Gensler upgrades Holt Renfrew’s Toronto flagship store

To re-establish themselves on Toronto’s premiere shopping street, Holt Renfrew sought to design a facade that would give their store a unified presence and represent their iconic brand.

With a flagship store located on one of the most expensive shopping streets in downtown Toronto, Holt Renfrew engaged Gensler to upgrade their window displays and disjointed facade to create a strong, unified visual presence.

Photo courtesy of Gensler

The first step in the renovation process was to rationalize the store’s entire envelope and devise a strategy to unify the five separate buildings into one presence, so that customers could see how large the store is from the street level. With over 260 feet in street-facing storefront—almost the length of an entire city block—the exterior design needed to be seamless and reflective of Holt Renfrew’s brand.

“One of the greatest challenges of the project was tying the existing five buildings together across 260 feet of street frontage in a way that made them look like a single structure,” said Gensler.

Photo courtesy of Gensler

To achieve this, the team reviewed thousands of archived drawings from the original construction of the buildings, from the 50’s to the 70’s. They then turned all of those drawings into a full 3D digital model which served as the basis for their design.

The team also faced the challenge of designing a facade that was both light and intricate. The existing building was clad in marble that was uninsulated, and the construction assembly attached to the building was worn and corroded. With the various small renovations that occurred over time, there were a variety of errors that caused the building to leak and perform poorly in terms of energy usage.

Photo courtesy of Gensler

The new facade was constructed of limestone that was full of fossils and brings a sense of liveliness and a variation in texture between the stone panels. For the glass elements, which included the replacement of the existing dark and gloomy
window displays and the revitalization of the main entrance, large panels that allowed for minimal joints and no mullions were used. The clear glass allowed ample views into the store that displayed the merchandise inside, and also brought in natural light. The canopy structure above the main entrance is constructed from bronze anodized aluminum and creates a sense of procession on the street level.

“During Design Development, we reviewed the model against the existing building on site constantly, working with the contractor to open up walls and areas of roof to check what we’d seen in the archives actually matched what was on site. This was critical to maintaining the high level of accuracy the design needs to look good,” said Gensler.

Overall, the project took three years and at no point was the operation of the store closed down, with occupants welcomed throughout the duration of the facade’s construction. The result is the unified presence and a modernized facade that situates and establishes Holt Renfrew as a leading luxury department store.