Practice lands Toronto masterplan on back of King’s Cross experience

Allies & Morrison - Christie Cookie factory site in Humber Bay Shores, Toronto

Allies & Morrison - Christie Cookie factory site in Humber Bay Shores, Toronto

Allies & Morrison has won a major masterplanning competition in Toronto that is set to be its first built project in North America.

The practice is hoping the 11ha Humber Bay Shores project will be the job that unlocks the continent for them after three recent attempts to find a way in ground to a halt.

Partner Alfredo Caraballo predicted that with so many post-industrial cities in North America needing masterplanning expertise, the firm would open an office out there “in the near future”. This would be its only office outside the UK after the Doha studio shut once its 35ha Msheireb project completed.

Allies & Morrison was the only British architect shortlisted in an international competition for Humber Bay Shores, a brownfield former biscuit factory site close to the edge of Lake Ontario. It has been appointed lead masterplanner after a six-month competitive process. Gross Max and AKTII are also on the winning team.

The area around the demolished Christie Cookie building is already home to a number of high-rise towers but residents have complained there are no shops or street life. In winter an icy wind whips blizzards off the lake. The site is also traversed by rail lines and a motorway.

Allies & Morrison’s winning proposal addresses these issues with a cranked plan designed to keep the wind out and a network of covered streets that will be several degrees warmer than the rest of the city in winter. These link to a number of parks and open spaces and the whole development will be retail heavy at ground level.

The 115,000sq m scheme will also add a railway station as well as a mix of housing types, entertainment, retail, education and health uses. The developer, First Capital Realty, is a retail specialist. Once a planning framework is approved by the city council public consultation will begin on design ideas. They hope to submit it for planning in about 18 months.

“This is a fantastic site that can provide a new heart for Humber Bay Shores,” said Caraballo.

The practice won another masterplan in Toronto last year but this has been paused. Its only other forays into North America were two international competitions for masterplan studies in New York in the last three years. The firm came second – beaten by Snohetta on Penn Station and by SHoP spin-off Partnership for Architecture and Urbanism on a job in Queens.

The practice’s initial “in” for all four projects was its experience masterplanning London’s Olympic Park and, in particular, King’s Cross – where even Dutch city planners are demanding tours.

“As millennials reject suburban living, America is reconsidering the city as a desirable place and they’re looking to London’s experience in city making,” said Caraballo.

“We feel we have a particular expertise in masterplanning mixed-use, transport-led projects that puts us in a unique position.

“We are slowly but surely moving into the North American market. We could see an office there in the near future but it’s a balance of doors opening.”

He wouldn’t be drawn on where, but hinted it could be New York – a “gateway to the rest of the country” – or Toronto – “fascinating and booming”. Many of their UK clients also work in the US and Canada, he added.

“We are a big practice of 350 staff but when you start moving on to the world stage you realise you are not that big,” he said. “You have to think where you want to focus your activity.”

Most of the practice’s work is still in the UK but it has built projects in the Middle East which Caraballo insisted remains important to the practice. Fee income is currently £39.4m from the UK and £1.93m from overseas.

Meanwhile Caraballo and his fellow Allies & Morrison director Daniel Elsea have been appointed co-chairs of the International Council of New York’s Van Alen Institute which brings built environment professionals together to look at issues facing two different cities each year. They have taken over from Kai-Uwe Bergmann of the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and Kim Herforth Nielsen of 3XN.