New Ryerson gallery has simple, dynamic design

I wrote an article for Canadian Facilities Management & Design magazine about a new gallery at the Ryerson University Department of Architectural Science building in Toronto.  It is a small but dynamic intervention, designed by Gow Hastings Architects. I hope that these photos of the space entice you to read the article, linked here: https://www.reminetwork.com/articles/ryerson-unveils-simple-but-dynamic-new-gallery/

Paul H. Cocker Architecture Gallery, Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University. Photo by Shai Gil.

Paul H. Cocker Architecture Gallery, Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University, Toronto. Photo by Shai Gil.

Splayed pivot doors at Paul H. Cocker Architecture Gallery, Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University, Toronto. Photo by John Howarth.

Splayed pivot doors at Paul H. Cocker Architecture Gallery, Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University, Toronto. Photo by John Howarth.

2587

Paul H. Cocker Architecture Gallery, Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University, Toronto. Photo by John Howarth.

 

Totem Condos Stacks Up Well Against Average High-Rises

(this is an article I wrote for UrbanToronto)

The poignant nature of the high-rise is to identify itself in the urban skyline. Toronto has developed a tall condominium vernacular of floor-to-ceiling glazing but if you ask many a Torontonian, the city is saturated with much of the same: the generic glass tower that does little to make a positive long-term contribution to the public realm.

Totem Condos is a new residential building downtown by Worsley Urban Partners in conjunction with local architectural practice RAW Design. The 18-storey structure will house 120 units as well as a three-level below-grade parking garage with slots for cars and bicycles. The building has a very compact footprint and uses its space to the maximum, with very little left to waste.

Totem Condos, Worsley Urban Partners, RAW Design

Totem Condos, north elevation, image courtesy of Worsley Urban Partners

RAW continues the evolution of the local condominium architecture with a proposal that sets itself apart from the rest. The building was conceived as a series of glass and dark steel framed boxes, carefully stacked. The eye is drawn skyward as the building’s geometry gently shifts left and right. Small blue ‘fins’ on the south elevation provide some additional visual interest, reflecting light in unique ways, and, when viewed from the interior, creating angled sightlines. In contrast to the sleek surfaces, stone cladding at the base provides texture where the building meets grade.

Lower Manhattan’s award-winning New Museum, a showcase for contemporary art and an icon of urban modernism, inspired the design. Taking cues from the block forms in its surroundings, the Museum stacks seven anodized aluminum mesh-clad rectangular boxes one on top of the other. The shifting of the boxes as they ascend yields a variety of open, fluid, and light-filled internal spaces and gives the building its dramatic shape.

New Museum of Modern Art, Hisao Suzuki, SANAA

New Museum of Modern Art, NYC. Photo: Hisao Suzuki, courtesy of SANAA

The design firm responsible for the branding and marketing of Totem is The Walsh Group – and it’s not your typical ad agency. Under the creative direction of Shakeel Walji, the firm had a strong hand in influencing the built form. “We consult, direct the architect or interior designers working in conjunction with the developer to see what kind of look we want to create. It’s more of a collaborative effort between all parties involved and we like it that way because we feel the product is better, and we feel confident in moving forward in selling.” This sharing of creative control is not always welcome and can rub some team members the wrong way.

But Walji is quick to praise the building’s bold design, saying, “This is a better reading of a point tower in the city compared to most.” He refers to what he finds are all too similar forms in the skyline as a direct result of the need to comply with either mid-rise or high-rise guidelines, which he claims, limit innovation. His criticism is cutting. “The architects spend a lot of time developing the podium on which the building sits, take a coffee break as the building rises, and then there’s a cap at the top. Totem doesn’t have that reading at all.”

