Tag Archives: historic preservation

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.


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.


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.

Heritage Architect Julian Smith on ‘Re-imagining the historic urban landscape’

“What gives a physical place meaning? How do we decide which historic sites are culturally significant?” Cultural Landscape theory is an attempt to provide new answers to these often-debated questions. It emphasizes that the traditional distinction between the physical and the cultural landscapes is an artificial one and that nature and culture should not be seen as conflicting but rather as part of an all-encompassing ecosystem, a vision not unlike that held by indigenous communities. In such a view, human habitats display the diversity and richness of their different cultural subgroups and achieve a sustainable equilibrium with their environment.

As part of an ongoing series of talks, Toronto’s Centre for City Ecology recently invited leading heritage architect and educator Julian Smith to give a lecture entitled ‘Re-imagining the historic urban landscape ’ in which he explores the meaning of cultural landscape and how we create it in our communities. Smith has established an international reputation for his work in the conservation, restoration and adaptive reuse of historic properties, and cooperates with UNESCO and the World Bank, but his most challenging role is as Executive Director at Willowbank, an educational institution “at the cutting edge of a global shift towards a more ecological and sustainable approach to heritage conservation.”

Willowbank promotes cultural heritage and emphasizes the apprenticeship tradition (hands-on craft skills). In addressing Willowbank’s approach to the historic urban landscape, Smith prefaces with the distinction between historical landscapes, which have prior historic significance and can be observed, and cultural landscapes, which exist in the cultural imagination and have to be experienced to be understood.

Smith summarizes a 300-year history of motivations for Conservation into four biases: Antiquarian – the archaeologist spins great stories about culture from physical remnants of earlier civilizations; Commemorative – the historian protects and tells the story of the historic place through reconstructions or ‘stage sets’; Aesthetic – the architect/architectural historian recreates heritage vocabulary (think Colonial Williamsburg-inspired wallpaper); and, most recently, the Ecological bias that emphasizes a more holistic view of the interconnectedness of buildings/landscapes/artefacts as way of understanding the world whereas earlier biases expressly used the ‘object’ in isolation. This 21st century approach is based on the notion that artefact and ritual come together to create cultural reality.

When we talk about how communities understand place we are dealing with perceived realities, which consider the cultural landscape, not actual or physical reality, i.e. GIS map. Rituals map the city. Case in point: everyone in the audience was instructed to map a small common section of Toronto (an exercise Smith often has students do). The results typically demonstrate that when people think of cities, they plot their rituals, such as commute, festivals, or processions.

“One of the great things about cities is that you can have cultural landscapes that overlay each other and multiple cultural realities existing in the same place.” Smith cites a number of local examples of these places of overlap which frequently are the most fascinating parts of cities: Boulevard St. Laurent, a commercial and multicultural artery in Montreal; or, Kensington Market, a distinctive neighbourhood in downtown Toronto with an unpretentious, bohemian-esque vibe. In the latter’s case, nothing evolved according to planning principles but was rather the result of a pattern of (illegal) unregulated activity and that is precisely what gives this area its vitality. Smith thinks this part of the city deserves recognition as a cultural landscape that overrides both the province’s Planning Act and Heritage Act and needs to be protected as such.

Smith highlights Evergreen Brickworks, an innovative multi-use community environmental centre housed in a series of heritage buildings that successfully blur the boundaries between public and private spaces. He argues that architects/planners have been limited by architectural constraints or relied too long on property lines and rights when thinking of how we occupy the city. “Planners are still groping with what it means to lose those distinctions. Our approach has become so aesthetic and commemorative,” says Smith. “You have to maintain cultural landscapes of city layered on top of each other (otherwise you gentrify).” We need creative thinking; a dynamic definition of cultural change; and, to allow the evolution of buildings and places with contemporary layers such that they are in harmony, and not just freeze them in historic settings.

This type of discussion is particularly interesting for a dynamic environment like Toronto that is growing and changing at a rapid pace by virtue of the constant influx of people. It seems that only by integrating commerce, culture and community can we achieve a balance between urban growth and quality of life on a sustainable basis. The Centre for City Ecology, whose mandate is to “raise levels of urban literacy so that ordinary Torontonians can join in a robust conversation about city building,” engages the community to create meaningful spaces for a more liveable city. It hosts lectures at the Urbanspace Gallery at 401 Richmond St West, a heritage building providing spaces for the creative sector.

For more information on the lecture series, check the CCE’s website http://www.cityecology.net/. Click here to see the video of Julian Smith’s November 14 presentation. 

Next stop: Coney Island

Eager to escape Manhattan at the peak of summer, my friend and I decided a full-fledged beach day was in short order. A quick jaunt over on the subway and we were in Coney Island, America’s “People’s Playground” in Brooklyn, NY.

A stop at Nathan’s Famous is an American tradition that must not be missed so we nabbed a couple of their signature bacon cheeseburgers and crinkled fries and made our way through the obstacle course of beachgoers to a breezy spot by the water’s edge.

The boardwalk is lined with eateries and other attractions. No amusement park rides for us (those particular thrills ceased to wow me years ago) but seeing them again does take you back. I don’t really know what I was expecting to see in Coney Island but it was more along the lines of circus freaks and other outrageous types strolling about, hot dog eating contests, and multitudes of children shrieking with unbridled enthusiasm. It was a little tamer on this day.

Once a thriving entertainment destination, Coney Island is now but a shadow of its former self. Much of it is slated for redevelopment, and many of its historic buildings are threatened with demolition. There is a strong effort by preservationist groups and the like calling for their safeguarding, citing economic incentives for the rehabilitation of these unique structures. It’s interesting to imagine what they could become if they were preserved, restored and reused…

I’d like to return to Coney Island in the wintertime, to behold the sweeping calm of the beach and ocean and, while walking the empty boardwalk, to search for traces of its former glory.