Manhattan’s Hudson River Park

On a recent trip to NYC, I saw wonderful urban planning strategies at Hudson River Park. It offers a huge variety of recreational activities and landscaped public spaces throughout its 550-acre footprint and sets a useful precedent for the ongoing development of Toronto’s waterfront.

Canada’s largest city’s skyline has been rapidly changing, in part due to a blitz of condo construction. Guided by Waterfront Toronto, the city has spent billions to revitalize a once heavily industrial lakefront and transform it into beautiful and sustainable new communities and parks. Now a private entity is proposing to expand a small inner-city island airport on the waterfront through jet aircraft and extended runways, paving 500m into the harbour and Lake Ontario.

Below are images of Hudson River Park in NYC. I imagine what the area would look like with an airport disgorging thousands of passengers per day. I think of its impact on neighbouring communities and services, on cultural activities, and on the quiet enjoyment of the waterfront by citizens and visitors alike. Alarming.

Manhattan

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Manhattan Waterfront

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Public spaces like the High Line and the 9/11 Memorial grounds are well worth a mention, and a visit, as well.

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The Freedom Tower

9/11 Memorial

Developer Ken Tanenbaum Talks about Toronto’s Pan Am Athlete’s Village

A takeaway from past Olympic Games’ host cities that spent big in a short burst of activity for the temporary event is a prescient reminder of the potential that well integrated planning for long-term transit and urban regeneration can bring. Toronto now has that same rare opportunity: the city is hosting the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Olympics next summer. While it is relying on mainly existing infrastructure throughout southern Ontario for the sporting venues, an entirely new development is being built just east of downtown to house the 10,000 athletes and officials.

I recently met with Kenneth Tanenbaum, Vice Chairman of the Kilmer Group to discuss the Athletes’ Village. Revitalization plans will transform the former industrial site into a mixed-use community with affordable housing, condominiums, a YMCA and a dormitory for George Brown College students, branded post-Games as ‘Canary District’.

A version of this post appeared in the June 30th edition of UrbanToronto.    

Site plan of 2015 PanAm/Parapan Games Athletes’ Village (Canary District)

Site plan of 2015 PanAm/Parapan Games Athletes’ Village (Canary District)

Tell us how it is that Toronto is about to get a new Athletes’ Village and then a new neighbourhood in this former industrial area at the mouth of the Don River.

The genesis of the West Don Lands Pan Am Athletes Village and Canary District really begins with the government of David Peterson in the mid-1980s, which expropriated this land in the Downtown East with a view to allowing the city to grow in this direction. The market and environmental conditions of the site were such that the land sat derelict more or less for 25 years until a moment in time when forces converged with the Pan Am Games being announced, and Waterfront Toronto’s planning mandate was able to finally execute the vision that Peterson’s government had.

How did Dundee and Kilmer collaborate towards this proposal?

Kilmer has been in the heavy civil construction and materials business for three generations. I represent the third generation. I grew up in asphalt paving and aggregates and shifted towards engaging in public/private partnerships. Our firm, Kilmer Van Nostrand, has developed an expertise and set of core competencies in this area. We are not traditional real estate developers. Dundee, on the other hand, brings very deep experience in traditional real estate development. It was a very complimentary set of skills that brought us together and it was through that partnership that we’ve been recruited as the project delivery team.

We are very lucky because all the stakeholders are aligned to a single mission: deliver on time, on budget design excellence.

Kenneth Tanenbaum on the Canary District construction site, home to the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Athletes' Village

Kenneth Tanenbaum on the Canary District construction site, home to the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Athletes’ Village

Big games bids run over budget in general. The demonstrations in Brazil are a current example. Given the background of cost overruns, what are your thoughts on best practices in cost management?

Infrastructure Ontario set up a procurement process that allocated risk properly between the public sector and the private sector. We worked with EllisDon and Ledcor to achieve a GMP or ‘guaranteed max price’ and there is significant skin in the game for those contractors if they are not delivering. DundeeKilmer’s objective is to make sure the team is marching together. Lots of tried-and-true building technologies were used here. We weren’t pioneers in anything.

What lessons have you taken from the 2012 London Olympics or 2010 Vancouver Olympics or other regeneration projects around the world?

Lessons were learned by spending time in Vancouver and interviewing people engaged in project delivery. Infrastructure Ontario, the procurement agency for the province, internalized those lessons and delivered a procurement model that I think set us up for success and which I believe represents a great export opportunity for other cities building Athletes’ Villages. It was an enormous undertaking to design, procure and finance a billion dollars’ worth of work in 90 days, which was the task we were given to do. We brought together a great team of designers, engineers, and contractors to do that.

