Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Toronto’s Answer to Hudson Yards Looks a Lot Like a Mall

The canopy at The Well, Toronto. Photo courtesy RioCan.

Friction is the enemy of shopping. Out of stock, out of your size, check another department. Go upstairs, go downstairs, go to the other store. Can’t find a sales associate, can’t find an open register. More recently, closed anchors and empty storefronts have emerged as obstacles to the trance-like state that retail stores hope to induce in consumers. There’s even a name for this effect: the Gruen transfer, after Victor Gruen, the father of the shopping mall.

But the first point of friction for any retail establishment is simply getting them in the door. Revolving or slider? Heavy or light? Push or pull? Neither shopper nor seller likes being embarrassed by a portal.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I walked up to The Well — a seven-building mixed-use retail, residential and office development in the heart of Toronto — and found it had no front door at all. I walked under the boxy overhang of the project’s sole office tower (1.2 million square feet) and into a 36-foot-tall forest of fat concrete columns. Beneath my feet the pavement changed from a concrete grid to a dappled pattern of smaller granite blocks, opening into a 320,000-square-foot retail space enclosed by a German-engineered glass canopy three stories up.