At KING Toronto, a new urban landscape comes to life with BIM


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Images by Hayes Davidson, courtesy of Westbank, unless noted.

Reimagining city living to foster nature, sustainability and community

Diamond Schmitt Architects (DSA) is using BIM (Building Information Modelling) to achieve the ambitious vision for KING Toronto, a multi-use urban development designed to foster community well-being. Draped with lush gardens, the terraced design maximises light, air and views. DSA is helping to reimagine what city living can be – and by prioritising sustainability from the start, they’re optimising design decisions to deliver a result that’s good for the planet, for people and for business.

Rendering of the interior of a residence at KING Toronto depicts views of a balcony garden and cityscape

KING Toronto’s undulating shape was designed to embrace biodiversity, maximise views and allow light to reach the neighbouring street all year round.

A vision for a more livable urban environment

In the heart of King Street West, a city centre Toronto neighbourhood that’s quickly emerging as a vibrant creative community, a team of architects and developers is creating a new model for city living. The KING Toronto development breaks the mould of the standard high-rise tower: its 16 stories emerge from a set of heritage red brick buildings, with condominium units stacked like pixels to form a landscape of peaks and valleys.

Combining retail shops, offices and over 400 residences, KING Toronto features twining vines and gardens spilling from terraces, balconies and green roofs. Glass bricks add lightness and luminosity to the building’s facade. At the centre, a public plaza connects the community and serves as a hub for a network of neighbourhood walkways.

Architecture that nurtures community

  • Rendering of the penthouse levels of KING Toronto shows the building’s green roofs and gardens with a waterfront view

    KING Toronto’s pixelated form was inspired by Habitat 67, an iconic model community built from prefab concrete units for the 1967 Montreal World’s Fair.

  • Rendering of KING Toronto at night shows the angled shapes of the residential units rising from street level to mountain-like peaks

    Instead of being set square to the city block, the units are rotated at 45-degree angles to increase light exposure and air flow.

  • Rendering of the public plaza at KING Toronto shows a garden at the centre and vine-covered glass brick facades rising above it

    Trees, gardens and climbing vines integrate nature into the urban environment and a public plaza serves as the centre of the community.

Bringing vision to reality

To bring this vision of urban community to life, KING Toronto developers Westbank and Allied engaged innovative architects Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to create the design solution for the project. Beginning in 2015, Diamond Schmitt Architects (DSA) came on board as executive architect.

DSA is an industry leader in sustainable design, with expertise in dense urban areas. Its company headquarters are based a city block away from the KING Toronto site. “We know the city and we have an intimate relationship with the neighbourhood,” says Liviu Budur, DSA’s lead architect for the project. The firm has also been a steward of the Toronto Green Standard, Toronto’s sustainable design requirements for new private and city-owned developments.

As executive architect, Budur says, “Our design role was to ensure that the design aligned with site plan and code requirements. Our team translated that into a set of documents for the contractor to build from. We also created documents for the local authorities to sign off on various levels of approvals.”

DSA’s work on KING Toronto had to balance design ambition, construction costs and local market needs. “Obviously, it’s not your typical project. The geometry of the building is quite different, with all these pixelated rotated angles,” Budur says. “Planning approvals are usually based on previous examples and master plans. But this is something that really didn't exist anywhere. Even the city planners didn't know how to deal with it.”

Rendering of KING Toronto’s glass block facade at night shows residential units set at 45-degree angles, covered with vines and glowing with light

The glass block facade serves as a signature design element, enhancing the urban environment by drawing light in during the day and illuminating the skyline at night.

Exploring the options with BIM technologies

The DSA team used BIM technologies (US site) to develop constructable solutions within the budget, exploring different system options for each major category of built fabric: structure; envelope; cladding materials; mechanical, electrical and information technology systems; and landscape and biophilic elements.

3D models served as the centralised common data environment connecting the team, allowing collaboration and versioning in the cloud. “Revit is the workhorse of the project. Everything else is either a plug-in or ancillary to that,” says Cameron Turvey, Associate Architect with DSA. “This project is all about breaking down the pixelation into tangible construction documentation. We leveraged Revit to unfold the project and then flatten it out, finding different ways to represent that using 3D views, flattened views and overlay views.”

