Don Mills Redevelopment Project

New Garden City

The rede­vel­op­ment of the Don Mills Cen­tre is the first of its kind in the GTA. A water­shed mall rede­vel­op­ment project, it test­ed our abil­i­ty to skill­ful­ly re-con­cep­tu­al­ize the exist­ing sub­ur­ban shop­ping mall into a mul­ti-faceted, inclu­sive, mixed-use expe­ri­ence. Via plan­ning and archi­tec­tur­al inno­va­tion, the aim is to trans­form the exist­ing typol­o­gy into a new mod­el of hybridized and lay­ered urban and sub­ur­ban orders. The result is a prece­dent set­ting planned com­mu­ni­ty locat­ed 11 kilo­me­ters from down­town Toron­to.

Community consulation with community members
Com­mu­ni­ty con­sul­ta­tion with com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers.

Designed in 1952 to be a self-suf­fi­cient ‘new town’, Don Mills was a man­i­fes­ta­tion of Ebenez­er Howard’s Gar­den City con­cept deeply root­ed in mid-cen­tu­ry mod­ernist ide­ol­o­gy. Orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived as an out­door mall, Don Mills Cen­tre quick­ly became a pop­u­lar retail des­ti­na­tion, expand­ing to include Canada’s first sub­ur­ban depart­ment store in 1961. The open-air mall was a key com­po­nent of the cen­tral block in Don Mills ‘gar­den city’ which includ­ed all pub­lic ameni­ties such as: a free­stand­ing curl­ing rink, a movie the­atre, and an ice rink. It has act­ed as a cen­tral gath­er­ing place for Don Mills res­i­dents for gen­er­a­tions.

Gar­den City by Ebenez­er Howard, 1898

Like oth­ers of its kind, over time the long-enclosed mall sur­round­ed by asphalt park­ing lots lost its major retail anchor, the curl­ing rink, and movie the­ater, mak­ing it a prime can­di­date for revi­tal­iza­tion. Hav­ing dis­pensed with oth­er sim­i­lar “B” lev­el malls, Cadil­lac Fairview reserved this one to cre­ate a new retail-focused devel­op­ment mod­el. After trav­el­ling across North Amer­i­ca to study about 30 new retail/mixed-use devel­op­ments, our job was to cre­ate a new orig­i­nal – one that embraced the ele­ments of our win­ter city in the mid-cen­tu­ry con­text of Don Mills. The scheme intro­duces a mixed-use res­i­den­tial typol­o­gy to the site with its new out­door retail com­po­nent uti­liz­ing crit­i­cal design ele­ments such as: a pub­lic square, a high-street, cul­tur­al and leisure ameni­ties, and pedes­tri­an-scaled lay­ered urban devis­es.

The new­ly con­ceived Don Mills Cen­tre final­ly com­pletes the vision of con­nec­tiv­i­ty to the ‘gar­den city’ that sur­rounds it sev­en­ty years lat­er, with a whole new inten­si­ty and con­tem­po­rary spir­it. The ‘new town’ orig­i­nal prin­ci­pals of con­nect­ing the four neigh­bour­hood quad­rants, apply­ing the prin­ci­pals of mod­ernism in a con­tem­po­rary set­ting, devel­op­ing a green­belt link­ing a sys­tem of neigh­bour­hood parks, and inte­grat­ing indus­try into the com­mu­ni­ty for res­i­dents to live and work in the same neigh­bour­hood are now knead­ed into the 21st C. vision of Don Mills Cen­tre. Per­haps the one 1950’s pre­cept that we invert rather than embrace is the strat­e­gy to sep­a­rate vehi­cles from pedes­tri­ans with a ring road that iso­lates the car-cen­tric Don Mills Cen­tre from its sur­round­ing, pedes­tri­an-cen­tric quad­rants.