Totem Condos, Worsley Urban Partners, RAW Design

Totem Condos, view of northwest corner showing subway entrance, image courtesy of Worsley Urban Partners

Totem is located in ‘the village’ on Dundonald, a leafy street lined with 2- and 3-storey Victorian homes that retains much of its early 20th century appearance as a residential subdivision northeast of Yonge and Wellesley. The site is currently home to the Commercial Travellers’ Association of Canada Building. The 2½-storey structure, built in 1956, was included on the city’s inventory of heritage properties in 2010, acknowledging the cultural heritage value of its Modern design, popular in post-war Toronto. Highly representative of the style, it features a grid of solids and voids with turquoise-hued glazed brick, travertine, aluminum and concreted cladding; façades are organized into bays where concrete piers divide tiers of strip windows with travertine spandrels and panels.

It is separated from the street by a small landscaped courtyard. The original structure will become the base of Totem, adding context, history and texture to the building’s design. Although the prevailing character of Dundonald is composed of low-rise buildings that make up the balance of the streetscape, the scale jumps up: immediately to Totem’s west is the 24-storey brick-clad Continental Tower apartment building from the early ‘70s. Behind it is 22 Condominiums, a glazed 23-storey residential tower at 22 Wellesley St. East by Peter Clewes of architectsAlliance.

Existing building on site of 17 Dundonald Street: Commercial Travelers Association of Canada Building

Existing building on site of 17 Dundonald Street: Commercial Travelers Association of Canada Building

Although City Council has since overturned the office building’s heritage designation, large elements of its modernist façades will be retained and will inform the overall design of the development. Integrated into Totem’s base, the original building will be dismantled and re-built, while above, offset floor plates will cantilever at various levels.

“The City, the TTC (which owns adjacent land), the planners and councillor were very interested to see how we could make this building happen, how we could have a piece of architecture that we could all be proud of,” says Walji. “Our city needs more of this. We should keep elevating the things we offer.”

“When we have architects that develop buildings that are of some stature, that adds to the visual language of our cityscape. It will be more inviting, more tantalizing. NYC is a great example—every corner is like a little gem—it’s memorable.”

Totem Condos, Worsley Urban Partners, RAW Design

Totem Condos, north side showing building entrance and Continental Tower to the right, image courtesy of Worsley Urban Partners

Building form aside, the amenities are pretty swish and, “above and beyond your basics,” notes Walji. The second level will house a gym, a private dining room, and a lounge/bar that opens onto a small exterior space for dining and BBQ.

A roof deck tops the tower and its programming provides the access to outdoors where the building’s mainly small recessed balconies fall short. Residents can enjoy a dining area and lounge with a fire pit and panoramic city views.

The building has a Walk Score of 100 and a large appeal of the location is the access to the Wellesley TTC station. Its street entrance is set in one of the four bays on the north façade, where the building’s main entry was previously situated, under a protective angled canopy. Totem residents can walk through a secured passageway from the main floor lobby directly into the subway station. “This was the biggest selling feature used to entice brokers to investors and buyers”, says Walji “and it’s the first building in Toronto to have it.”

Totem Condos, Worsley Urban Partners, RAW Design

Totem Condos, rooftop terrace, image courtesy of Worsley Urban Partners

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and architectural writer based in Toronto. She can be found at www.stephaniecalvet.com

Mario Ribeiro of Triumph talks Howard Park Residences

(this is an interview I did and article I wrote for UrbanToronto)

UrbanToronto’s Stephanie Calvet sat down with C.E.O. Mario Ribeiro of Triumph Developments to talk about Howard Park Residences, an urban infill project at the intersection of Dundas and Howard Park in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood. The first phase, an 8-storey building (far right)   is under construction. Now the company is bringing its Phase Two western counterpart to the market. They will be joined by a multi-storey linking element, with the common entry and courtyard located between the two.

Looking north towards Howard Park Residences, Phases 1 & 2, image courtesy of Triumph Developments

Looking north towards Howard Park Residences, Phases 1 & 2, image courtesy of Triumph Developments

7401374654_72c472c3d2_b

Photo of existing site – looking northeast from Howard Park Ave. Triumph Developments’ Roncesvalles Lofts project is in the background.

