Tag Archives: condo building

Nest Condos Adds Density and Vibrancy to Toronto’s St. Clair W

(this is an article I wrote for UrbanToronto)

The rising demand for urban life calls for increasing residential density. In Toronto, the Official Plan calls for much of the new development to be built along our main thoroughfares; it’s called the Avenues plan. Developers and architects who are sensitive to context can create architecture that contributes in a meaningful way to the visual identity of these predominantly low-rise corridors. A growing number of innovative infill developments on Toronto’s Avenues prove that mid-rise can be attractive and practical. Examples of this sort are popping up on Ossington, Queen (both East and West), King Street East, Dundas Street West, and so on.

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Aerial view of site – St. Clair Ave W at Hendricks Ave, image from of Google Maps

One such residential development coming to the market is called The Nest, by Toronto builder The Rockport Group. This 9-storey condominium block will anchor the southwest corner of St. Clair West and Hendrick Avenue in the city’s budding Hillcrest Village. On part of the site now stands a KFC wrapped by a swath of parking. We are happy to see that coming down.

A mature neighbourhood that dates back to the early 1900s, Hillcrest is populated with large turn-of-the-century homes and lush tree-lined streets. The area was originally a large estate known as Bracondale Hill until 1909 when it was divided up into an exclusive subdivision. These days, the established low-rise neighbourhood is popular for its parks, independent shops, cafés, supermarkets and streetcars along St. Clair Avenue. The Nest is the first significant new structure on this stretch of St. Clair since the rebuilding of the St. Clair streetcar line in 2010.

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The Nest Condos by RAW Design for The Rockport Group

The convenience of the new separate right-of-way for the streetcar is now attracting new retailers, restaurateurs, and residents alike. The Nest itself will contribute 10,000 sq ft of ground level retail to the street.

Designed by Toronto-based RAW Design, the building looks like an asymmetrical stacking of box upon box. The surface of the façade jogs in and out, with projecting bays clad in complementing shades of greys and white, and balconies or terraces strung in between. This interplay of volumes and voids creates a unique texture and spatial composition. From an interior perspective, the building’s layout forms units in a range of sizes and configurations – 48 different types amongst its total 123 suites, to be exact. Each has floor-to-ceiling windows to maximize sightlines and sunlight inside.

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South elevation rendering of The Nest Condos by RAW Design

Above the 5th floor, the structure begins to terrace back on the south side, providing suites with views looking towards the city skyline. North-facing residences overlook bustling St. Clair Avenue. The building is clad in brick and German-engineered glass-fibre reinforced concrete or ‘fibreC’, a sustainable product that evokes natural materials like stone, twigs and straw. Nearly every dwelling has private outdoor space, which varies in size, up to nearly 570 sq ft at the penthouse level.

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North elevation (facing St. Clair Ave W) of The Nest Condos by RAW Design

For large gatherings, the building provides residents with communal multipurpose space on both the main and roof levels. “We like projects where we can create a community where people can feel at home,” said Jack Winberg, chief executive officer for The Rockport Group. A large, welcoming flex space on the first floor comprises a full kitchen, library and fireplace, opening onto an outdoor patio. Similarly, comfortable indoor amenity space on the rooftop is extended into what is envisioned as an ‘outdoor living room’ and provides plenty of lounge area and a built-in kitchen/BBQ station for multi-group entertaining. A green roof on the east side wraps the building to the south, softening the terrace’s edge.

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First floor lounge and communal kitchen at The Nest Condos by RAW Design

The builder partnered with local firms II by IV Design for the suite and common area interiors and Janet Rosenberg & Studio on the design of the landscaped portions.

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Roof terrace at The Nest Condos by RAW Design for The Rockport Group

Rockport has taken an approach to whole-building sustainability in this project which exceeds the City’s Tier 1 Green Standards with various measures to help to decrease its carbon footprint, including: geothermal heat pump; insulated windows; energy efficient lighting; low-flow fixtures; and, individual suite metering for utilities consumption.

