Frank Gehry’s first Toronto tower: “It could really change the rules of the game’

Architect Frank Gehry describes the design of his concert hall at Colborne School during its unveiling in downtown Los Angeles on March 16.Richard Vogel/The Associated Press

Nearly a decade ago, Frank Gehry announced that he would be designing a major development in downtown Toronto. Now, this project, called Forma, is about to start sales – featuring the tallest building designed by the world’s most famous architect.

In an interview last week, Jerry described the design in realistic terms.

“It’s very economical,” said the Toronto-born architect. “And it fits with the way I see the beauty of Toronto: calm.” Not many people will choose the same traits. The first Forma tower will be 73 stories tall and wrapped in a shimmering stainless steel skin. It will probably become one of the most visible and memorable buildings in the city. The twins are planned to be 84 stories tall.

Jerry has always been a bit ambivalent. The 93-year-old is famous for the buildings – especially the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain – that look distinctive and expressive. However, while his works have engrossed in the techniques and ideas of contemporary art, he insists that he be seen as a sober-minded professional.

He is now dealing with the constraints of the development industry. Its clients in Toronto are partnerships with major developers Great Gulf Group, Dream and Westdale Properties. And 10 years later, and some inevitable compromises, he says he’s happy with the way the project is developing.

The two Forma Towers, located on King Street West, adjacent to Duncan Street, will contain more than 2,000 apartments. The developers plan to sell and build the East Tower first; This will contain space for OCAD University within its base. The distinguished interior designer Paolo Ferrari will design suitable spaces for the apartments.

The two towers mix two different styles in the cladding, or outer skin. The tower pictured above is of steel with an irregular wavy pattern pierced by perforated rectangular windows. The other tower is clear glass curtain wall.Courtesy of Great Gulf Group, Dream and Westdale Properties

Tower engineering has been greatly simplified over the past five years, in a normal process of cutting costs. However, Jerry and colleague David Nam, who runs the project, expressed satisfaction with the way the design has evolved.

Adamson Associates Architects and Italian manufacturing firm Permasteelisa – with whom Gehry’s office has worked for decades – are collaborating on the project. Gehry said the architecture strives to create powerful visual effects through refraction and reflection of the sun.

“You benefit from the play of light,” he said. “This is free.”

The two towers mix two different styles in the cladding, or outer skin. One is clear glass curtain wall. The other is of steel, with an irregular wavy pattern and perforated with rectangular windows. (The latter is a trademark of Gehry, in which the steely rhythm and emptiness of a stone building is comically translated into a thin layer of steel.)

The apartment’s street-level lobby will feature a sculptural installation by Gehry’s office that uses a maple leaf motif.Courtesy of Great Gulf Group, Dream and Westdale Properties

In previous iterations, each floor of the towers had irregular curved edges. Now, Nam said, the edges are all straight; All internal and external portions of the building’s exterior skin will be contained within an eight-inch-deep vertical plane.

“That was the challenge that put us before us,” Nam said. “We did many studies to make sure the play of light was fun, and [visual] The smoothness we were looking for was still achievable at this depth.”

This has been a major theme in Gehry’s work since the 1970s. When he renovated his family’s home in the beachfront Santa Monica area, he used a chain link fence prominently between the materials. Over time, he began to use metal, usually stainless steel or zinc, in more refined ways. His two most famous projects, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, feature curved skins of titanium and stainless steel, respectively. Geary also connected the Toronto Towers to the Weizmann Museum of Art in Minneapolis, completed in 1993.

“When the sun goes down, you catch all that light on the facade, and it changes everything,” he said.

The Art Gallery of Ontario uses what Jerry calls a “blue box” of titanium. Torontonians who have seen the Jerry-designed addition to the museum will be familiar with how sunlight affects a textured metal surface. Likewise, some of his trademark interior architectural language has appeared in AGO and will be repeated in Forma: very faded limestone tiles on the walls and floors, and furniture using Douglas fir plywood. The apartment’s street-level lobby will include both – along with a sculptural installation by Gehry’s Office that uses a maple leaf shape.

AGO recently announced that it has hired New York architect Annabelle Selldorf to expand the museum with more galleries of contemporary art. Jerry said his company did not compete for the position—”he’s made it clear to us that they want a new voice,” he said. He added that Selldorf, who worked alongside Gehry’s office at a cultural complex in France, was an “excellent architect”.

But Jerry has talked for years about how difficult it is to secure a major commission in Toronto, which he left in 1947, but said he still considered it his home.

The distinguished interior designer Paolo Ferrari will design suitable spaces for the apartments.Courtesy of Great Gulf Group, Dream and Westdale Properties

In our interview, he revealed that AGO had also proposed to appoint him to lead the redesign of Grange Park – the publicly available space behind the museum that is owned and operated by AGO. the problem? “The main donor to the project, the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, had some questions about whether we could manage the budget,” he said, laughing.

Gehry is now leading a project with a hundred times the budget, one that will be visible throughout the city. The steel skin texture will also be lowered to ground level, culminating in a pair of prominent canopies that will extend across Duncan Street.

“I think it could really change the rules of the game on the street,” he said. “I hope to be around to see it finished.”

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