Richard Johnson; richardjohnson.ca
Located in Toronto’s financial district, 81 Bay St. reaches 49 stories above the corner of Bay Street and Lake Shore Boulevard and will link to a complementing 50-story tower, 141 Bay St., via an elevated park spanning a rail corridor.

CIBC Square offers a platinum development model for the future

March 14, 2023
Developed by Ivanhoé Cambridge and Hines, the 3 million-square-foot development includes the 49-story tower, 81 Bay St., which recently earned SmartScore Platinum recognition.

Location is everything. In Toronto’s bustling financial district, just north of the elevated Gardiner Expressway and less than a kilometer from Lake Ontario and the CN Tower, a massive two-tower office complex and transit hub is being positioned as a model for public transit integration. Developed by Ivanhoé Cambridge and Hines, CIBC Square is a 3 million-square-foot development that includes the completed 49-story 81 Bay St. tower to the south, the 50-story 141 Bay St. tower under construction to the north, and a 1-acre elevated park that will cap an existing rail corridor between the towers.

Fully leased as of September 2021 by the likes of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Microsoft Canada, Boston Consulting Group, and AGF Investments, 81 Bay St. has earned a LEED Platinum Core & Shell certification, Well Health-Safety rating, and a Smart Score Platinum rating, establishing it as “one of the smartest and most engaging environments to work in the world,” according to an October 2022 press briefing. To date, fewer than 40 buildings worldwide have achieved SmartScore Platinum recognition, putting the south tower in rare company.

The striking mirrored glass and steel tower, designed by London-based WilkinsonEyre Architects and locally based architect of record Adamson Associates Architects, also hosts the newly built Union Station Bus Terminal and connects to other areas of Union Station, which serves 300,000 commuters daily as a hub for regional GO Transit trains and buses, Via Rail intercity routes, the Union Pearson Express to the city’s international airport, and a Toronto Transit Commission subway station.

The tower is loaded with amenities: a tenant fitness center with a spin studio and massage therapy services; more than 500 bicycle parking spaces with dedicated showers and change rooms for cyclists; and a suite of restaurants, retail, and conference spaces. A glass-walled pedestrian bridge over Bay Street, enlivened by a dendritelike network of white LED tubes by Montreal-born artist Nicolas Baier, links the tower to Scotiabank Arena, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey team.

Scheduled for completion in 2024, 141 Bay St. similarly will provide pedestrian access to Union Station and Toronto's largely underground PATH walkway, which the project extends south of the rail corridor. “What is most unique about this particular project is that it provides—maybe for the first time in Toronto's history—a 3 million-square-foot urban campus in the heart of the downtown central business district,” says Alex Richter, associate principal at Adamson Associates.

Smart building kudos

Structurally, CIBC Square was designed to be visually distinctive and materially efficient, says WilkinsonEyre director Dominic Bettison. Slight folds in the towers’ expressive 3D façades accentuate the play of light against 12-story-high diamond patterns in the glass. Nine- to 10-meter column grids in the steel and concrete core carry loads down to the underground parking garage. Finally, because 141 Bay St. overhangs the rail corridor and the south perimeter columns cannot be anchored below ground, a cantilevered steel cable system directs building loads to the structural core. “The core of the building actually becomes the crash wall of the rail corridor,” Bettison says.

The team’s approach to the project’s ICT infrastructure took cues from SmartScore, a certification standard developed in 2021 by New York–based real estate consultancy WiredScore. Designed to recognize and promote technologically advanced buildings, the standard is a more stringent, user-focused evolution of the company’s WiredScore certification, says Mike St. Cyr, head of Canadian markets at WiredScore.

“SmartScore focuses on the impact of smart technology on the users of a building, whereas WiredScore focuses purely on the digital infrastructure of the asset,” St. Cyr explains. “While they work in parallel, they are independent rating schemes; the vast majority of SmartScore buildings are also WiredScore certified buildings.”

The scorecard of 54 criteria, developed in collaboration with more than 100 global real estate companies, assesses buildings on their user functionality and technological foundations. At a high level, the standard is intended to encourage buildings that “deliver an exceptional user experience, drive cost efficiency, meet high standards of sustainability, and are fully future-proof,” the SmartScore website states. Essentially, it approaches the experiences of tenants much like software teams approach users in product development models.