The Nest is interesting not just for its variety and inventiveness but its green initiatives. Perhaps this thoroughly modern, modestly scaled addition will serve as a model for the sort of development this city needs. With Nest and other similar buildings in the works, hopefully they will convince sceptics that intelligently designed mid-rise is a viable option in a growing city that has almost taken the term ‘vertical living’ to the extreme. Innovative infill urban communities such as this one add to the eclectic urban fabric that is Toronto.

Toronto’s CentreCourt Developments’ Core Condos Step Onto The Scene

(this is an article I wrote for UrbanToronto)

Core Condos is the latest addition to CentreCourt Developments’ portfolio of downtown residential towers targeting the urban professional. With INDX, Karma, and Peter Street Condominiums underway, Core Condos is another opportunity for those who want to live, work and play in the downtown core.

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Enlarged view of Core Condos’ podium, image courtesy of CentreCourt Developments

The site for the new 24-storey tower is the northeast corner of Shuter and Dalhousie Streets, just blocks from the Eaton Centre, St. Michael’s Hospital and Ryerson University. It meets the developers’ corporate philosophy in two key aspects: in terms of location, it allows their demographic buyer to be in close proximity to work, transit and amenities; and secondly, in terms of value. “How we offer value proposition to the end consumer is really a combination of great design, both interior and exterior, and price point,” says Andrew Hoffman, president and founder of CentreCourt Developments.

The project went through several iterations until the City and the previous developer Queensgate reached an agreement on height and general massing. Queensgate continues on as a joint venture partner with a minority interest in the project but it is CentreCourt, who bought the land in November 2013, that is leading the development. Armed with a new vision—while still working within the building envelope parameters established earlier—it has partnered once again with Page + Steele / IBI Group Architects for the overall building design and with Cecconi Simone on the interiors.

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Core Condos’ west elevation, image courtesy of CentreCourt Developments

The tower exterior is divided into two components separated by an architectural slot, which helps to break down the massing. It is clad in curtain wall glazing and metal panel with skewed facets that are largely sculpted. The white, slightly taller element looks east while the western face is outlined with a defining black trim and interrupted by balconies. From a design standpoint, the building has a distinctive look that “suits the urban professional who wants something in terms of architecture that is modern and stands out from the rest,” says Shamez Virani, Vice President of CentreCourt Developments.

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Core Condos’ south elevation, facing Shuter Street, image courtesy of CentreCourt Developments

The project will provide a total of 220 residential units ranging in size from 390 square feet to 775 square feet, a small commercial space at grade, and 84 parking spaces in a five-level underground parking structure. The building’s main residential entry will be located on Shuter Street and the retail entry and parking and service access will be situated on Dalhousie.

On the site currently are buildings numbered from 64 to 70 Shuter Street, listed on the City of Toronto’s Inventory of Heritage Properties. According to the Heritage Impact Assessment prepared by E.R.A. Architects, two of the four existing buildings, 64 and 66, have undergone an “extensive remodelling of their exterior and interior” and as a result, will not be retained. The podium will incorporate a portion of the roof, two chimneys, and south façade of 68 and 70: a 3-storey, 19th century Georgian-style row house with buff coloured brick and limestone lintels and sills by architect John Tully, who also designed Walnut Hall, similar row houses which once stood further down the street.

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Site for Core Condos, showing existing rowhouses at 64-70 Shuter Street

The team developed a building amenity program that, from its standpoint, is in line with what its end user, the young professional, wants and needs, practically speaking. Features such as pool and spa are replaced in favour of a large 3,000 square foot open-concept lounge space with café/bar, beanbag and hanging chairs where residents can “socialize and just kick back, outside of their suite,” adds Hoffman. A landscaped exterior terrace wraps the N, E, and W sides of the building, also at the fourth level. In the same vein, the ground floor lobby is a double-height space with fireplace and central seating that is intended to impress every time a resident enters/exits the building. Residents are likely to walk to work and to neighbouring amenities, as opposed to being more reliant on a vehicle.