The new con­cept now depends on the mall turned inside out as an out­door expe­ri­ence root­ed firm­ly in a pedes­tri­an nar­ra­tive with deep canopies, gen­er­ous side­walks, lay­ered por­ti­coes, and green squares with ice rinks in win­ter and foun­tains in sum­mer, all infused with prece­dent-set­ting inten­si­ty of mixed uses in an ex-urban mod­el that now cre­ative­ly struc­tures park­ing while main­tain­ing acces­si­bil­i­ty.

The design incor­po­rat­ed tran­si­tion­al spaces between indoors and out­doors, form­ing a new sym­bol­ic rela­tion­ship between the her­itage and con­tem­po­rary defin­ing ele­ments of the site which lay­ers a sceno­graph­ic mas­ter plan of res­i­den­tial, indus­tri­al, com­mer­cial, recre­ation­al, and insti­tu­tion­al uses into the Gar­den City plan.

The design team was deter­mined to inte­grate the Don Mills Cen­tre with the rest of icon­ic Don Mills, with improve­ments to pedes­tri­an street con­nec­tions, sig­nif­i­cant land­scap­ing and green­ing of the site, and com­mu­ni­ty ameni­ties. While respect­ing the char­ac­ter and sig­nif­i­cance of the orig­i­nal mod­ern archi­tec­ture, the new image for the cen­ter was designed to be con­sis­tent­ly con­tem­po­rary and time­less.

Leaf embossed con­crete block.

Key to our design approach is the long term ‘chess game’ of strate­gic phas­ing that saw to cre­ate a frame­work where the cen­ter of the site is built first along with a series of open pub­lic spaces to allow retail-dri­ven mixed use to be built and enjoyed as soon as pos­si­ble. These lived com­mer­cial and col­lec­tive spaces are then lever­aged in the sec­ond phase to intro­duce a res­i­den­tial-dri­ven mixed use allow­ing a gen­tle nur­tur­ing of select sub­ur­ban orders into urban ones.

Key to our design approach is the long term ‘chess game’ of strate­gic phas­ing that saw to cre­ate a frame­work where the cen­tre of the site is built first along with a series of open pub­lic spaces to allow retail-dri­ven mixed use to be built and enjoyed as soon as pos­si­ble. These lived com­mer­cial and col­lec­tive spaces are then lever­aged in the sec­ond phase to intro­duce a res­i­den­tial-dri­ven mixed use allow­ing a gen­tle nur­tur­ing of select sub­ur­ban orders into urban ones.

Phase I: The first phase was a large-scale urban infill project replac­ing the out­dat­ed indoor shop­ping cen­ter with a 38.5‑acre out­door mixed-use devel­op­ment. As Design Archi­tect for this phase, which opened in Spring 2009, GPA led the effort for Shops at Don Mills to set a new stan­dard for Cana­di­an retail­ing. It has since estab­lished a live­ly, pedes­tri­an-friend­ly all-sea­son expe­ri­ence.


Pub­lic engage­ment trans­form­ing the built form — the street becomes a host for activ­i­ty.

Phase II: The sec­ond phase of the rede­vel­op­ment expand­ed GPA’s role as Mas­ter Plan Archi­tect for the mixed-use inten­si­fi­ca­tion of the site; as well as Lead Archi­tect for two of its sev­en new res­i­den­tial build­ings – Flaire, and Liv Lofts, which repur­posed a 1970’s Don Mills office build­ing into a new res­i­den­tial mod­el. This phase focused on the design of a large-scale mas­ter­plan, dri­ven by res­i­den­tial inten­si­fi­ca­tion, that scaf­folds and com­ple­ments Shops at Don Mills.

“It’s a renais­sance tak­ing place, there’s no ques­tion about it” Char­la Jones, Globe and Mail

The Don Mills Cen­tre Rede­vel­op­ment project allowed us to test our mul­ti-scaled approach to urban design as a sceno­graph­ic hybrid of exist­ing + new, urban + sub­ur­ban, pic­turesque + axi­al parts that togeth­er define a nar­ra­tive of con­tem­po­rary expe­ri­ence.

