United Building exterior. (Photo: Davpart Inc.)
An iconic heritage building that once housed Maclean-Hunter Publishing at a prime intersection in downtown Toronto is undergoing a transformation into a mixed-use office and condominium tower.
The new structure, called the United Building, is being built at Dundas Street West and University Avenue. It is the tallest architectural heritage retention development and retrofit venture in North America.
Planning Behind It
The existing building served as the original headquarters for Maclean Hunter Publishing from 1910 until the 1980s. The works on publications like Maclean’s Magazine, Chatelaine and The Financial Post took place there.
The developer, Davpart Inc., intends to retain and enhance the exteriors of the two buildings located on-site. The facades will be shored up for the demolition of the interiors. Then, the site will be excavated and built up again.
The United Building will feature commercial and retail space from the ground to the 10th floor and new residences above the heritage structure.
“The United is a realization of our vision,” Davpart president and CEO David Hofstedter said in a statement. “It’s a massive undertaking which started within the context of preserving and restoring the existing building. The complexities are enormous, and it has taken lots of teamwork and patience to make it happen.
“The existing structure is an example of a commercial building from the interwar era and is the result of many bold design influences, from Beaux-Arts to Modern Classical. While restoring the exterior, we will complete the interior to the highest standard of contemporary office and retail available today, so their current uses can continue.”
Davpart purchased the 225,000-square-foot building in 2012 as an income property and developed new plans for it in 2019.
Construction work on the venture began last September with a shovel-in-the-ground event. VIPs ceremonially took down a wall of stacked blocks, signifying the start of interior demolition of the development.
Sales and marketing of the project are now underway. When completed, the 55-storey building will have 759 residential units and a number of bells and whistles, including a reflection pool, fitness centre, Zen garden and indoor pet spa. The 180-metre-tall building will have studios to three-bedroom penthouses and double-storey sky townhouses, along with 39,000 square feet of retail space.
The residential units will have an entrance on 88 Centre St., while a door at 481 University will lead to the offices and retail. There will be three levels of underground parking.
Construction of the project is challenging—the foundations of the existing structures will be kept while the cores of the buildings will be removed in order to excavate the site. The first structure has a 1930s Gothic design, while the other is a mid-century modern stone tower.
The new design preserves both the elements from the 1928 building and a 1961 expansion. The original nine-storey limestone base will be remediated, and the historically significant facade will be restored. Windows will be recreated in a historically accurate manner, and the tracery of the original lead panel spandrels will be replicated. The building’s distinctive tower mass will be set back and broken into two elegant slim forms. The structure will also tap into a deep lake water cooling system that pumps chilled water from Lake Ontario to buildings downtown.
The United Building is expected to be ready for occupancy in 2026. B+H Architects is the lead designer on the project, with ERA Architects as heritage specialists. The building is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and listed on the City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties.
The first structure at the site was a three-storey concrete office and plant developed in 1910. Maclean Publishing built a new office on the site in 1914, and a printing plant was added five years later.
The building was expanded over the years and eventually covered a city block. Each new expansion mirrored the architectural designs of the time.
In 1958, a Canadian sculptor Elizabeth Wyn Wood was commissioned to create bas-reliefs on the theme of communications. They adorned the north and south entrance pavilions.
At one time, the buildings were the epicentre of news and views as Maclean’s was once the largest company of its type in the British Empire.