Tag Archives: adaptive reuse

Creative Thinking Adapts a King West Commercial Building

A version of this post appeared in the August 12th edition of UrbanToronto

Another adaptive reuse project has won out in Downtown Toronto. The modest building at 545 King Street West is being rehabilitated by Hullmark and will see new restaurants and offices occupy its five floors. It is a refreshing change from the tactics of some developers who, keen to maximize real estate values, can succumb to demolishing the historic fabric of the neighbourhood rather than considering the role adaptive reuse can play in the city.

The street has radically transformed in the past decade. Its potential was unleashed back in the mid-90s when changes to zoning allowed King-Spadina (one of the “Two Kings” reinvestment areas), once-restricted to industrial, to open up to new uses. Since then, King Street W has been flooded with award-winning restaurants, corporate headquarters, nightclubs and condo buildings. The spin-off effect since the planning policy was introduced has seen this creatively oriented and vibrant part of the city emerge as a highly desirable urban lifestyle community.

Sketch of proposed exterior graphics at 545 King St W, image courtesy of Quadrangle Architects

Sketch of proposed exterior graphics at 545 King St W, image courtesy of Quadrangle

Originally built in 1921, with a rear addition completed in 1981, 545 King Street W is characterized by brick and heavy timber beam construction, once commonly found in the former Garment District. No drastic changes were made to the exterior in the Quadrangle Architects-led renovation. It is constituted of an updated façade treatment with new windows and sills, cleaned and repaired brickwork and the addition of graphics and material accents. Because of the building’s narrow proportions and the existence of windows on its side elevations, the designers were inspired to build on the idea of natural ventilation. Casements replace existing glazing, with coloured fritted glass emphasizing their operable function and animating the façades. “Our intention was a subtle augmentation of the building while maintaining the existing character to add a new layer of contemporary expression,” says Richard Witt, a principal at Quadrangle.

Existing building at 545 King St W, photo courtesy of Hullmark

North elevation of existing building at 545 King St W, photo courtesy of Hullmark

Rendering of updated north elevation at 545 King St W, image courtesy of Hullmark

Rendering of updated north elevation at 545 King St W, image courtesy of Hullmark

The interiors, however, are getting a major facelift. The building was stripped back to its exterior walls and bare floors and ceilings, which presented the architects with the opportunity to completely reinvent its spaces. Popular restaurants Pizzeria Libretto and Porchetta & Co. will open up secondary locations on the lower level, and a software company is to set up shop on the 5th. BrightLane, a co-working space for entrepreneurs and start-ups, will continue to occupy the remaining levels and its members have access to the 3rd floor roof terrace. The top floor has a 2-storey volume office space capped with a skylight.

Gutting of typical floor at 545 King St W, photo courtesy of Quadrangle Architects

Gutting of typical floor at 545 King St W, photo courtesy of Quadrangle Architects

A particularly interesting angle to the project is the revitalization of the dreary 153’ long by 12’ wide laneway immediately adjacent. It previously served a warehouse loading dock at the rear that the architects have transformed into the main commercial entrance and new ‘front door’. (The building’s existing ‘front door’ on King Street W becomes a convenience entrance for the upper levels.) The flanking laneway, once dedicated to deliveries, is converted to a pedestrian area with a restaurant patio and spill-out space from the new lobby.

Existing alleyway adjacent to 545 King St W, photo courtesy of Quadrangle Architects

Existing alleyway adjacent to 545 King St W, photo courtesy of Quadrangle Architects

BrightLane, the building’s primary tenant, hosted an ideas competition seeking inspiration from the public for ways to make the narrow, marginal space more appealing. “We’re looking for something interesting and sustainable that can be easily implemented,” said its General Manager, Susy Renzi. The call for submissions was made via video headlined ‘Can you make this sad space AWESOME?’ It drew over 180 entries from local and international creatives, whose ideas ran the gamut from forest oasis, outdoor market, and playgrounds for adults (with and without a giant waterslide).