Hundreds of lessons were learned from jurisdictions that didn’t have the right balance between private risk and public risk. What risks rightfully belong with the private sector? What risks should government continue to take? To Infrastructure Ontario’s credit, they came up with the right balance. I think Waterfront Toronto, insofar as planning was concerned, gave us a canvas on which to paint our architects’ view of the village. That was another important foundational piece for success – the precinct planning by Waterfront Toronto.

One of the areas where Vancouver where got off the rails is they were innovating in green building design. That’s all well and good and there are lots of green elements in our design as well but, when you have to spend $1M a day, everyday, you can’t be innovating or learning on a job site like this. You have to incorporate LEED best practices that are off-the-shelf. The right allocation of risk and the right team gets us to the right results.

The Pan Am Games is the largest event that this city has hosted and will host for a long time. It is a great opportunity for us to celebrate the great things about Toronto – a multicultural, pluralistic society, and a beacon on the planet. We have to tell a great story for Toronto. The Athletes’ Village is just one small element. It is part of the success story but it is not the story. The story is that we have 10,000 athletes and officials coming with their families from 41 countries who may at some point look at Toronto as a place to live, or invest but in the meantime they will be here spending dollars and going to restaurants.

Looking west on Front Street from Canary District to Downtown Toronto

Looking west on Front Street from Canary District to Downtown Toronto

Are you involved in creating any sports facilities?

No. Dundee Kilmer has only one mandate: to deliver the Athletes’ Village, on time and on budget.

Pan Am does not only exist in the Canary District. There are many other areas. How do they connect up? Is there a master plan?

We are building something called the Transportation Centre south of Mill Street, on provincially owned land. It will be effectively part of the secured perimetre where buses will come in and out to move athletes from the Village to their games venues. The strategy of TO2015 was to have the Games be hosted by Southern Ontario so the venues are dispersed in Welland, Milton, Durham Region, Scarborough, and York University. That also enhances their legacy. All the sporting venues that are being used will have a post-Games life. Again, it is a lesson learned from other Olympic or multi-sport games where you have elements that become white elephants. You won’t have that here.

You’ve established some of the criteria for success. How will you know you’ve been successful?

I’ll know if the athletes aren’t sleeping in my basement! In all seriousness, success is an on-time, on-budget delivery of an Athletes’ Village in accordance with the IOC/Pan Am Games specifications. But, to me, the most important measure of success is in realizing a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of shaping Toronto’s next great neighbourhood.

Looking east from Canary District, Foundry building to the left.

Looking east from Canary District, Foundry building to the left.

What is there that exists already that drives momentum for that? Is it managing the overspill pressure from Downtown Toronto?

I think Toronto’s future really pivots on its ability to continue to attract 100,000+ migrants a year. How do we do that in an environment that is governed by provincial policy, Smart Growth, and Places to Grow (focused on intensifying the urban core), and do it in a way that does not lead to more traffic congestion and less liveable neighbourhoods? I think that Canary District really fits the bill in terms of Smart Growth: it integrates walkability, liveability, and transit. I think of the acronym HOME – housing, opportunity (jobs), medical care and education. A number of those elements are being built, or being planned. The YMCA will be an incredible amenity for this neighbourhood in addition to the public realm that really serves as outdoor therapy, which is vital for a healthy city.

You have chosen Canary District as the post-Games residential brand for the area.

The name ‘Canary’ comes from a restaurant at the gateway to this site. The heritage building (which we are restoring) had a bit of a chequered past. It was a school, then a brothel, and then a greasy spoon called Canary Restaurant that was famous for filmmakers and truckers who would stop in this area.

Existing brick buildings at gateway to the site to be restored.

Existing brick buildings at gateway to the site to be restored. Image courtesy of architectsAlliance.

How will the buildings be repurposed after the Games, as condos and apartments?

Immediately after the Parapan Am Games end in August 2015, the Village is turned back to us and we have the task of taking out temporary dividing walls, painting, putting in the hardwood floors and the kitchens – essentially making the units new again.

The biggest challenge from a post-games constructability standpoint is you don’t have the man and material hoists on the outside of the building so you have to preload and use the elevators as much as possible and optimize material in and waste out. There is a lot of planning going into it; in fact, logistics is the most complicated part.

Rendering of Athletes' Village/Canary District. Image courtesy of architectsAlliance.

Rendering of Athletes’ Village/Canary District. Image courtesy of architectsAlliance.

This area is considered the largest urban village in the city’s history. How will it be different than another major urban revitalization in Toronto, that of Liberty Village?

This was a very long time in the making. It reflects the thoughtful nature of Waterfront Toronto in terms of community and urban planning, and brings in Jane Jacobs’ principles of liveability and density. You won’t have canyons of glass towers here. It will be a much more liveable environment with the ‘eyes on the street’ concept.

So, in terms of differentiators, first it is the historical/planning context. The genesis is different in Downtown East than Liberty Village in that it involves much more master planning and more heritage elements, being adjacent to the Distillery District, and incorporating the brick buildings at the Cherry Street gateway to this site.

