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  • Writer's pictureJustine Rowbotham-Belot

Project Study: The Imperial Plaza, New Housing from an old Source , Part II

Following Part I of the Imperial Plaza Project Study, Part II highlights the innovations and social and environmental impact of the project. If you would like to catch up read Part I of this project series.



Technological & Material Innovations: 


The original design included many elevators and vertical shafts necessary for the function of an office building but no longer required as part of the conversion process to residential use. Some of the existing elevators were maintained for various uses but others were removed leaving holes within the existing floor system. These openings were framed with light steel supporting members and pans and then filled with poured concrete to create a new surface flush with the existing adjacent floor.  


Given the nature of the existing exterior wall assembly, the exterior insulation requirements were satisfied with a highly efficient spray application to speed up the construction schedule. This was not possible in 1957 and is in common use today where applicable. 



The top penthouse floors of the building were considered the “crowning jewel” of the design and included exterior LED accent lighting and “Iron-free” glass to make the windows a very clear character rather than the typical green cast of standard glass. The effect reinforces the purity of the building’s form while contrasting the heaviness of the limestone cladding.   


Social & Environmental Impact: 


As an example of adaptive reuse, the conversion maintains the building’s strongly held image and beloved character without creating a negative impact on the neighbourhood.  


The existing pedestrian paths and forecourt along St Clair Ave., W., remain intact to provide safe and direct access from the development to public transit along St. Clair Ave. W.. The refurbished ground floor entrance vestibule and 2 storey lobby enhance the pedestrian experience along the entire length of the building and are as much a destination as the retail uses which reside there. It functions as both an active retail environment and passive art gallery for the Story of Oil. With all of this, the building comfortably stabilizes its surroundings as it has since 1957 but in a new refreshing way that is “home” for private owners and a sociable space for the curious pedestrian. 



Vehicular access by way of a ramp to the underground parking area to the south of the building is clearly identified and includes safe and logical pedestrian connections. A drop off area is located below grade to the rear of the building to ensure areas of frequent pedestrian gatherings are fully visible from and to all vehicular routes. There is no surface parking which frees up space for the naturalized, landscape open space inclusive of appropriate planting materials to address summer and winter conditions.  


The loading and garbage collection facility is located at the Southwest corner of the building. It is fully screened from view and operates with no disruption to the occupants of the building the surrounding neighbourhood.  


Charging stations have been provided and designated within the underground garage to supply electricity for electric vehicles.  


Perhaps of greater significance is the opportunity for adaptive reuse to address the need for housing while increasing heritage retention. With new multi-family residential projects following lengthy municipal approval processes, the supply of new housing is falling short of targets. Conversion and adaptive reuse projects such as Imperial Plaza can be brought to fruition faster with minimal disruption to the stability of the neighbourhood. Unlike adaptive reuse, new construction is harder on the environment. If you start with an existing structure, there is no need excavation and concrete work to form foundations.  



Adapting commercial and office space to residential units not only helps to fill the housing shortage, but also supports local shops and restaurants with more patrons. Having an increase in residences in urban areas produces more vibrant cities where people can live close to where they work. Since the onset of the pandemic, office vacancy rates are high in cities across Canada. Not all office buildings can be realistically converted to housing, but Imperial Plaza is example of success. It is an iconic building, one of Toronto’s outstanding architectural treasures, and it will remain so for generations to come.


The effort made by the entire project team earned a Heritage Toronto, Built Heritage Award of Merit in 2016. 


You can visit this building to view more detail for yourself, for more information, visit our residential project page.

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