The winning scheme proposes to brighten the space by suspending fragments of primary-coloured acrylic in wavy shapes above it. As the sun travels over the lane, coloured moving shadows are cast onto surrounding surfaces; the experience being equally evocative at nighttime, when illuminated by floodlights. The canopy of colour represents the energy and interdisciplinary environment that BrightLane fosters. The simple but dynamic concepts applied to the façades and laneway provide better visual connection into the building and extend the street life.

The winning submission from Brightlane's ideas competition will be implemented in Spring 2015

The winning submission will be implemented in Spring 2015

The difficulties associated with adaptive reuse can be a deterrent to many developers. Unforeseen discoveries on site – from mould to hidden fuel tanks – can have negative impacts on cost and schedule and the added complexities often require creative solutions. Despite the challenges, the benefits are multi-fold. Rehabilitated and repurposed buildings not only help meet city-mandated density requirements, but they contribute to the fabric of city life and the continuity of collective memory.

With a long-time specialty in retrofit and adaptive reuse, Quadrangle brings agility and nimbleness when working with existing conditions. A synergy clearly exists between the developer and the architects – this is, after all, the third collaboration of similar objective between them. “Hullmark understands that buildings like this have value and that value is worth working hard to unlock”, says Witt. Under the direction of Jeff Hull, Hullmark’s vision as city builders, previously known for their large residential developments, has taken a more urban focus and set its sights on high quality inner-city tenants. By renovating and turning a former warehouse into a vibrant employment and amenity hub, the building both reflects its history and becomes relevant to the future of King W.

Other than the alleyway installation, the 545 King Street West project is scheduled for completion this summer.

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

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60 Atlantic: Converting Liberty Village heritage building for today – Part II: Interiors

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

The adaptive reuse of 60 Atlantic Avenue by developer Hullmark will create 27,500sf of office space and 12,500sf of retail and restaurant space in a former factory in the heart of Toronto’s Liberty Village. In this 2nd part of a 2-part article, UrbanToronto’s Stephanie Calvet sat down with designer Caroline Robbie of Quadrangle Architects to discuss the interiors fit-out. Anchor tenant INVIVO Communications, an innovative company working at the intersection of science, biology and technology, will move into the top floor early next spring.

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60 Atlantic: adaptive reuse designed by Quadrangle Architects for Hullmark

PART II: Q&A with Interior Designer Caroline Robbie:

Both the neighbourhood and this building itself have a history as a creative community. Are you collaborating with local artists and artisans in this project and if so, how?

We try to bring an element of custom art into every project we do, whether it is internally generated through custom graphics or through collaborations with artists and industrial designers. The building’s history is being celebrated through a custom version of a Goads Fire Atlas illustration that will be used to film a glazed corridor. The original image was enhanced by our design team to highlight the building. While it is still in the design stage, artist Zac Ridgely is developing a custom feature light fixture for the INVIVO space.

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Example of a Goad’s Fire Atlas map

I understand that Quadrangle uses part of its office space as a ‘testing lab’ for design services that it offers, such as investigations in graphics for frit patterns on glass. Have you done similar explorations that have benefitted this project?    

We ‘mock-up’ new ways of manipulating images and materials in our studio on a regular basis. This helps not only determine construction methods but it lets us live with something for awhile and gain insights and opinions from the larger studio group. The Goads Fire Atlas film developed for the corridor has been mocked up for some time in a prominent circulation space in the studio.

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60 Atlantic: adaptive reuse designed by Quadrangle Architects for Hullmark

In a previous interview you said, “buildings need to learn, grow, and change over their lifetime – it’s about adaptability and flexibility.” Does this building have good bones? Is it an example of what you call “durable architecture”?

The one constant in life is change so something as permanent as a building needs to be inherently adaptable. This building and Liberty Village are great examples of the reuse potential of Toronto’s industrial past. 60 Atlantic’s durability lies in its building quality as well as an ability to accommodate changing needs over its lifetime. The beauty of the interior space once extraneous elements were removed was remarkable. We have tried to touch it gently so that the bones are visible.

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60 Atlantic Ave stripped to reveal its basic structure, photo by Bob Gundu

The following questions are specific to the interiors fit-out for INVIVO Communications, an interactive agency that provides innovative digital solutions – games and apps – to the global pharmaceutical and medical device industries.