Further, I think the province made a very significant investment in the pubic realm, with the 18-acre Corktown Common park, the linear park (along the Front Street spine through the village), and Underpass Park. A brand new tunnel called the Bala Underpass will allow residents to enter Corktown Common without crossing a road and end up on the Don River Trail system and be able to bike to Edwards Gardens, to Sunnybrook. It is not an 18-acre park you’re adjacent to, but more like an 1800-acre park—through what is Toronto’s greatest natural asset, the ravines—and what many Torontonians don’t really get to appreciate because it’s very difficult to access.

The third differentiator from Liberty Village is the proximity to Downtown. We don’t think about Spadina being equidistant from Yonge as Cherry Street is. Torontonians’ view of Downtown is tilted to the west, and what we see is the Village/Canary District beginning to tilt back to a bit more equilibrium. What we are seeing in real time is just a beautiful evolution happening along those Front Street and King Street corridors.

The fourth and final differentiator is the design aesthetic. In addition to public realm piece, what we DundeeKilmer aspire to is the absolute highest level of design excellence. So we brought a team onboard headed by architects Bruce Kuwabara of KPMB and Peter Clewes of architectsAlliance and they in turn recruited a team to create what they called ‘cohesive diversity.’

One element that really excites me is the porous nature of the neighbourhood. The designers were very deliberate in terms of opening the development blocks up to people migrating through them. So, there are laneways that pass through the blocks which is a really nice way to animate the space rather than forcing people to do right angles and walk around buildings, as you have in conventional block development.

Looking east on Canary District site. George Brown College student residence building in the distance.

Looking east on Canary District site. George Brown College student residence building in the distance.

Does Canary District become an appendage to Downtown or does it co-habit with Downtown with its own identity?

There are no physical barriers to here (e.g. river, expressway) from Downtown. It should become a natural extension of Downtown with a narrative that is very connected to the Don River and Martin Goodman trails. People talk about what makes for a great neighbourhood and I think it’s about diversity of interests, cultures, and economics. And it’s what makes a city great, it’s natural diversity, it’s the ability to transform, invent, and change. The unique challenge here was to deliver an entire neighbourhood and have it feel like a neighbourhood. A lot of thought went into the design, the programming, the unit mix in buildings (1, 2, and 3 bedroom suites), the type of retail and how it’s programmed to have a health and wellness theme that’s complimentary to the Distillery’s retail programming.

The masterplan of the community was generated by architects, planners, and Waterfront Toronto. How was LiveWorkLearnPlay engaged here? They have created many villages and recreational places for Intrawest, with precedents like Blue Mountain and Whistler. But that is not the same as a year-round real liveable place?

I think of it as Waterfront Toronto providing the frame and the canvas on which to paint. They defined certain elements for our architectural team to conform to.

LiveWorkLearnPlay is our retail consultant, retail programmers so-to-speak. It’s not in their mandate to shape the urban fabric. They have the task of running a process to populate the retail opportunities within the Canary District under a general theme of health and wellness. Their mandate doesn’t extend beyond essentially animating the storefronts.

What we’ve relied on LiveWorkLearnPlay for is their expertise in creating the balance of a Village and the task of figuring out the right mix between restaurants, retail, and services.

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and a writer specializing in architecture and design. She can be found at www.stephaniecalvet.com

WorldPride 2014 Toronto

Toronto Pride Festival 2014-2

 

Toronto Pride Festival 2014-looking south Yonge St

 

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Toronto Pride Festival 2014

 

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Turning a forgotten penthouse into office space

A version of this post appeared in the June edition of  Canadian Facilities Management & Design. 

Park Property Management renovation by Quadrangle Architects. Photo by Bob Gundu

Park Property Management renovation by Quadrangle Architects. Photo by Bob Gundu.

When rental company Park Property Management (PPM) required an additional office, it searched its apartment inventory. It unearthed 2,000 square feet perched atop a north Toronto building, 15 storeys up. Long forgotten, the penthouse had been relegated to a storage depot, stashed with cleaning supplies, gym equipment and the superintendent’s found treasures. PPM called on Quadrangle Architects’ Interiors Group to see if there was any hope for its rehabilitation and conversion to a workplace.

When the designers walked into the space, they immediately saw potential. With its concrete folded plate roof, open span, and enveloping daylight, it was evident that it had good bones. Unfortunately, it served as little more than a glorified broom closet. “This is wonderful!” stated principal and interiors group lead, Caroline Robbie. “How could (one) have been sitting on this for so long and not done anything with it?”

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Herman Miller Workstations. Photo by Bob Gundu.

Having outgrown its current digs, PPM needed to manage some 12 buildings from this location. The program was simple: two private offices, workstations for a small number of staff, file storage, a meeting area, a kitchen, and a space to greet visitors. PPM also wanted the flexibility to grow.