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Interior rendering of Core Condos’ entrance lobby and lounge, image courtesy of CentreCourt Developments

Core Condos is currently in pre-development and will be launched for sale early this year.

Loblaws Thinking Big at Toronto’s Lake Shore and Bathurst

(I wrote this article for UrbanToronto)

Grocery giant Loblaws has submitted a revised and much expanded plan to the City of Toronto for the redevelopment of its former head office and warehouse at Bathurst Street and Lake Shore Boulevard. Architectural renderings of a full-scale retail, office, and residential complex—partly nestled beneath the Gardiner Expressway—would give the deteriorating property a new lease on life.

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Loblaws’ proposal at 500 Lake Shore, image by architectsAlliance

The proposal involves a complete gut of the Art Deco brick building, followed by new construction and the restoration of the heritage façades, behind which would be three storeys of retail including a Loblaws grocery store. Planted above it would be a 5-storey (plus mechanical penthouse) addition of office space, topped with a green roof. The existing billboards on the building, which also have heritage protection (not shown above, but visible in the image below) would be replaced in their current locations. Two residential towers, 37- and 41-storeys in height, would rise immediately adjacent to the north, replacing a now torn-down one-storey section of the complex that does not have heritage protection. Along with a new courtyard, they are nestled in the remaining space against and below the Gardiner Expressway.

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Aerial view looking east across the site and surroundings, image from Apple Maps

The project has been a contentious one as the heritage community has sought to save much more of the existing building, but consultants retained by Loblaws have declared that the 1928-built structure is simply too compromised now to properly repair and reuse. No doubt we will learn more about the state of the building in upcoming public consultations on the plan, as well as the reaction from Heritage Preservation Services.

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North elevation of the proposal at 500 Lake Shore Blvd, image by architectsAlliance

The plan is an ambitious one. It includes a gently sloping walkway and bridge leading pedestrians from Housey Street at Concord CityPlace to the north of the complex, under the Gardiner and directly into the second floor grocery store without having to navigate stairs or a “movator”. Street level will also see new retail space including below the expressway, while five levels of underground parking will serve shoppers with cars, office workers, and residents of the new towers. Some amenities for residents are proposed for rooftops including areas sheltered under the Gardiner.

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North-South Section of the proposal at 500 Lake Shore, image by architectsAlliance

Government policies have been reshaping this city’s growth through intensification, and shopping plays a key role in the urban revitalization. As the downtown population increases, so does the need for retail and, as Loblaws knows, people are looking for higher quality prepared meals. Its new urban supermarkets at Maple Leaf Gardens and at Queen and Portland have responded to that need, in locations where the majority of the shoppers come on foot. The Fort York neighbourhood has seen a great deal of development in recent years as it transitions from an industrial area to a high-density mixed-use community. If built, 500 Lake Shore Blvd would bring a much needed retail presence to a predominantly condo-filled zone that so far is largely lacking in neighbourhood amenities. The residents of the Fort York, CityPlace, and Niagara neighbourhoods have shown great interest in the development, attending earlier public meetings in droves.

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Site/Roof plan of 500 Lake Shore Blvd proposal, image by architectsAlliance

Erected in 1928, the Loblaw Groceterias Building served as the company’s head offices and central warehouse, complete with packaging and manufacturing facilities. The growing supermarket chain remained on the site until the 1970s when its new headquarters opened on St. Clair Avenue East. The building was used by The Daily Food Bank during the interim years and in 2001, received heritage designation. Loblaws re-acquired the site in 2004 and applied, unsuccessfully, to have it demolished. Abandoned for more than a decade, the decaying building has been an eyesore in the area: in 2011 finials along the building’s roofline were strapped with aluminum bands to keep them from crumbling. Restoring the property breathes new life into old spaces and would create an interesting texture in the urban fabric.

