When L.C. (Sandi) Pei and his colleagues at Manhattan’s Pei Partnership ARCHITECTS were given the commission to design 2221 YONGE, Russell Masters, the VP of Tower Hill, gave them a free hand with one caveat: He didn’t want another one of those ubiquitous glass boxes that seem to be everywhere.
Taking those marching orders as gospel, L.C. (Sandi) Pei delivered the antithesis of a box. Instead, 2221 YONGE is a slender elegant pentagonal tower that sits askew from a six-storey podium which is totally integrated into the busy Yonge/Eglinton streetscape.
Pei is quick to point out, this unique structure emerged from the demands of the site itself, as well as from ideas that he and his team picked up while researching Toronto’s modernist towers from the 1960s.
For Pei, 2221 YONGE is actually two buildings: the six storey podium and the fifty-storey tower. Situated in the middle of a busy block, the architects believed it was vital to extend the street wall on Yonge, so they decided the best solution was a simple clean box that at grade provides for a grand entrance to the condominium and some retail as well. On the east side of the building, they created an additional entranceway with a grand porte-cochere for auto drop-offs and entry to the underground garage. Bridging the east and Yonge Street entrances is 2221 YONGE’s magnificent lobby which has a stunning glass-enclosed garden as its focal point. If the podium’s role is to relate seamlessly to its Yonge Street site, it is the soaring slender tower that will give the condominium its unique and singular presence on the mid-town skyline. And here, again, its five-side pentagonal shape was a response to the site. Among the designers’ chief concerns was to maximize the views for all residents, so they decided to angle the south side of the building away from its neighbour. The north side retains its even façade. 2221 YONGE’s unique shape is also an expression of the way the designers decided to “marry” the podium and tower on the seventh floor, which is the location of the complex’s two-storey high amenity space. To create a distinct sense of separation between 2221 YONGE’s two elements—the podium and tower—and to create interesting pockets of outdoor recreation space, the tower sits askew from the six storey podium, a decision that further enhances the slender profile of the tower on its north and south sides.
“We really wanted to accentuate the difference between the two because it would add to the sculptural quality of the building, wide and expansive on its south and north facades, thin and lithe on its east and west sides,” observes Pei. “The fact that we twisted, or canted the south façade a little bit, created a secondary geometry that’s different from the podium’s and helps give the building its unique shape.” But 2221 YONGE’s exquisitely sculptural shape is only one of its distinguishing characteristics; the other is the building’s unique skin, a series of glass and precast cantilevered balconies that continuously wraparound around the building. And the pedigree of the idea is distinctly Torontonian. At the beginning of the project Pei was shown a number of Toronto apartment buildings from the 1960s that used balconies as an integral part of the structure, in particular the Tower Hill complex at Spadina Road and St. Clair Avenue West. “Those balconies weren’t added on as an afterthought, they actually expressed the building,” says Pei, “and we wanted to capture some of that spirit.” They succeeded, brilliantly. Unquestionably, 2221 YONGE’s expressive balconies give the building its singular look. They are what you “read” from the street--because the windows, themselves, are set back from the balconies. L.C. (Sandi) Pei further determined that the balconies could be “a modulation device” to give the façade animation and personality. That was achieved by designing a unique balcony balustrade with alternating precast and glass sections, thereby creating zones of privacy and transparency on the south face of the building. The spacing of the solid and clear tabs changes from one floor to the next in three floor sequences, which results in the façade “reading” from the street like a Morse Code path. Not only is the result uber cool, it gives the facade, as Pei suggests, “a very animated expression.”