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Mirvish + Gehry = Bold Vision
“I am not building condominiums. I am building three sculptures for people to live in."

David Mirvish, left, and Frank Gehry overlooking a model of their proposed development. Photo by Bert Archer.

After news went out this past weekend that David Mirvish had decided to tear down the Princess of Wales Theatre, which he built to house Miss Saigon in 1993, and replace it with three 80-85-storey condo towers designed by Frank Gehry, there was some blowback.

We have hundreds of condo towers — almost 200 under construction right now, in fact — and very few theatres. The design looks like scraps of paper, garbage. Mirvish is cashing in on the condo boom and selling out his father’s heritage.

One bit of that is true: Mirvish is obviously cashing in on the condo boom. But hearing him speak this morning at the AGO press conference assembled to counter these early reactions, it didn’t sound like he was selling anything out.

“I am interested in the theatre, I am interested in art, and I’m interested in architecture,” he said from the podium in front of an early model of the proposed towers.

He started by reminding everyone that he was Honest Ed’s son, but that he was not Honest Ed, that he told his father in 1986 that he could probably run theatres better than dad could, that he left the retail arts to his father, and that he’s spent much of his life travelling the world, looking at paintings.

“I am not building condominiums,” Mirvish said. “I am building three sculptures for people to live in.

“I’m interested in saying who we are as people through architecture,” he said a little later in his pretty eloquent talk, “and on that basis, I went to Frank Gehry.”

Then he introduced Gehry, who also reminded us of his homey Toronto heritage before talking about the design, which is three towers on two six-storey podiums that will accommodate a 60,000 square foot gallery for Mirvish’s art collection. “We hope to deliver a streetscape that is evocative of old Toronto,” Gehry says, “and creates excitement and activity around the centre piece, which is David’s gallery.”

The AGO’s third-floor Baillie Court was packed with reporters and the occasional luminary, like artist Frank Stella. Even if the condo market continues to soften, the crowd, the developer and the architect are indications that these towers may still do okay.

If city council approves the proposal, the complex will also have some space for the Ontario College of Art and Design.

View from the southwest, Courtesy of Gehry International Inc.


Bert Archer writes for Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter: @bertarcher.

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