The entire office’s lighting design strategy with, for instance, splayed linear tube lighting, is intriguing. What is the guiding concept behind it and what sort of imagery have you incorporated into the workspaces?

INVIVO has healthcare at the core of its purpose, but their culture is about innovation, animation and app development. The environment is definitely not clinical and we needed to respect their playful nature while providing an effective workplace that spoke to the nature of their business. The central design organizing principle is about white matter, the lesser known component of the central nervous system that consists of glial cells and myelinated axons that transmit signals from one region of the cerebrum to another and to other brain centres. White matter is a fine meshwork-like structure that we have referenced in the free-form lighting throughout the main circulation spine of the space.

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Inspiration: clustering of Thin Suspension light fixtures, photo courtesy of Viso Lighting

As you juxtapose the old with new, the basic with the high-tech, what are the qualities that the interiors will evoke?

We hope that the most characteristic quality is of comfort. The mix of materiality and technology, linked through the energetic culture of INVIVO, will allow the space to embody the modern workplace.

Working in a sector where technology is constantly changing, a company like this one likes to stay on the cutting edge. How will that be reflected in the interiors? Which trends play a part in the design?

We tend not to follow trends but instead make sure we are paying attention to the influences on the businesses of our clients. Technology is such a key component of the business – it has played a big role in the planning. The IT department has been pulled out of a backroom and into the fulcrum of the studio. In our experience, technologies move too fast for us to think we can design to anticipate what will be needed so we defend open, unprogrammed space as it will allow the flexibility that will inevitably be needed.

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Preliminary sketch of entrance to INVIVO Communications, image provided by Quadrangle Architects

Toronto is the North American base for medical illustration and INVIVO is one of the fastest-growing companies in the field. Just as there is a need for flexibility to update the ‘feel’ of the brand as it evolves, what sort of flexibility is there in the design of the physical space? Are there provisions for expansion?

There is growth potential on the floor within open office clusters and the overall space planning has incorporated enough balance between spaces for focus and spaces for collaboration that project flow is not inhibited by the design of the space.

Are there any specific technical (communication, wiring etc.) requirements that are appropriate for a company at the forefront that is constantly revolutionizing user experiences and that has a futuristic component?

There are no extraordinary technical components in the design other than to provide a very flexible power and data delivery system throughout the space.

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Concept drawing of reception area of INVIVO Communications, image provided by Quadrangle Architects

Blue and green were integral colours to INVIVO since its beginnings and have always been part of the branding. Did you utilize the colours in the interior design of the office and if so, where?

No, we haven’t incorporated the branding colours as we are leaving the design of the space intentionally white as a background palette for the artwork that is created by the artists and developers at INVIVO.

Corporate giants like Google, with their unconventional workplaces, have embraced the idea that creative work environments help stimulate minds and inspire innovation. If you subscribe to the notion of a studio culture that allows the space to offer all varieties of collaboration, how do you go about making it happen?

Rather than try to force behaviours, it is better to allow people to hack space. We worked to ensure that the space has good light, great views, is comfortable and has the resources they need like wifi and power, in the right places. Once those elements are in place, companies dependent on innovation provide the right tools, which in turn allow their people to foster creative thought.

For efficiency, the base building design team (architectural, engineering and construction) is coordinating M&E systems with INVIVO directly for their use.  How have you proceeded with the rest of the spaces considering the additional tenants have yet to be determined?

We have tried to ensure that base building systems like vertical shafts and electrical feeds are in unobtrusive positions while still providing coverage for flexible multi-tenant floor layouts.

60 Atlantic: Converting Liberty Village heritage building for today – Part I: Exteriors

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

60 Atlantic Avenue is a two-storey former industrial building in the west half of Toronto’s Liberty Village neighbourhood. Developer Hullmark bought the listed heritage property a couple of years ago and is transforming the outmoded building for today’s needs, creating office, retail and restaurant space. UrbanToronto’s Stephanie Calvet sat down with key players Richard Witt and Caroline Robbie of Quadrangle Architects to discuss the 1898 building’s reinvention from both the exterior (Part I) and interior (Part II) perspectives.

