Forma: Milestone Development 11 years (so far!) in the making

Forma: Milestone Development 11 years (so far!) in the making

After more than a decade of anticipation, construction on Frank Gehry’s tallest project ever will take place at a ceremonial start later this morning in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district. Forma’s story is actually more of an odyssey, one uniquely tied to UrbanToronto, where an announcement of the project was first leaked to the world in the fall of 2012. In the years since, we’ve followed the project to completion. Every twist and turn, and now on the day of the groundbreaking ceremony, we look back at the journey that led to this pivotal moment in Toronto Skyline history.

Looking south at the full two-tower design for Forma, from Gehry Partners, image from submission to the City of Toronto

It all started on September 29, 2012, when UT Forum contributor golodhendil found a video promoting new development plans that would bring three high-rise towers to King Street West, and the design had Gehry written all over it. Within hours the video was removed, but by then the conversation was already thriving on the UT forum, where screenshots of the video were posted.

A mock-up of the prototype design from Mirvish+Gehry as seen in the leaked promotional video

As news of the project continued to spread throughout the day, things became fully public when a press conference was announced, hosted by Jerry along with David Mirvish, owner of the downtown location. The event took place just two days later, on October 1, and revealed to the media several drafts of the design of the three towers along with a series of mock-ups. In this version of the proposal, the towers were to be 86, 84 and 82 storeys tall, and each would have a unique sculptural massing.

Various models on display at the press conference in October 2012, photo by Craig White

Six months later, the initial design was extensively revised to give the exterior a more dramatic appearance, defined by a cloud-like cladding that visually connects the three towers. The design was generally well received, but what the public wasn’t crazy about was the approach to public realm, and the plan to demolish five heritage buildings on King Street alongside the Princess of Wales Theatre.

What followed was a long period of negotiations between the Toronto Planning Department and the development team, which was now led by Projectcore. These negotiations culminated in a December 2013 report recommending that the proposal be significantly scaled back, reducing height and density, while working to more thoughtfully manage the existing heritage properties on the site.

Updated design by Mirvish+Gehry from 2013, image courtesy of Projectcore

Seeing the report as an opportunity to let public input influence the design for the better, the team came forward with an entirely new plan for the development in May of 2014. Bearing a close resemblance to the project we know today, this iteration dropped one of the three towers and instead considered Greater heights are 82 and 92 storeys. We’ve also seen a new crowd with this release, based on the emphasis that buildings, as a pair, need to be more visually connected.

Meanwhile, at pedestrian level, demolition of the Princess of Wales is no longer required due to the removal of the third tower. Furthermore, the building immediately to the east of the theatre, which was scheduled for demolition, had its heritage walls incorporated into the west tower podium.

Looking South at Miniature, 2014, Mirvish+Gehry Twin Towers, image courtesy of Projectcore

In the eyes of the Planning Department, this project was an improvement across the board, and just a few months later, in July of 2014, the proposal was approved by the City Council. Many UrbanToronto commenters rejoiced at the time, anticipating sales and construction to be right around the corner, but soon learned that the project was far from being completed.

For about two years, things remained quiet, until it was announced in 2016 that after receiving site plan approval, the project would finally go on sales. Before that could happen, the Projectcore developers abandoned the project, once again stopping the implementation of the plan here. Things wouldn’t get back on track until more than a year later, when Mirvish reached an agreement with Great Gulf to take over the development effort. Since then, Dream Unlimited and Westdale Properties have joined the development ranks as well.

Instead of seeking site plan approval, the new developers chose to return the project to rezoning, which was officially filed in January 2019. The goal was to gain approval to raise both towers by a margin of approximately 30 meters each in order to increase the roof height of the units while adding New hotel programming in the West Tower.

2018 design iteration, for approval of 92 and 82 storey heights, image from submission to City of Toronto

When the rezoning request failed, the project went back to the drawing board again. In 2021, nearly a decade after the project was first announced, the following draft was released. Here, the western tower was reduced to 82 floors, reaching a height of 308 meters due to the high ceilings, while the eastern tower was reduced to 72 floors, reaching a height of 266 metres. This iteration was eventually approved, with the project moving to the site plan approval stage.

Just a few months before his tenth birthday, the project was launched under the name ‘Forma’, Italian for shape or form, which saw the first proper designs for the buildings released. A turbulent decade of planning had finally reached a breakthrough, and even after the long wait, there was no denying that the product was something special.

Forma was launched in 2022, and construction has officially begun as of today, photo from its submission to the City of Toronto

With the first half of 2023 spent clearing the site for Phase 1, the East Tower, today’s groundbreaking is a story 11 years in the making, and one we’re excited to follow every step of the way.

UrbanToronto will continue to monitor the progress of this development, but in the meantime, you can learn more about it from our database file, linked below. If you wish, you can join the conversation in the associated project forum thread or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

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UrbanToronto has a research service, UrbanToronto Pro, that provides comprehensive data on construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area – from proposal to completion. We also offer real-time reports, downloadable location-based snapshots, and a daily subscription newsletter, New Development Insider, that tracks projects from the initial application.

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