The site, with its odd triangular geometry, was previously home to a service station, aging garages and warehouses (see above). Removing these former industrial activities is an opportunity to tie eclectic Dundas and Roncesvalles Avenues, and to rethink the site as an active part of the public flow with a typology that combines high build density with a commercial program.

RAW Design, a local architecture firm with a portfolio of innovative mid-rise infill projects, crafted the buildings to the site and low-rise residential surroundings, breaking down the scale through massing and detailing. Vegetation that grows on each of its stepped metal terraces at the top floors imparts a softness to the elevation, inextricably part of the ‘look’ of the building that Triumph is committed to providing.

Linking element between Phase 1 (right) and 2 (left), image courtesy of Triumph Developments

Linking element between Phase 1 (right) and 2 (left), image courtesy of Triumph Developments

The project required an amendment to the existing zoning by-law to convert it from industrial to residential and mixed use. How has the project been received by the community?

It was well received. We’ve had no community pushback and lots of support from planners and the councillor. The community asked if commercial space was possible and we integrated that idea into the design.

What sorts of establishments would you like to see occupying the first floor retail/commercial spaces?

We are not looking for large franchises. This is a trendy neighbourhood. We are subdividing the space and hoping to get a variety of small shops, a daycare, maybe a bookstore…

There is more than the typical mix of unit types here. Who is your intended end-user? Is there anything larger than a 2-bedroom plus den?

We have a vast array of styles catered to a lot of different tastes: units tailored to the young professional, units with patios, units for families, including 3- and 4-bedrooms… Our biggest unit is 1400sf. We also have five 2-storey townhomes.

Looking west towards Phase 2 at Howard Park Residences, image courtesy of Triumph Developments

Looking west towards Phase 2 at Howard Park Residences, image courtesy of Triumph Developments

 

 

 

What building amenity program did your team develop that, from your standpoint, is in line with what residents want and need, practically speaking?

Because of the nature of the neighbourhood, there are lots of local amenities within walking distance. To keep construction costs and condo fees down, we provide typical meeting rooms, lounge, a media room, and gym but no pool.

The base building is charcoal-coloured brick and glass and then at the 6th floor, there is a shift both in plan and in exterior cladding. What material is used for the remaining storeys?

It is metal cladding and it goes with the window system. It is also perforated to allow plants to grab onto it.

Incorporating vegetation on the façade will give the building a very interesting presence on the street and from afar. This amount of ‘building green’ is unprecedented in Toronto…

The cascading vines, green roofs and planters will be maintained by the Condo Board as part of the ‘common area’, and not up to each individual owner to maintain. That will keep it looking uniform. There is no stormwater tank but water will be dealt with on site through a combination of stormwater management solutions.

Relative locations of Howard Park and Roncesvalles Lofts by Triumph Developments

Relative locations of Howard Park and Roncesvalles Lofts by Triumph Developments

The site has access to transit (streetcar, subway, one of the stops of the new Union Pearson Express), lots of grade-level bike storage and a great Walk Score. What is the buildings’ parking ratio? Any provision for electrical vehicles?

The parking ratio is around 65-70% suites to parking stalls. At the moment, we’re seeing only 1 out of every 2 units asking for parking and the explanation is that the building is so well serviced by transit. On the other hand, bicycle spots are aplenty and they are in big demand. As for electrical vehicles, that is not final yet. In Phase 2, we provide storage lockers on the upper levels – so that residents have a locker almost across the hall. It became possible because we had to be creative in utilizing the oddly shaped resultant spaces in the core so we located storage lockers and services there.

It is great that parking and service access will be situated along the shared laneway off Howard Park Ave, making the lengthy (650′) Howard streetfront more pedestrian-friendly and accessible for building, townhome and retail entries. Was it a challenge to locate it behind the building?

It might have been easier to situate it between the two buildings but it would have destroyed the look of the complex, and we didn’t want to interrupt the sidewalk. This way it’s off the laneway into Phase 1 and the parking garage under both buildings is all connected.