In some ways, SmartScore is a response to recent debate among developers and technologists about what a smart building is and should be. Projects such as Quayside, a $900 million development plan by Google subsidiary Sidewalk Labs for a 12-acre neighborhood in Toronto, have been derailed by privacy concerns—that plan called for “an extensive digital layer to monitor everything from street crossings to park bench usage,” according to a report in MIT Technology Review. Meanwhile, certifying organizations are increasingly recognizing that tenant productivity, health and well-being, and safety should be at the center of any smart building project.

“The future of the built environment is smart,” observe the authors of an April 2021 white paper on the SmartScore standard. “Not implementing technology for technology’s sake, but the result of a conversation amongst tenants, owners, and technologists focused on the outcomes that the users of buildings actually want.”

At CIBC Square, that high-minded focus is evident in small touches. For example, 12 back-lit, glass-encased paintings of a northern boreal forest by artist Steve Driscoll were commissioned for the south tower’s ground floor lobby and The Canopy, the fourth-floor sky lobby.

The reach and reliability of the project’s internet and power supply allow credentialed workers and guests to access public and private Wi-Fi throughout the complex—whether that’s at a bench in the elevated park or one of the building’s cafés. As Charlie Musgrave, now Ivanhoé Cambridge’s vice president of office and life science leasing, said in a June 2021 interview with Storeys, the connectivity is beneficial not just for end user productivity, but also for their health and well-being as they can stretch their legs or change their surroundings during work.

CIBC Square is notable, St. Cyr says, for its tenant app mySQ, which connects users to digital maps of building amenities, a centralized building management system that monitors energy consumption, water use, and air quality, and safeguards against IoT threats. Foundational to these capabilities is a redundant network of fiber-optic cables that emerge from street-level connections to telecom provider networks, up risers on opposing building elevations, and into separate control rooms, where facility managers monitor tower systems and performance.

This fiber-optic infrastructure, which Cornish calls “the first step in the pyramid of developing a smart building,” also serves as the communication backbone for a raft of high-performance systems: condensed boilers, high-efficiency chillers, waterside economizers, enthalpy recovery wheels, premium efficiency motors, low-flow plumbing fixtures, high-efficiency MERV 14 filters, microbe- and mold-monitoring, and touchless washroom fixtures. Together, these intelligent systems reduce water use significantly and contribute to a 59% reduction in carbon emissions over comparable buildings in Toronto, and a 39% energy cost reduction over the ASHRAE 90.1 baseline, Richter says.

The structured cabling system also lays the groundwork for an intelligent lighting control system that modulates luminaire levels of Acuity Brand LED fixtures located throughout 81 Bay St.’s leasable space. Equipped with built-in occupancy sensors, the fixtures can be programmed by building managers to dim or brighten based on daylight and occupancy levels, Cornish says. The fixtures also have Li-Fi (light fidelity wireless optical networking) capabilities. By strobing at light frequencies about 10,000 times that of radio waves—which a cellphone camera can detect but not by the human eye—the LED sources transmit high-speed (1 to 20 Gbps) bidirectional positional data that can be used for precise indoor positioning.

The digital connectivity that makes such wizardry possible, however, would mean little without the public transit connectivity to make the lives of occupants and end users easier.

A long way to here

Beginning in 2007, a series of master plan studies by Adamson Associates revealed the acquisition of the former Metrolinx bus station and its air rights could create the space needed for an urban campus with unobstructed views of the north, vehicular and pedestrian connectivity, and crucially, a direct, covered pedestrian route to Union Station and the waterfront, Richter says. In 2013, WilkinsonEyre was tapped as design architect following an international competition. To carry out the architecture firm’s vision of two connected towers,  Ivanhoé Cambridge purchased Metrolinx’s former terminal at 141 Bay St. in exchange for a 99-year lease on the parcel, where a new, smarter bus terminal inside 81 Bay St. would be built.

Air rights, formerly held by Metrolinx, gave the design team license to move forward with what may be the project’s architectural masterstroke: a 1-acre landscaped terrace, known as The Park, that will connect the towers and “create a piece of public realm that lifts people above the rail system,” says WilkinsonEyre director Dominic Bettison. Accessible from the buildings’ fourth floors, the undulating park will be programmed with outdoor markets and a seasonal ice rink, with the added benefit of dampening noise from the underlying rail corridor and enriching the sweeping views from the towers.

While structurally designed to provide clearance for the trains running beneath it, the deck on which the park rests is also future-proofed for electrification, says Eric Cornish, executive vice president of Mulvey & Banani International, the local engineering firm that advised the team on the project’s electrical infrastructure.