Rendering of KING Toronto shows a street-level view of red-brick heritage buildings with modular new-construction units rising in a mountainous shape above them

Restored red-brick buildings are integrated into the base of KING Toronto’s structure to acknowledge and preserve the neighbourhood's history.

Blending old and new

Another challenging aspect of KING Toronto’s design is incorporating three heritage brick buildings, retaining the architectural history of the neighbourhood's industrial-era past. ERA Architects is the heritage architect for the project, charged with developing a conservation plan and obtaining approvals from the city’s Heritage Planning unit.

“Once the conservation plan was advanced, ERA dovetailed back with us,” Turvey says. “The major concern was that the existing window heights of the archaic buildings are arbitrary relative to the design intent. Two of those buildings retain their slab on gradient and the floor plate levels are entirely independent from the rest of the building.” Revit models enabled the team to capture the offset floor levels of the heritage buildings, develop new floor levels and accommodate connections with the major services such as gas, air intake and exhaust fans.

Innovation marries aesthetics with sustainability

Sustainability has been a priority for the KING Toronto project from the beginning, aiming to achieve LEED Gold standards and meet the Toronto Green Standard. But the pixelated design results in a surface area to volume ratio that’s roughly double that of a simple rectangular shape. “We realised early on that the project would need a very high efficiency envelope to meet sustainability goals,” Turvey says.

Another concern was preventing storm water from discharging onto adjacent sites. “We had to introduce a giant subterranean storm water cistern and then find ways to use that water for irrigating the green roofs and planters,” he says.

Energy models providing real-time feedback on the effects of design decisions were critical to resolving any issues. This information drove the final composition of the building’s facade. “The facade panels consist of three prime components: translucent, transparent and opaque. Each of those has a different thermal efficiency,” Turvey says. “We had to work with the energy modeller to drive the proportion of each type.”

The design and fabrication of KING Toronto’s unique glass-block facade required exhaustive research and innovative thinking. Glass blocks are normally installed the same way as brick masonry: stacked on top of each other and joined with mortar. “They’re more associated with Southern California and climates like that,” says Budur. “The challenge to using them in Toronto was to make them work with our cold winters. We had to turn the way we think about masonry upside down.”

The solution for KING Toronto was to merge the aesthetics of glass blocks with the strength and insulation of a curtain wall system. Individual blocks are joined into bigger panels with silicone joints for flexibility. Those panels are installed in an aluminium frame cladding system engineered to host the weight and thickness of translucent glass blocks, triple-glazed windows and opaque glass block backed with thermal panels. “The whole thing is prefabricated to facilitate factory assembly and transported to the site,” Turvey says.

Rendering of the interior of a residence at KING Toronto depicts views of a balcony garden and cityscape

Interior view of a residence at KING Toronto.

Staying on track with remote collaboration

Midway into the project, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In March 2020, DSA transitioned 315 employees to home offices across the continent. “We had already introduced a hybrid cloud technology environment that enabled staff to work from anywhere to improve work-life balance,” Turvey says. “When the entire project team decentralised, we remained connected with minimal disruption.”

BIM 360 serves as a platform for the KING Toronto team to share live changes with the architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical consultants. “There’s no lag to our co-ordination between teams, so we can update in real time and see what the consequences are,” Turvey says. This expedited changes to the facade panels, structural frame and services distribution without having to exchange separate models or mark-ups.

Aerial photo of the KING Toronto job site showing below-ground construction in progress and the facades of heritage buildings at street level

A view of construction underway on the KING Toronto construction site, with the heritage brick facades on the street front awaiting restoration and integration with the new building. Image courtesy of Westbank.

KING Toronto construction underway

Excavation on the KING Toronto project began mid-2021 and construction of the underground levels is in progress as of early 2022. The project has met the Toronto Green Standard Tier 1, thanks to the high-efficiency envelope developed with the energy model and is tracking towards LEED Gold standards. KING Toronto is scheduled to be complete by spring 2025.

As construction proceeds, the BIM models created with Revit serve as the central source of truth for the project. “When we saw the initial design, we knew it would become a local landmark, but there would be many challenges. We could never have anticipated the innovative solutions developed along the way,” Budur says. Using BIM, “we found ways to take the most ambitious ideas and make them grounded in the reality of construction.”

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