Sounding Off: Mirvish+Gehry. Does Toronto really need a Bilbao effect?

On Monday, David Mirvish and Frank Gehry presented their new vision for Toronto’s Entertainment District, Mirvish+Gehry – a complex consisting of three 85-storey condominiums, an art gallery, six floors of retail space, and a new Ontario College of Art and Design building.  If approved by City Council, the new development is bound to be a world famous complex, but is it what Toronto needs?


The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

“The Bilbao Effect” is a term used by architect Witold Rybczynski – named after Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain – to define a work of architecture that puts a city on the proverbial map. Toronto isn’t like Bilbao, however, or even Los Angeles, where Gehry’s other piece of monolithic architecture – Walt Disney Theatre – stands out.

The city already has the CN Tower, the six Toronto-Dominion Centre buildings (which single-handedly modernized the Toronto Skyline in 1967), the SkyDome (also known as Rogers Centre), One King West, the recently completed Trump tower, and countless other iconic buildings with character that adorn the sky.

The Entertainment District is growing at an exponential rate, so why stymie its progress by another blockbuster development? Many prominent architects and urban planners believe that cities develop best organically and a project this large could very easily create not only visual, but also physical borders in an area that thrives off walkability.

Sure, the architecture will be brilliant, with one of the most revered architects in the world, Frank Gehry, designing super-structures for his hometown. There will also be a new 25,000 square foot OCAD building called “The Public Learning Centre for Visual Art, Cultural Studies and Art History” that will be the University’s first satellite campus, but it appears this project is more about egos than people.

For example, another piece of the mega project is a 60,000 square foot art gallery that will exhibit David Mirvish’s personal collection. However, in order for the art gallery to be constructed they will have to tear down Princess of Wales Theatre.

Although the theatre is only 19-years-old, it has become a landmark on King Street and tearing a theatre down to create a personal exhibit has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Torontonians.

There’s no doubt that the Mirvish-Gehry development would bring in plenty of tax revenue for Toronto through condo fees and retail space. However, it’s something that is far too grandiose for the area and even Toronto, in general.

After All, King Street is now the hub of the Toronto International Film Festival, wouldn’t it make sense to focus on the stars of the festival and not the surrounding buildings?

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Filed under Architecture, Development, Economy, Entertainment, Heritage, Opinion

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