At Four Seasons one site fits all
11 Oct 2012

Bay St. north of Bloor St. W. has never lived up to its potential. Despite being one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in town, it has that anonymous look you'd expect to find on the city's less prominent thoroughfares.

That started to change in recent years as condo developers recognized an opportunity and moved in. They have remade the street, especially north of Yorkville, which is now both residential and highrise. For the length of these few blocks, Toronto comes the closest it can to feeling like Manhattan - tall, dense, old and new, mixed-use, domestic yet public and always busy.

Four Seasons Hotel and Residences, 60 Yorkville Ave.: The latest addition to the area, a 55-storey glass tower on the northeast corner of Bay and Yorkville Ave., takes the street to another level. Though not entirely successful, the new project brings a scale and sense of urbanity to the immediate precinct and has become an anchor. It stands taller than the condo tower directly east, and seals the corner's highrise fate.

Interestingly, though, the new building looms over its 19th-century neighbours without over-powering them. These old masonry structures from the late 1800s manage to hold their own against the behemoth next door. These smaller buildings engage us in a much more intimate way, brick by brick, which makes them as engaging as the jolly glass giant that just opened. It takes many metres to make its moves, and reveal itself fully. Up top, the Four Seasons look exactly like what it is – the newest in a seemingly endless series of transparent skyscrapers that have become the new face of the vertical Toronto.

At street level, this is one of the most elegant and spare developments in the city. Clad in glass and black slate, the over-sized podium exudes a sense of unhurried self-assuredness and absolute restraint. It is cool to the point of chilliness. In such a pristine context, the sight of the bright red triple-tiered fountain in the entrance courtyard comes as a shock. It couldn't feel more out of place, even at odds, with the rest of the Four Seasons. Sadly, the water feature does little to humanize the entrance and help it look less empty and forbidding.

The paving, though well intentioned, also fails to enliven the space. One is loath to criticize restraint – a city needs as much as possible – but with the Four Seasons, one senses that it has crossed the line into an aesthetic of luxurious austerity that brooks no intervention, even if it means a taxi dropping off a guest.

The nicest gesture of all is the extended U-shaped cornice that wraps around the top of the eight-storey extension at the north end of the site – very simple, very elegant.

Grade: B+