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Loblaws from the southwest, photo courtesy of City of Toronto Archives.

Loblaws has partnered with Toronto firm architectsAlliance to design the complex. The renderings represent an early iteration of the design and will no doubt evolve over time. As it currently stands, the proposal would bring a total of 840 residential units, 859 underground parking spaces, and 17,134 sq. m of retail to the neighbourhood, with a total site density 5.9x. The first public consultations on the plan will occur sometime this fall as the planning department evaluates the proposal. Zoning approval and a ‘go ahead’ from City Council is still a ways off.

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New perspective along Bathurst Street, image by architectsAlliance

Architect Craig Webb expands on plans for Mirvish+Gehry Toronto

(This is an article I wrote for UrbanToronto)

Close to five months since UrbanToronto first broke the story of the extraordinary Mirvish+Gehry development plan for Toronto’s Entertainment District, a second public consultation regarding the proposal was held on the evening of Tuesday February 19th at Metro Hall. Hosted by Ward 20 Councillor Adam Vaughan, on hand to give details and answer questions were Craig Webb, representing architect Gehry Partners, Peter Kofman representing developer Projectcore, and owner of the site and driving force behind it, theatre impresario and art collector David Mirvish.

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Site model of Mirvish+Gehry proposal, image by Jack Landau

Prior to the presentation, the public had an opportunity to view schematic floor plans, sections, elevations, and a scale model of the proposal within the context of the neighbourhood. Where the first consultation in December introduced the proposal to the public and recorded the resultant concerns of those in attendance, in this meeting Craig Webb opened with a far more detailed account of the plans for the development as they currently stand. He was accompanied by members of the technical team from Gehry Partners and developer Projectcore.

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Craig Webb of Gehry Partners, image by Stephanie Calvet

Webb began by expressing the firm’s excitement to be working in Toronto again, four years after the completion of the addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Webb reminded the audience of Gehry’s subsequently reawakened connection to his hometown and his continued desire to create projects of significance to the city. To provide a glimpse of the working process, Webb showed Gehry’s first loose sketch of his vision revealing three towers as very sculptural forms rising from a combined base.

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Later in the presentation Webb flashed the image below of a recent model, as he did at the OCAD University announcement the previous week for the Princess of Wales Centre for Visual Arts, and stated “this is where Frank really wants to take the project”, no doubt a confounding moment for those straining to understand how the expressive quality captured will translate to a finished building design. The idea is to create podiums with a unified design from which three towers emerge as if from clouds, each with a unique architectural identity.

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Conceptual model, image by Gehry Partners courtesy of Projectcore

Webb explained that at the AGO it was important to Gehry to relate that building to the smaller scale of the nearby residential houses, thus that design was scaled horizontally. In contrast, the firm is taking a different approach at this location, sited as it is amongst larger buildings. The team has been looking at how to integrate the scale of the historic city with what’s coming in the future, a dilemma that any city builder wrestles with. Toronto has a lot of very tall buildings that are sprouting up right now, but according to Webb, the “interrelation with the street facade is really the key to this project.” When studying the existing streetscape, the team identified two key readings: 1) the historic buildings of 4 to 5 storeys establish a lower datum line; while 2) the adjacent Lightbox and similarly tall buildings of 6 to 8 storeys establish a second datum line. The podium height of the new project takes its cue from that second level.

Gehry’s office has had what Webb characterizes as vigorous conversations with City Planning about what the King Street ‘wall’ or ‘edge’ should be, and about how it should engage the sidewalk. Both sides are working to establish what the goals are for that frontage, in terms of accessibility, openness, and sidewalk width. A partial section through the site (image below) illustrates how the building meets the ground and gives one a sense of the generous sidewalk space that Gehry is trying to achieve. “We really think that the sidewalks need to be widened from what’s currently 3-3.5 metres up to 6 metres in some areas so we intend to push the building façades back.” The section exceeds City standards in terms of providing an adequate pedestrian zone, a planting zone, as well as additional area which is intended to be used as public gathering space, including restaurant spill-out.

