It’s a new condo development that’s coming to the King-Spadina area, and, if it were a car, this building would be a Porsche.
Set to be completed sometime around 2023, King Toronto will cost an estimated $700 million to build and will feature a pixilated design forming four mountain-like peaks. There are plans to have foliage running up the sides of the building, and units with tree-lined terraces.
It’s being designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, who is known for his unconventional creations.
When units go on sale to the public this coming weekend, one-bedrooms will start at $660,000 and go as high as $1.3 million.
A penthouse will list for $8 million and there are three-bedroom units ranging from $2.4 million to $4 million.
Luxury condos in Toronto aren’t a new thing, of course. We have the Shangri-La hotel/condo highrise, the Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons residences, to name but a few.
But as politicians, including Toronto’s mayor John Tory, academics, activists and members of the public are grappling with what many are calling Toronto’s housing affordability “crisis,” King Toronto comes at a controversial time.
King Toronto won’t have any affordable units on site — units at or below average market rent in Toronto, now at close to $2,000 for a one-bedroom apartment — and neither will The Well, another new project, separate from but just south of King Toronto. The Well will have 1,700 condos and apartment rentals, and King Toronto, 480 units.
Instead, both projects are setting aside development benefits for affordable housing elsewhere, in the case of King Toronto, $1.1 million toward affordable housing at Toronto Community Housing’s Alexandra Park neighbourhood near Bathurst and Dundas St. W.
But housing experts ask why the massive projects won’t include any affordable units on site and who will be able to afford to live there.
“It is good, certainly that at least investments will be made in (affordable) housing, but it would be more hopeful if there was an attempt to create more mixed communities … where people with more means and those with less can actually share in a community together and make it thrive,” says Peter Clutterbuck, interim executive director of Social Planning Toronto, a non-profit dedicated to improving social justice, equity, and quality of life in the city.
The main reason the price points for the King Toronto condos are so high is the building’s design, explains Michael Braun, director of sales and marketing for Westbank, the Vancouver-based developer constructing the project with Allied Properties REIT.
There are heritage features to the development — two existing heritage properties on King are being retained and integrated into the project — and the mountains or “peaks” of the building will be made out of glass blocks, far more expensive material than the typical concrete and glass used in condo towers.
This will add to building costs, Braun explained.
“Our construction costs are 50 per cent higher than a typical condo building,” says Braun, adding “we’re essentially building a Porsche.”
He later said: “I want to be careful to say that we believe good design can be affordable for everyone,” adding Westbank-constructed social housing buildings in Vancouver “are pretty,” including one with affordable ownership opportunities, one containing city-funded artist studios and another that is a seniors’ building.
In a separate Westbank project, the redevelopment of Mirvish Village, there will be 85 affordable units scattered among five towers and a midrise building on a site comprised entirely of purpose-built rentals — about 890 units in total.
Regarding King Toronto, the inspiration for Ingels, the Danish architect, was Habitat 67, the iconic, interlocking cubelike housing development designed by Canadian architect Moshe Safdie for Montreal’s Expo in 1967. The modular housing units there are stacked in various configurations and angles.
So the King Toronto project isn’t your typical condo slab tower, say Hans Ibelings, lecturer at the Daniels faculty of architecture, landscape and design at the University of Toronto, an expert on architecture and co-author of a book about condo towers in Toronto.
“To me the (King Toronto floor plans) look much better than the average floor plans in most regular condo towers, which are spatially challenged. Most of the regular condo towers, the units are underwhelming, especially smaller ones,” Ibelings says.
He argues the reason typical condo layouts aren’t that “good” is their entrances are often on one side of the “shoe box” with the main window at the other end. In between it’s always the same sequence; bathroom on one side, den on the other, followed by the kitchen, bedroom and living room space, which means the den is often just a dark place, Ibelings argues.
“Here (King Toronto) because most of the units are flipped 90 degrees. They are wider than deep,” he says.
Instead of a long box, you have a wide box with more windows, and therefore, more light, Ibelings says.
When it comes to the price points at King Toronto, Ibelings uses the analogy of someone wanting to buy a big car.
You can buy a Dodge Caravan or a Mercedes SUV, similarly sized vehicles but with different prices. “You get something in return — better styling and more well-thought-out designs, or you get something cheaper … but the quality is not the same,” he says.
In terms of city of Toronto approvals, King Toronto got the green light after the city and those behind the project reached a settlement agreement that was approved at the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), an adjudicative body that deals with matters pertaining to municipal planning, land and financial issues.
As for the price of the units, Lynda Macdonald, director, community planning, Toronto and East York district, said that while there are policies in the city’s Official Plan that speak to finding ways to ensure a full range of housing types are available in Toronto — including affordable housing, housing for families, singles, and people with mobility issues — “we can’t control the pricing.”
But for every major project downtown, a percentage of benefits developers pay goes to capital repairs for existing affordable housing, or construction of new affordable housing, Macdonald says.
“The city does take a piece of that benefit and makes sure it transfers over to help us try to create more affordable housing, somewhere downtown,” she says.
Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent