she said, laughing. “From our perspective as planners, we’re pretty surprised at the aggressiveness of the market and we say ‘bring it on.’ ”
The city has identified locations that could still be redeveloped, like a Yonge St. corridor that is composed of predominantly two-storey buildings Keesmaat says shouldn’t be their “final built form.” But developers are targeting things like 10-storey office buildings for redevelopment into 60-storey office buildings instead, according to Keesmaat.
“The irony is that over the course of the last two years, developers have been coming forward for proposals on sites that we did not consider,” she said.
Meanwhile, the TD Centre is undergoing a $200-million renewal, including everything from re-painting the black towers to replacing windows.
“It’s obviously an iconic landmark that has really redefined the skyline of Toronto and sparked the transformation of Toronto into what it is today,” Sorensen finished.