In operation since 1921, Toronto’s streetcar system is the busiest light-rail system in North America. It runs on a system of overhanging catenary wires that provide power to the cars. In April 2019, to address rapid growth along the waterfront, Toronto’s city council approved a plan for expanding the underground Waterfront East LRT (light rail transit) network from Union Station to the foot of Bay Street, continuing along Queens Quay to the Distillery Loop on Cherry Street. Mulvey & Banani helped ensure The Park’s superstructure is grounded, so that if the catenary wires “ever break or come in contact with the park structure,” passersby will be safe.

The new two-level Union Station Bus Terminal, meanwhile, combines smart planning and intelligent dispatch technology to expedite service and reduce carbon emissions, Richter says: “We’ve given the city a new bus terminal in a much more connected way. You literally walk from Union Station, in a covered environment, to each of the towers, which lead directly into the bus terminal.” Located in the podium of the south tower on the northeast corner of Bay Street and Lake Shore Boulevard, the terminal contains 14 bus bays—twice as many as the former station—and stages departures and arrivals on different levels to reduce wait times and ease boarding.

A terminal management system designed by Mulvey & Banani and locally headquartered engineering and planning firm Arcadis IBI Group dynamically assigns buses to available bays through ceiling sensors and software algorithms that triage buses based on real-time customer counts through camera and gate monitors. Glass gate doors separate the waiting area from platforms to prevent unauthorized access.

As part of the project, the team also redesigned and refurbished the Bay East Teamway. Once leaking and poorly conditioned, the newly opened tunnel cuts beneath the rail corridor to offer arriving train passengers a walking route to Bay Street or Union Station. Recast with the clean, hard-surfaced finishes of a modern airport concourse, the roughly 100-meter-long corridor includes digital signs that apprise commuters of the time and location of upcoming connections. These signs also appear in the bus terminal, yet another example of the project’s attention to user-focused digital integration.

“It represents the next generation of integrated development, bringing to this part of the city a vibrant new public realm,” Bettison says. “It means that the office worker, on their commute into Toronto, can get off the train and glide into their office space above in a seamless way. Then, in the evening we're trying to make the development an interesting addition to the city—a 24-hour piece of the city.”

Sidebar: CIBC Square smart facts

  • CIBC Square leads Toronto in the largest reduction of greenhouse gas emissions citywide, and energy cost consumption is well under LEED and ASHRAE requirements. The buildings contain smart metering technology that monitors real-time energy consumption and provides a feedback loop for conservation initiatives.
  • In support of eco-friendly methods of transportation and sustainability, 20% of parking stalls include dedicated electric vehicle charging stations.
  • The project achieved a 39% energy cost reduction over the ASHRAE 90.1 baseline and a 59% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over comparable buildings in Toronto.
  • Ventilation systems utilizing MERV-14 filters ensure clean and high-quality indoor air, while incorporating opportunities for future improvements, such as accommodating additional carbon filters.
  • High-efficiency water filters, regular monitoring, rainwater collection, and treatment not only reduce water consumption by more than 40% but eliminate harmful and unwanted pollutants.
  • Floor plates have been designed to maximize daylight and outdoor views while reducing energy consumption via the buildings’ high-performance glazing.
  • The Park, a 1-acre public space, sits four stories above street level and spans the rail corridor, providing an open space with landscaping, seating, and a view out to the Toronto skyline.

CIBC Square Project Credits

Address: 81 – 141 Bay Street, Toronto, Ontario

Height: 81 Bay St., 792 feet (241 meters); 141 Bay St., 780 feet (238 meters)

Stories: 81 Bay St., 50 stories; 141 Bay St., 49 stories

Developer: Hines, Ivanhoé Cambridge

Builder: EllisDon

Design Architect: WilkinsonEyre Architects

Architect of Record: Adamson Associates Architects

Landscape Architect: Public Work

Building Materials: Doka Canada

Commissioning: Isotherm Engineering

Engineering: Arcadis IBI Group, Mulvey & Banani International, RJC Engineers, The Mitchell Partnership, Grounded Engineering, LRI Engineering Inc., AJW Engineering, Rebar Enterprises

HVAC: SPX Cooling Technologies

Kitchen & Bathroom: American Standard (part of Lixil Canada Inc.)

Planning: Urban Strategies Inc.

Plumbing: Dobbin Sales

Realtor/Sales: Cushman & Wakefield

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About the Author

Jeff Link

Jeff Link is an award-winning writer based in Chicago. His work has appeared in Fast Company and Dwell, among other publications. Follow him on X @JeffJefflink.

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