Tag Archives: RAW Design

Totem Condos Stacks Up Well Against Average High-Rises

(this is an article I wrote for UrbanToronto)

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

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

Totem Condos, Worsley Urban Partners, RAW Design

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

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

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

New Museum of Modern Art, Hisao Suzuki, SANAA

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

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

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

Totem Condos, Worsley Urban Partners, RAW Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Totem Condos, Worsley Urban Partners, RAW Design

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

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

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

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

Totem Condos, Worsley Urban Partners, RAW Design

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

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

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Mario Ribeiro of Triumph talks Howard Park Residences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relative locations of Howard Park and Roncesvalles Lofts by Triumph Developments

Relative locations of Howard Park and Roncesvalles Lofts by Triumph Developments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.