Celebrating the new and old with relocated original Don Mills wall art and Douglas Coupland’s Supernova Clock Tower
Relo­cat­ed orig­i­nal Don Mills wall art and Dou­glas Coupland’s Super­no­va Clock Tow­er.

Phase III: In 2015, GPA was engaged once again for Phase III of the Don Mills Rede­vel­op­ment project. This phase involved the ren­o­va­tion and ampli­fi­ca­tion of pub­lic spaces with­in the Shops at Don Mills. The work served to improve the dec­o­ra­tive and cul­tur­al aspects of the pub­lic ameni­ties, as well as to pro­vide bet­ter oppor­tu­ni­ties for pedes­tri­ans to engage with the space.

“All streets include an attrac­tive streetscape, includ­ing the plant­i­ng of street trees, and are designed as local streets with low-speed lim­its to ensure pedes­tri­an safe­ty and to dis­cour­age cut-through traf­fic.” City of Toron­to, 2016

Sev­er­al retail store­fronts under­took façade improve­ments, uti­liz­ing bright­ly col­ored mate­ri­als and con­trast­ing tex­tures like pow­der coat­ed steel fins. A third pedes­tri­an mews was added, rein­forc­ing the walk­a­bil­i­ty of the retail blocks, and pro­vid­ing space for addi­tion­al store­front dis­plays, light­ing, and seat­ing areas. The Parkade was updat­ed with improved wayfind­ing includ­ing a uni­fied col­or-cod­ed sys­tem on the stair­wells, columns, and walk­ways, as well as dec­o­ra­tive light­ing instal­la­tions and our cus­tom-designed pub­lic wall-art in the entry­ways.

Addi­tion­al­ly, steel canopy gate­ways with illu­mi­nat­ed sig­nage were added to the street entrances, cre­at­ing aes­thet­ic uni­ty, and under­scor­ing the des­ti­na­tion expe­ri­ence. Expand­ed planters, new street trees, seat­ing areas, dec­o­ra­tive canopies, and cate­nary light­ing were installed to enhance the ‘out­door liv­ing room’ feel of the main streets, as well as an updat­ed foun­tain in the main square with addi­tion­al seat­ing and a unique infin­i­ty edge water fea­ture. These place­mak­ing improve­ments con­tin­ue to ele­vate the pedes­tri­an expe­ri­ence.

The rede­vel­op­ment of Don Mills has spanned over a decade and has been cel­e­brat­ed by var­i­ous inter­na­tion­al award pro­grams and pub­li­ca­tions. It was pre­vi­ous­ly award­ed the ICSC Award for Inno­v­a­tive Design and Devel­op­ment of a New Retail Project, as well as the Gold Urban Design Award by the Design Exchange. Fea­tured in Cana­di­an Archi­tect, Globe and Mail, Toron­to Star, Design­lines, and many more, Don Mills is a tes­ta­ment to GPA’s inven­tive approach to the inte­gra­tion of urban design, build­ing design, and the ele­ments that define pub­lic space. Its lessons have sig­nif­i­cant­ly informed our diverse port­fo­lio of mul­ti-scale inten­si­fi­ca­tion projects.

Project Facts

  • Client

    Cadil­lac Fairview Cor­po­ra­tion Ltd.

  • Location

    Don Mills, Toron­to, Ontario

  • Size

    37 Acres, +1500 Units, +500,000 sq.ft com­mer­cial

  • Status


  • Affiliate Architect

    Design Archi­tect — Gian­none Pet­ri­cone Asso­ciates
    in col­lab­o­ra­tion with WZMH Archi­tects and Rudy Adlaf, Cadil­lac Fairview Cor­po­ra­tion

    Archi­tect of Record — WZMH Archi­tects

  • Sub-Consultant Team

    Land­scape — Quinn Design Asso­ciates Inc.

  • Renderings

    Norm Li

  • Photography

    Indus­try­ous Pho­tog­ra­phy
    A Frame
    Harold Clark Pho­tog­ra­phy

  • Artist / Graphics

    Dou­glas Cou­p­land