The building integrates many green initiatives: infill site, brownfield, green roofs, geothermal, stormwater, bike storage, etc. Are you going to take it through the LEED certification process?

Not LEED, although the plaque would look great on the wall! I’ve gone through the process as a trade on other projects and it is painstaking and very difficult administrating all the paperwork. We will comply with Toronto Green Standard Tier 2.

Looking west towards Phase 2 at Howard Park Residences, image courtesy of Triumph Developments

Looking west towards Phase 2 at Howard Park Residences, image courtesy of Triumph Developments

Incorporating geothermal systems (for heating and cooling) in condo building is not common practice in Toronto but the City gives government rebates and interest-free loans to help residential developers ‘go green’. Would you have incorporated it anyways because of the policy of your company or were government financial incentives necessary to make it reach the ROI you were expecting?

We didn’t get any government incentives. We started the process 3 years ago. Geothermal made economic sense in the long term because, if well implemented, it will save on the operation of the building.

Triumph has a keen focus on advancing and promoting sustainability, much like developers like TAS, Minto, and Tridel claim. Any market difference between them and yourselves?

Our scale of projects is smaller. The green initiatives on our buildings are maybe not as cost effective at this scale as Minto would do it. But we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do – that’s the initial motivation – not for marketability reasons.

You have a European background. What aspects of European planning and design would you like to see inform building in Toronto?

Families living in mid-rise buildings is very common in Europe and we don’t see it as much here but I think there is a demand and a trend moving in that direction. I’d like to see buildings inserted into established neighbourhoods so families have access to amenities for their day-to-day, where they can can live and work close by, and people may even be able to go home for lunch. Large courtyard features, shared backyards, schools within walking distance, and several generations living in the same building – these are intimate living examples that I was familiar with. There is a sense of family and unity. We had these ideas in mind for our first project, Roncesvalles Lofts, and they continue to be valid for Howard Park. It is not a 25-storey structure; this is a place that makes sense to have an 8-storey building. It is a ‘community’ where you get to know your neighbours. The project will house 96 units – not a huge amount of people – and it is not intended to be transient with mainly short term rentals. Hopefully people move here and stay for a lifetime.

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and architectural writer based in Toronto. She can be found at www.stephaniecalvet.com

Advancing Green Building Innovation Through Design Charrettes

There’s a wealth of resources available for anyone minded to go the route of sustainable building, including plenty of information, best practices, assessment tools, and precedents. Builders are looking to deliver a practical, marketable and cost effective product. While developing more responsibly may be a goal for some, barriers to changing practices often come down to cost and lack of consumer awareness. Unfortunately, in the reality we currently find ourselves in, the most effective way to encourage sustainable strategies for building projects is through legislation and financial incentives.

Savings By Design (SBD) is one such initiative. The first program of its kind in Canada, SBD was launched in 2012 by Enbridge Gas Distribution in collaboration with Sustainable Buildings Canada (SBC) to facilitate an easier transition to green building innovation. As a key stakeholder, Enbridge’s interest is in total energy savings and therefore it devised a way to help make higher-efficiency performance more attainable to commercial and residential builders by providing funding and support during the design, construction and commissioning stages of projects. It also fulfills a mandate of the Ontario Energy Board.

The overarching goal is that buildings achieve 25% energy savings — or more — over the minimum requirements of the Ontario Building Code (OBC) 2012.

Enbrige-sponsored IDP charrette at Earth Rangers Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Enbrige-sponsored IDP charrette at Earth Rangers Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

What makes the program unique is its collaborative, results-driven, process-based approach. Those enrolled have access to SBC’s broad network of green building experts who collectively evaluate a building proposal in its planning or early schematic phase and whose feedback can significantly improve the outcome of its final design. The methodology that is used is called Integrated Design Process (IDP) and it is focused on designing for the entire building life cycle. It helps builders identify optimal solutions for enhancing energy efficiency, occupant health and ecological benefits through customized workshops.

