Much like Bloomingdale’s art deco stamp on the iconography of NYC, department stores can often offer unique senses of “place” in a city. The luxury Canadian retailer, Holt Renfrew, enlisted global design and architecture firm Gensler to help achieve that goal with a new facade for its flagship location in Toronto. Situated on the prominent Bloor Street, the site is actually five separate buildings that offer 190,000 square feet of retail space. With over 260 feet of street frontage—nearly the entire city block—the new limestone paneled facade creates a linear texture that encapsulates a timeless identity.
Gensler worked closely with two suppliers to realize the new limestone facade, reminiscent of the converted houses that exist throughout the surrounding Yorkville neighborhood. Franken-Schotter, a German company that produces Jura limestone and dolomite, provided the dewy, white facade panels and is well known for supplying the tallest natural stone building in Kuwait as well as assembled elements of 35 Hudson Yards. “With the stone supplier being in Germany, we had the chance to visit and see their quarry and the factory where they fabricate these extremely accurate pieces. Seeing how they work with the stone allowed us to change the design, making the stone shapes more complex to solve some of the design challenges,” said Steven Paynter, principal out of Gensler’s Toronto office. The supplier’s Linea anchoring system consists of a series of factory-produced vertical rails that the stone clips onto.
Given the size of the building, the design team wanted a mix of patterned textures to wrap the envelope but found it critical that sequences did not repeat frequently. This was challenging because, at the same time, creating too many variations can almost certainly ensure mistakes or an increased budget. Gensler was able to land on sizes consisting of three different heights with 71 different lengths for a combination of 213 unique limestone panel shapes. This was achieved through dozens of digital tests and close collaboration with the stone quarry to produce special corners and parapets that made individual pieces stronger.
The second supplier they worked with, Stadia, was key to the seamless installation of the thin glazing units at the entrance and cafe on the ground floor. Stainless steel connections in the glass allow for the signage to appear to float, further unifying Holt Renfrew’s brand into an elegant visual presence. After nine months of drawing and collaboration with manufacturers, the design team checked in with a facade consultant, RWDI. “At Gensler, we have a wealth of experience in facade design, especially around these high-quality rainscreen and glazing systems. That allowed us to complete the design and construction drawings for the entire facade before having it peer-reviewed by RWDI as a final check before moving ahead. Given the complexity of what we were trying to achieve and the refinement of the details, this second set of eyes gave the team the confidence we needed to move forward,” said Paynter.
3D modeling was carefully coordinated across the stone supplier and contractor, Govan Brown, so no detail was overlooked. The design team reviewed thousands of archived drawings from the ’50s to the ’70s of the original construction of the buildings in order to produce extremely accurate models. Luckily, only one existing beam was unexpectedly out of place, which allowed the store to remain operational throughout the 18 months of phased construction. In a year where retail was taken on a rollercoaster ride like no other, Holt Renfrew’s modernized face was able to weather through and unify its retail presence.