The Well is the epitome of Urban Uniqueness

Our cities are growing rapidly, racing to deliver more housing, sustainable workplaces, retail, entertainment hubs together with transport connectivity. In high rise, multicultural cities like Toronto, adding density is an important alternative to expanding urban sprawl. But how can new developments still deliver architectural individualism and placemaking whilst reflecting the uniqueness of their context?

In most cases, calling new developments ‘unique’ is nothing more than a marketing tactic as much of the design elements we see are consistent with approaches seen across the globe rather than a need to reflect a city’s character.

In the case of The Well, a genuinely unique and innovative design has given the development and a new part of the city its own distinctive character whilst rooting it in its central location in the King St West area characterised by former brick and beam industrial buildings. Even though it is a mega development that is wholly appropriate for Toronto, it provides original and sustainable design elements and an urban composition of buildings and spaces that has never quite been seen before in North America.

19th century office buildings, Wellington Street
The Well

The Well is already known as the largest and most anticipated development in the city. It is a place that has a true mix of uses, reimagining the 7.7 acres between Front, Wellington and Spadina as a distinct, dynamic, vehicle-free community, based on a highly considered urban design. It consists of a diverse collection of new experiences in an open street development that is unlike anything in the region.

Here are 10 reasons why it is deserving of such a unique and incredible distinction.

1. Urban density

The Well is super-dense, consisting of seven urban buildings ranging from 13 to 40 stories in height. At three million square feet(nearly 280,000 sqm) leasable area on a site of 7.67 acres, it has a residential unit count of more than 700 units per hectare which is extremely dense, in any location.  

2. It’s truly mixed use

With 1.2m sqft of office space, more than 1,700 apartments and 320,000 sqft of retail, leisure, food and beverage areas, including a 75,000 sqft food hall it offers a real mix of uses. These are integrated into the density and vertical design with homes sitting above offices, sitting above retail, above car parking and servicing.

3. A must-see destination in Toronto

The Well expects to see daily visitor numbers of 22,000 plus 11,000 residents and office workers. The retail spaces, unusually, have a catchment area of only two kilometres’ walk, including the development itself which provides its own consistent economy.

4. The Spine

A unique multi-level curved shopping street with multiple bridge connections providing a theatre of retail below a towerscape of buildings. The spine is flanked by individual masonry buildings giving it a vertical ‘post industrial’ character.

5. A glazed canopy

35,000 sqft quadmesh structure acting as an enormous umbrella to the worst of the weather, the largest of its kind over retail space in Canada.

6. A new urban boulevard

Wellington Street West Boulevard is reformed; connecting Clarence and Portland Squares to provide an 18m-wide, tree-lined promenade. It also extends the series of north-south laneways connecting the King West area, making the site fully permeable to the public. 

7. A pocket park

A small park at edge of the development brings benefits to the local nature ecosystem and delivers a place for respite and contemplation. A beautiful sculpture of a cat takes pride of place, watching over residents and shoppers.

8. A sunken street

A new performance area can be accessed from The Spine, featuring an urban amphitheatre with ample seating allowing visitors to view the entertainment and performances below.

9. The largest basement construction in Toronto

Extending six levels down, the below ground elements include a sunken shopping street, three levels of car parking and a dedicated servicing and storage level. No other development in North America makes use of its site in quite this way. 

10. A physical well

Below the basement, a cistern connects to the Enwave Deep Lake Water Cooling (DLWC) system and a newly built hot water loop provides heating and cooling to the 11,000 people who will live and work at The Well. It has a two-million-gallon (more than ten million litre) capacity and measures a staggering 50ft in diameter and will extend 260ft deep. This is quite literally a world first for this scale of development and as the construction progresses, it will serve as the hub of future expansion, offering this sustainable energy source to more people, as the city develops.

The Well is an enormous design collaboration involving seven separate architecture firms. BDP was responsible for all the retail elements and glazed canopy including the concept lighting, internal landscaped areas and interiors of the public areas with a brief to design for an urban community, not a cookie cutter mall! The result is a multi-level urban streetscape like no other that has delivered unique individualism whilst being rooted in the particular King West context.

More stories from The Big Conversation

Not all projects are like this… but they should be

The sustainable design of The Entopia Building in Cambridge has set the built environment industry on a new path.Lucy Townsend

Heatherwood Hospital: one year on

The new Heatherwood Hospital in Ascot is having a positive impact on the region, a year after it was officially opened. Sean Woodhead

Revitalising history: the Super Slow Way

A post-industrial canal corridor in Lancashire is set to be transformed into a dynamic new linear park.Darrell Wilson

Design is a force for good

As the world grapples with defining socially progressive architecture in the 21st century, Isabelle Priest examines its relevance and the need for renewed commitment to the common good.Isabelle Priest
See all stories