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60 Atlantic: adaptive reuse designed by Quadrangle Architects for Hullmark

PART I:  Q&A with Architect Richard Witt

The property at 60 Atlantic Avenue is part of a collection of surviving institutional and industrial buildings that give the area its character. What opportunities did restoration of the structure (not strict preservation) vs tearing down and building anew, afford you?

Keeping the building sets up a very different development and value proposition for the site. If it was a new building, it would certainly have been taller, denser and likely not have the same public space that fits neatly into the ‘L’ of the existing building. The existing building’s internal character has a lot of value once stripped out and it is great to see that being restored.

The building does not display a high degree of craftsmanship but it was determined to have design value as an industrial building from the turn of the 20th century and is listed on the City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties. What restrictions were put in place on what you could do here?

Retaining the building is the biggest restriction. The conventional economic wisdom would be to tear it down and put something much larger in its place. For many developers the requirement to retain it would not have been very desirable. Luckily Hullmark sees the value in that character  – economically as well as culturally, ecologically and urbanistically. There was also the requirement for preparation of a Heritage Impact Statement, prepared by heritage consultant Phil Goldsmith, which outlined a number of considerations, including: the important parts of the building (historical entrance, character of the windows) as well as an analysis of the building’s history, which allowed us to have a discussion about which parts of the building did not need to remain.

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60 Atlantic: existing building, photo of principal east façade

Since 1991, Artscape occupied the property as its head office with artists’ studios. It infused the neighbourhood with energy and played a catalytic role in the reinvention of Liberty Village from a campus of under-utilized industrial buildings to an important cluster of creative sector employment. In which ways do you see this former winery, newly reinvented as a flagship office, having an alternative effect beyond the boundaries of the actual site?

It is not a single tenant building. So far there is one tenant (InViVo Communications) confirmed for the top floor. As far as I’m aware the upper ground level is still available and there are a number of likely candidates circling for the lower ground level. The occupancy of the building will be much greater than it was previously, which is a big contribution to the neighbourhood energy, and the more than one third of the building will be restaurant or retail uses which connect through to new openings on Liberty and Jefferson streets, as well as occupying a new sunken courtyard [see image below] on Atlantic Ave. There will be a lot of two directional traffic in and out of the building, which will have a big effect on the entire area.

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New sunken courtyard at 60 Atlantic, image provided by Quadrangle Architects

For decades, Hullmark focused primarily on large residential developments around the GTA. Recently it has set its sights on transforming neighbourhoods in popular urban areas of the city. What synergies between the two firms make it possible to partner up successfully?

I’ve always liked the simplicity and clarity of a quote by Hullmark founder Murphy Hull “I had a vision. Over time and with hard work that vision came true.” Hullmark’s vision as city builders aligns with something that Quadrangle have been doing for our entire history: taking buildings of latent value and potential and reinventing them as something new and relevant. In addition to 60 Atlantic we are also doing projects of similar objective at 545 King W and 100 Broadview [below]. Hullmark is still doing large residential developments and, under the direction of Jeff Hull, has been transformed into a more urban-focused developer.

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100 Broadview: Repositioning of an existing office building by Quadrangle Architects

If adaptive reuse can be seen as a financially viable style of historic preservation, why aren’t there more enlightened developers in Toronto ready to reclaim historical sites?

There have always been developers doing adaptive reuse in the city. We’ve been working with them for years on projects like City TV, the Candy Factory, the Toy Factory and many others. Although it may be financially viable, it is more work to achieve the same quantity as with a new build. There are always unknowns and surprises along the way and some of those can be expensive. It requires a lot of commitment and long-term vision from the entire team.

What is the interplay between the limitations of zoning (and its revisions) and the requirements of historical preservation? When does one take precedence over the other?

Zoning decisions have the right of appeal at the Ontario Municipal Board, but Heritage Board decisions do not have that same possibility. In the case of 60 Atlantic there was no Site Plan Approval application necessary though, so there was no potential for conflict.

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60 Atlantic: adaptive reuse designed by Quadrangle Architects for Hullmark

The transparent circulation spine cleverly reveals rather than conceals the existing building behind it. What obstacles had to be overcome and which conditions fulfilled in order to arrive at the solution?