At the heart of the program is the IDP ‘charrette’, a pivotal full-day activity that brings these building industry professionals together to explore a number of design scenarios in an open discussion forum. It also gives the building team the opportunity to define priorities for improvement and to test those concepts through energy modelling.

UrbanToronto’s Stephanie Calvet recently attended one of these charrettes.

Held at the Earth Rangers Centre in Woodbridge, Ontario, this full-day event gathered a team of individuals with a wide range of expertise – engineers, contractors, building specialists, modelling experts, and independent observers. At the table was the developer/client Great Gulf with a proposal for a large suburban development consisting of 450 homes with a mix of detached and townhome styles.

Prior to the charrette, a Visioning Session between proponents and SBC was held in order to ascertain clients’ sustainability objectives with regards to their project. This initial meeting focuses on aspirations and core purposes and it establishes the goals that ultimately guide the charrette.

'Energy team' charrette participants review energy modelling results. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

‘Energy team’ charrette participants review energy modelling results. Photo by S. Calvet.

Depending on the scale and complexity of a project, participants are organized into teams. In accordance with IDP, the program also considers factors beyond energy efficiency that contribute to building sustainability. For this particular project, two groups were created: the more technical ‘energy team’ focused its efforts on the building envelope and mechanicals (space and water heating); and, the ‘sustainability team’ addressed site strategies and indoor environmental quality.

The objective of the ‘energy team’ is to study a preliminary project design and identify methods for it to meet energy efficiency performance targets. Although many elements contribute to heat loss, the biggest losers are, by far, the windows and walls. Therefore, when considering energy improvements, it is most logical to consider providing the best possible building envelope that meets the budget prior to upgrading mechanical systems.

From the perspective of the developer, the objective is to understand the potential impacts to cost and schedule to exceed the code regulations and other potential energy targets while also meeting the expectations of the buyer, maximizing density and profitability. For residential builders, there is an incentive of up to $2,000 per home (up to a maximum of 50 homes or $100,000) for achieving energy performance 25% better than OBC 2012.

The program requires that the buildings be modelled to show net energy savings.

'Energy team' charrette participants review wall assebly energy modelling results. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

‘Energy team’ charrette participants review wall assebly energy modelling results. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

During the charrette the team examined measures, assemblies and technologies to achieve modelled performance improvements over the benchmark reference (code) building. Assessments were done using BIM software that can model the impacts of the modifications on building environmental performance as they are considered, on the fly, with the SBD real-time model as an evaluation tool. Exterior wall composition was studied in great detail, as were glazing options and the effects of basement full under-slab insulation vs perimeter only. Alternative configurations at a similar cost were also explored, presenting builders with different avenues to meet their criteria.

The incorporation of external shades, LED lighting, programmable thermostats, and Energy Star appliances as potential upgrades was also discussed.

The ‘sustainability team,’ on the other hand, addressed site design approaches such as: water conservation, soil and waste issues, and the benefits of low impact development.

With an emphasis on creating tightly contained buildings to minimize heat loss – a strategy that’s been in place since the 1950s – there has been renewed awareness for the need to improve indoor air quality (IAQ), as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants. Source control, filtration and the use of ventilation to dilute contaminants are the primary methods. Facilitators at the event presented practical guidelines for designing healthful indoor environments (i.e. specify low-VOC products) and suggested strategies for quality control (i.e. seal and protect ductwork during construction).

The team also discussed material options to upgrade durability as well as marketing opportunities for builders exploring the integration of sustainable practices into their brand. Some ways to make the case may include negotiating with suppliers, creating economies of scale, and demonstrating return on investment.

Working sessions continued throughout the afternoon and SBC gave an informative presentation of stormwater management best practices. Participants reconvened at the end of the day for a summary of discussions and a presentation of the modelling findings.

Enbrige-sponsored design charrette held at Earth Rangers Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Enbrige-sponsored design charrette held at Earth Rangers Centre. Photo by S. Calvet.

