Wednesday, December 09, 2020

New green addition to Toronto's skyline ruled inadmissible

Toronto's skyline has changed out of all recognition in the decades we have lived here. Many of the new high-rise buildings downtown are pretty forgettable, to be honest, although in the last 5 years or so several more interesting additions have appeared.

A big new proposed development round the back of Union Station, right in the heart of downtown, would at least be in the category of "more interesting", but its construction has been doggedly blocked by city planners. The proposed Union Centre, designed by Danish-American architects Bjarke Ingels Group and jointly developed by Allied Properties and Westbank Corp, kind of looks like four shiny glass skyscrapers attached to each other side by side (slightly offset). It has a green roof garden and part of the outside façade is given over to green walls (again slightly offset). 

Inside, the four 52-storey towers are connected, so that each floor could be a massive 30,000 square feet in area, ideal for tech companies  and particularly for data centres and the acres of computer servers they require. (Or it could be split up.) The building is planned to be net-zero-carbon, utilizing a district heating system (which the Danes excel at) that uses the excess heat from all those computer servers. It would offer a million square feet of office space right downtown, right on the subway.

Anyway, the architects have been fighting against city officials for almost two years now for approval to get the building started (it is "shovel-ready, and does not require any additional outside financing). It's an interesting, novel design, and a lot more eco-friendly than most of Toronto's buildings (and could therefore contribute to Toronto's fight against climate change), and will offer lightning fast internet connections on site. What's not to like?

The city's urban design staff seem to be mainly objecting of the width and alignment of the building. Yes, it's about 90m wide, and it's aligned along the east-west axis of the city (parallel to the lake). The city says that it "looks too wide on the skyline". Wha'...? So, if it were aligned north-south it would be OK? Oh, and it casts a large shadow (which the consultant, on the other hand, describes as "very minor"). 

They seem like relatively minor quibbles to me, I have to say. And, God knows, we need to be doing something positive on the climate change front. Can we not have an interesting, out-there building for once?

No comments: