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Reimaging Yonge Sheppard Centre was a tricky prospect

What to do with ugly 1970s complex that architecturally shows something like hostility to the corner it sits on, even though it’s an important corner?
That was the challenged faced by Quadrangle architects when the firm won the competition to reinvent and expand RioCan Yonge Sheppard Centre soon after the REIT, along with partner KingSett, bought the office and commercial property, which sits atop the subway station linking Line 1 and Line 4.
“It’s, first of all, a very dated mall, pretty faithful to its 1976 design, and it’s quite detached from the street. You can't walk directly into it. There’s a moat around it. You have go upstairs or downstairs to get into it. And the retail presence is internalized. It doesn’t have a good street face to it,” says Quadrangle principal Anna Madeira.
Construction started this spring on the retail portion of a plan that will over the next two years ultimate add a new 39-storey 400-unit residential tower to the complex, as well as a second daycare facility and a community room. Bringing these new uses to an updated complex, and making sure the building functions better as a TTC hub, were not the only challenges. Quadrangle also had to make sure the building remained operational during construction, as required by long-term tenants. Towers at the north and south of property were to remain untouched above the first couple of storeys, much to the chagrin of Madeira and other partners. “We would have loved to have had our hands on those towers, but the most important part of the project is the ground plane,” she says.
To better connect the building to the street, Quadrangle came up with a design that pushes the building’s outer wall out toward the sidewalks on Yonge and Sheppard. That makes for a better retail showcase, and means the entrances will be at-grade at sidewalk level, with the steps up and down inside the mall. As an added bonus, the TTC entrance, now reached through a covered outdoor space, will be accessible from all levels of the mall. “We wanted to make the flow and circulation feel like it was part of the mall. Rather than being an in-between space, it’s part of the public space,” says Madeira.
Even with construction already started, the project can still feel like a moving target as new construction quirks are revealed.
“The nature of working with such a complicated existing building is that you have to be always on your toes, and the design has to evolve and change,” says Madeira.
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Anna Madeira
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