In conclusion, the builders came away with various options to go forward and were pleased to discover that with slight modifications to the homes’ existing design, exceeding reference energy performance by 25% is well within reach. A final report that summarizes the results of all these efforts will be presented to them.

The charrettes have become a sought-after tool for driving sustainable thinking in the Canadian building industry. Programs like Savings by Design not only incentivize builders to develop more responsibly through financial incentives but they also provide access to a multi-disciplinary team of designers and experts to help them achieve their goals.

For more information on the Savings by Design program, visit the website  http://www.savingsbydesign.ca/

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and architectural writer based in Toronto. She can be found at www.stephaniecalvet.com

Toronto’s Harmony Village Sheppard Offers Boomers Healthy Active Living

(this is an article I wrote for UrbanToronto)

For some time now real estate and aging-related research experts have been predicting the massive sell-off of big homes by baby boomers seeking smaller quarters. With the kids out of the nest and retirement approaching, people are looking to simplify their lives and trim expenses, housing being the major one. This expected downsizing trend has yet to be reflected in national housing data, and many doubt it will become a large enough exodus to affect home prices. Boomers have solid reasons for moving from their existing home, however.

CEO of City Core Developments, Jack Pong, is confident of this demographic shift and his company’s new market research supports his theory. Their online survey polled 508 randomly selected Ontario homeowners 50 years of age and older who are considering purchasing or renting real estate, and it showed that 59 per cent are looking to downsize within 5 years. Top reasons cited were: reducing maintenance work, lowering the cost of living, moving to a smaller home, and increasing their ability to travel more. Many plan to tap home equity to help finance their retirement.

Rendering of Harmony Village Sheppard, image courtesy of City Core Developments

Rendering of Harmony Village Sheppard, image courtesy of City Core Developments

“This approaching wave of downsizing will further boost the condo market, especially for facilities that are offering the upscale comforts and lifestyle communities that Boomers will be demanding,” explains Pong. “This current survey confirms that this demographic places the highest importance on maintaining an independent lifestyle in an urban setting.”

Pong is the developer behind Harmony Village Sheppard, a residential complex planned for today’s baby boom and senior generations in Toronto’s Scarborough district. Now set for public launch, the Page+Steele/IBI Architects’-designed development will consist of two 33-storey towers joined by a shared four-storey podium structure at Sheppard and Warden Avenues. The feel is more traditional than “urban village vibe”, and it is meant to promote an integrated community that offers comfort and convenience.

Living Wall at Harmony Village Sheppard, image courtesy of City Core Developments

Living Wall at Harmony Village Sheppard, image courtesy of City Core Developments

The vision for the project as set forth by its developer was to reach the next generation of seniors by moving beyond what is currently available in the market, and exploring new opportunities to provide a life enriching environment. Harmony Village Sheppard offers a new approach to condo living and is designed to help residents sustain a healthy and physically and socially active lifestyle without having to leave home. The “age-in-place” concept provides a full range of amenities and services people need as they move toward retirement, including on-site home healthcare and full meal plans. Universal design concepts are also built into suites; think lowered light switches, raised electrical outlets, and easy-access shower entrances.

Restaurant at Harmony Village Sheppard, image courtesy of City Core Developments

Restaurant at Harmony Village Sheppard, image courtesy of City Core Developments

The 35,000 sq. ft. indoor amenity space comprises: a state-of-the-art aquatic centre; multiple dining venues including a fine dining restaurant and cappuccino bar; entertainment room; library; and, full service beauty salon. On-site year-round leisure and event programming will offer a plethora of activities from art classes and cooking demonstrations to gardening and swimming. And, just as thoughtfully considered as the interior are the exterior spaces, coordinated by NAK Design Group, such as a lushly landscaped forecourt, Zen garden and community terrace where residents can enjoy rooftop planting beds.

Zen garden at Harmony Village Sheppard, image courtesy of City Core Developments

Zen garden at Harmony Village Sheppard, image courtesy of City Core Developments

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and architectural writer based in Toronto. She can be found at www.stephaniecalvet.com