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It’s this all-important podium that, as Webb describes, “creates edges of the public realm, which creates the cityscape, and which in turn creates neighbourhoods”. The strategy that Gehry is taking is to “create a very landscaped and terraced podium to this building. It starts at the street edge and—moving up the building—at the level of the first datum, the building begins to step back, terracing the façade and creating outdoor spaces. We’re trying to create a multi-level environment with a lot of public use. The ground level is mainly retail and restaurant spaces, and those public spaces will step up across the terraces, bringing people higher up into the building. Instead of being a single layer of public uses, we’re expanding it vertically.”

“We intend to undulate the building façade back and forth so that it’s not just a straight, street wall, but it has some relief to it and has pockets where restaurants are expected.” The images below are of gestural models used by the firm as a starting point to understand the architectural flow and movement of the building. “The intention is to create a lot of transparency, colour, graphic, and excitement.”

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Gestural model of podium, image by Gehry Partners courtesy of Projectcore

When it was first revealed in the fall, the model above ellicited some groans from those who misunderstood its intent and were not able to see beyond what they perceived as “toilet paper” adorning it. In the model below a potential treatment of the podium is more developed. Webb expects many more models will be created before a final plan is formulated.

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Concept model of podium, image by Gehry Partners courtesy of Projectcore

Webb emphasized that although the models do not represent a finished design, the interior designs are further along than a massing study. They have been worked out very carefully in terms of structure, elevator core servicing, and even preliminary suite layouts.

Webb walked the audience through the floor plans, beginning with the ground level plan, pictured below. “Our intent is to activate all four sides of the site.” Instead of merely relying on bustling King Street, the team feels there are advantages to putting retail frontages on the more intimate side streets as well.

Below, retail space is indicated in blue, while the residential lobby components, whose ‘front door address’ Gehry feels is more appropriately suited to the smaller streets, is orange. Loading and parking access is shown in brown, while commercial office entry areas appear in red. OCAD U’s entrance, shown in yellow, is on Duncan Street, the school’s main south campus artery, while direct street access to the Mirvish Collection is indicated in green from Pearl Street.

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The podium itself is 6 storeys in height and retail and restaurant spaces wrap the lower 3 floors. Creating a diagonal connection through the project site between King and John streets is a public arcade access that will climb from street level via stairways and escalators, and culminate on the 3rd floor. The street level lobbies to the upper level retail areas are indicated in light blue in the image above.

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Level 2 is programmed with more retail and an atrium space that connects to the floor below. In addition, a restaurant with terrace is envisioned on the NW corner, overlooking what the City is planning as the ‘John Street Cultural Corridor.’

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Active public uses and landscaped south-facing terraces continue on the 3rd floor, with the first section of the extensive, 3-storey Mirvish art collection, also beginning here. OCAD U’s expanded facilities, organized on two floors in the Phase 1/easterly tower, include a faculty exhibition space here on level 3, and the art instruction and studio space on level 4.

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Some commercial office space is planned for the podiums on levels 4, 5, and 6, and it can be seen in red above and below. The Mirvish Collection galleries continue on these levels as well.

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A residential terrace, with outdoor amenity and garden space of varying sizes and orientations, are provided on top of both podiums at the 7th level. Residential indoor amenities, which can open to the exterior, are also situated here. Condominium units rise on the floors above, with the towers at 82, 84, and 86 storeys. The unit count is approximately 2700, but that will likely change as the layouts are developed, and around 300 parking spaces are currently proposed.

Webb ended his presentation saying “When we started the project, David Mirvish asked Frank to create three great sculptures for the skyline of Toronto. That’s what we intend to do. We’re not there yet but we’re going to rise to the challenge.”