Toronto’s 2013 Tall Building Design Guidelines

Source: www.urbantoronto.ca |

In mid-April this year Toronto’s Planning and Growth Committee adopted a document called the Tall Buildings Design Guidelines to evaluate the design of new tall buildings in the city. I sat down for coffee with Robert Freedman, Director of Urban Design for the City of Toronto, at City’s Hall’s Café on the Square to learn what the new document means our cityscape.

Freedman—like most city staff—have a lot on their plate to deal with these days. Mondays, apparently, are always a crunch at City Planning, but Freedman has a stack of documents with him for what is meant to be a quick 30-minute talk.

“When I first arrived at the city in 2002, the city was recently amalgamated and was trying to push the OP (the Toronto Official Plan) through to council. I remember having a conversation with Paul Bedford (former Chief Planner of the City of Toronto). We both knew we were going to be seeing increasing development pressure around tall buildings, and we would need to come up with more than what is in the official plan. We knew we were going to have to go into more detail.”

The City defines tall buildings as those that are taller than the width of the adjacent right-of-way (ROW); for most sites downtown that would be those greater than 20m (5-6 stories) in height. The city’s 2002 OP tries to direct intensification into two main areas in Toronto: the pre-amalgamation downtowns – such as Yonge St. between Drewry and Highway 401 (North York), and the Avenues – major arterial roads that generally sport mixed-use buildings, such as Danforth Avenue and Queen Street. It was practically out of necessity that the OP couldn’t go into a great amount of detail over what might be considered appropriate development. Since the former downtowns were expected to see the greatest leaps in intensification, City Planning made the creation of guidelines a top priority.

The City would go on to organize some symposiums, the first on tall buildings, which was terrifically named “Higher Learning”. Experts were invited from cities like Chicago and New York, and the feedback was used by HOK Architects in the creation of the Design Criteria for the Review of Tall Building Proposals (2006). The guidelines were followed by Urban Strategies’ Tall Buildings, Inviting Change in Downtown Toronto (2010) which would lead to the Planning Department’s Downtown Tall Buildings Vision and Performance Standards Design Guidelines (2012), which sought to clarify not only where tall buildings would be located, but also gave the City a set of design standards to test proposals against.

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