The addition was a means to deliver more regular leasable space and not have to make costly additions to the building to accommodate things like elevators, new plumbing, and adequate structure for heavy mechanical equipment. It is also a way to create a clear difference in expression from the existing and new work. It was easier to do it that way than the alternative. The only real obstacle was matching up to the existing building which is not very regular, and built in phases at different levels.

The building has small punched windows along its façades that lent themselves well to Artscape’s studios and office spaces (and long prior to that, a winery). Are you incorporating larger glazed sections and/or skylights to accommodate the new program’s open plans, and if so, how?

The building was built in two phases, east and west at slightly different heights. The central north south portion was a through-carriageway. Our first objective in working with existing buildings is to understand what is original and what was subsequently added, which in the case of this building was a lot. There were also lots of elements like loading docks, which had been retrofitted as windows with dodgy brick infill. By taking out all of these pieces we were left with a series of large openings, which could be fitted with glazing and become a new layer of expression that more accurately reflects the original condition.

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60 Atlantic: adaptive reuse designed by Quadrangle Architects for Hullmark

Does this project epitomize Quadrangle’s philosophy of not just locking a building in time but rather adding layers as the city evolves? (i.e. glass is not verboten under heritage conservation guidelines)

The new glazed elements, new circulation, connections to the street on all sides and new sunken courtyard all engage the surrounding community in a way that the building didn’t before. By renovating and turning a former utilitarian warehouse into a vibrant employment and amenity hub, the building both reflects its history and becomes relevant to the future of Liberty Village. So, Yes.

Adaptive reuse is in and of itself a sustainable approach. Are you pursuing LEED certification for this development?

We are not pursuing LEED certification, although we discussed it in the beginning and were conscious of our responsibilities throughout. We reviewed the requirements and did a lot that goes beyond the code requirements including some significantly more advanced mechanical systems. In the end we didn’t pursue it because of the cost of the LEED process itself.

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60 Atlantic Ave stripped to reveal its basic structure, photo by Bob Gundu

Liberty Village is undergoing a rapid transformation characterized by thousands of new condominiums set amidst historic industrial buildings. Its east side has become, in the words of architectural critic Christopher Hume, “an over-developed condo enclave,” with little consideration to human scale. What would be your advice for city planners or developers to prevent the same saturation on the west side?

The west side of Liberty Village has the opposite problem to the east. It is almost all designated employment lands with a much lower height limit. I think we are moving beyond the days of single occupancy land-based planning (work somewhere, live somewhere else, shop somewhere else, etc.) and there is a lot of discussion about introducing residential permission to this part of Liberty Village. Permitting residential to a maximum as well as a minimum amount of commercial space would be a good way to build a true mixed-use community and encourage the growth of employment simultaneously.

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60 Atlantic from the air, looking southwest, image from Apple Maps

For 21 years the building was home to Artscape and to 48 affordable artist studio spaces. Not immune to the pressures of the real estate market, the non-profit organization was forced to close this location in 2012. Low cost raw studio space in downtown Toronto is disappearing fast. Can you contemplate ways by which artists and low-profit creative outlets can remain in these neighbourhoods they helped revitalize?

I don’t know if that’s even desirable. I remember that Third Rail art show in Liberty Village when people were living in big warehouses with chemical toilets, and that seems a 100 years ago. Part of being an artist is being ahead of the curve, and once the space around has become popular and mainstream perhaps it is not such a place of creation. Architects have a similar role in residential purchases – a lot of my friends live around Roncesvalles, which was affordable 10 years ago. I don’t think that many architects five years out of university could afford a house there now and where they’re going is probably going to be a great and vibrant area in a few years…

This intervention is simple, sensitive and aware of its context. How do you integrate with the existing fabric of the former industrial precinct while simultaneously anticipating its urban future?

A lot of architectural direction comes from a consideration of broader influences. By looking at the economic patterns of the area, the qualities of the urban context, movement patterns, social activity and a lot more, an obvious design intent reveals itself. Then it is just the business of building articulation. When it comes to making a great city the most important thing is design at an urban level, an understanding of the buildings’ relationship to, and role in, the broader urban fabric. If you have good architects you get beautiful buildings, but that doesn’t make a great city. Ideally you have both, which is what I think we will have at 60 Atlantic.

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