Completed in November 2013, the project didn’t involve a great deal of building; the space was mostly in desperate need of a clearing out and freshening up. Original inherited features including the terrazzo floor and radiators were retained, and the exposed concrete folded plate ceiling was stripped of random adhesive tiles and clad in drywall. Small storerooms were demolished and an updated HVAC system was installed. The biggest ticket item was the perimeter’s total window replacement, which in turn had a positive effect on light quality and energy efficiency.

The design direction for the interiors was borne of the building’s early 60s vintage and the space’s strong architectural language: align the interior design with the architecture by emphasizing its mid-century modern heritage. Walnut veneer is used in the millwork, extending to the furniture and accessory pieces, while accent details are co-ordinated in black or satin bronze finish, right down to the tiny tapered cabinet pulls.

The new Mad Men-inspired office blends commercial and residential; PPM, after all, is in the business of where people live. Just as building superintendents and managers come to the office to discuss operations, tenants come to sign leases or negotiate sublets. “We wanted to give it a warm, residential feel, but without seeming false, folksy or artificial,” Robbie said.

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Entry vestibule at Park Property Management. Photo by Bob Gundu.

Visitors step off the elevator into an intimate vestibule, only seven feet in height. A wiry carpet recalls an entrance mat and the painted black walls are adorned with an overlay of repeating company logos in gold leaf, simulating custom wallpaper. Period-correct wall sconces complement the residential aesthetic.

From there, the low ceiling gives way to reveal a light-filled and lofty open plan space peaking at 12 feet. Simple white lighting fixtures hang overhead. Underfoot, carpet tiles are grouped to resemble area rugs, picking up green, grey and brown tones of the terrazzo flooring.

The waiting area, more akin to a living room, is distinguished by a carefully curated collection of signature Eames pieces: lounge chair, coffee table and compact sofa. This classic design furniture by Herman Miller is mixed with a row of crisp white contemporary workstation systems tucked under the profiled ceiling, channeling a retro feel. “It resonates with a certain generation of people but it still looks modern. To me, modernism still looks fresh — it doesn’t look dated,” Robbie said.

Park Property Management_interior. Photo by Bob Gundu

Meeting area at Park Property Management. Photo by Bob Gundu.

Two private corner offices follow. The remaining open area has a meeting space with bright orange Eames shell chairs and banks of files. The area can easily be added to or reconfigured. A kitchen and powder room complete PPM’s new office.

File storage was a priority. Going paperless is a growing trend, with many workplaces now managing information electronically. But the rental industry, with its paper-based origins, is in a transitional phase. Leases are still penned and copies must remain on site as long as leases are active, amounting to loads of paper records. With that in mind, designers stacked some filing cabinets three high and turned them into work surfaces. They also arranged some filing cabinets singly, so the cabinets can double as upholstered benches. Kept low, they don’t create a wall, visually or practically. “We tried to do it in a way that the stuff didn’t get in the way of the people,” Robbie said.

Park Property Management renovation by Quadrangle Architects. Photo by Bob Gundu

Tiny kitchen with tall walnut veneer cabinetry, intermingled glossy and matte tile backsplash, and a brass faucet. Photo by Bob Gundu.

And where they could refurbish, they did, often with a sense of whimsy. A 60s Sputnik chandelier was re-appropriated from another property, and a glitzy pinball machine reinvented by one of the company’s owners was placed upright as artwork.

The renewed interior not only makes more efficient use of the real estate, but it offers a highly functional and comfortable workplace where one had not been envisioned.

“A building’s lifespan has to grow and change over time,” Robbie said. “As a designer, you’re seeing its attributes and its potential where someone else might not.”

Stephanie Calvet is a Toronto-based registered architect and a writer specializing in architecture and design. She has 11 years’ experience working in architecture and planning firms in Boston, designing projects in the hospitality, multi-unit residential, education and healthcare sectors.

Searching the Skies for Inspiration

Thomas Lamadieu clearly sees something others don’t. Eyes drawn upwards, the French artist seeks out shapes in the sky framed by courtyard buildings and takes aim with his camera.

That negative space has been the inspiration for many photographers. But Lamadieu takes it a step further: combining photography and drawing, he constructs artworks by filling the negative space with playful, ‘painted’ illustrations.

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For this series, entitled SkyArt, Lamadieu has amassed images from travels through Germany, France, Belgium and Canada. There is a kind of vertigo in his pieces; he captures the images with a fish-eye lens. The courtyards’ geometries are the only limits for his unbounded imagination.

Lamadieu has a gift for drawing out meaning in the urban architecture around him. I don’t know the story behind the bearded fellow who figures so prominently in his work, though I could take a guess… Nevertheless, I really like these magical doodles and I hope you do too.

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