Archives for category: structures

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In late October, Glo’erm and I put up a fake development proposal sign on the lawn of Old City Hall in Toronto. The proposal included a 90-storey residential tower, while the heritage building would be converted into a parking garage. At the bottom of the sign was a link to a website that featured several other, increasingly absurd, parody proposals.

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I guess pranking is still in style, because the stunt was covered by every local news outlet in Toronto, with many thinking it was real. The project struck a chord with a city anxious about how fast it is changing.

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Some of the comments on CityTV’s coverage of the story, ranging from outrage to… outrage

After articles in blogTO, the Toronto Star, Metro Toronto, and Canadian Art, and some hilarious TV news coverage where they created animations of the proposed buildings actually coming out of the existing structures,  I wrote about our motivations in the Globe and Mail. (We were initially anonymous, but decided to reveal ourselves to explain the ideas behind the project and keep the conversation going, not to mention some good press).

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The signs in the print edition of the Globe and Mail, October 29, 2016

As soon as the article was published, there was a vast amount of criticism regarding my position. One critic called it “NIMBYism dressed up as art”, despite my very clear stance that development is needed, but that doesn’t mean it has to be so extreme and uncontrolled. I do agree with most of the critiques, and my knowledge about the state of development in Toronto has expanded greatly from this experience.

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Basically, the reason we’re getting so much “hyper-density” in Toronto, is because of what is known as the Yellow Belt – huge swaths of Toronto zoned as Neighbourhoods, and protected from development that doesn’t meet the character of the area. This means that people can use the official plan to reject even gentle, mid-rise density from these neighbourhoods. With a rapidly growing population in Toronto, that density has to go somewhere – and its landing in neighbourhoods where there weren’t many previous residents to defend them, like along lower Yonge Street and Liberty Village. One planner described it as a stress ball: if you squeeze the ball, all the pressure has to go somewhere, and it’s popping up as a extremely high density in certain parts of the city.

I was able to express a more nuanced view in an interview with NOW magazine.

Inclusivity is important: Toronto has an affordable housing crisis, and its important to increase the supply of housing so that the city remains accessible to all. The development proposals we are critiquing are not the answer: they are not affordable, and their extreme heights do not contribute to a higher quality of life.

I stand by our initial critique of an opaque proposal process that leaves most Torontonians out of the decision making process. When you go to a public meeting regarding a development proposal, that meeting is only accessible to a certain segment of the population, who have the time and knowledge to be able to respond to a fully formed proposal that will probably be built. At those meetings, as critical urbanist Jay Pitter has said more than once, the most important question is who is not at those meetings, and why aren’t they there?

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Originally posted on Spacing Toronto

Facing each other across Spadina Avenue just north of Adelaide, the Tower and Balfour Buildings frame a striking entryway into Toronto’s Fashion District.

Previously known as the Garment District, the neighbourhood was home to many of Toronto’s textile workers, who were predominantly Jewish immigrants.

Masterpieces of Art Deco architecture, the Balfour and Tower buildings were originally built to house those garment businesses and their showrooms, raising the prominence of the industry, and the city with it.

Designed by Benjamin Brown in the late 1920s, their towering elegance was symbolic of Toronto’s transformation into a modern metropolis — a financial, cultural and transportation hub with a swelling population over 200 000.

That elegance extended to several other Brown-designed buildings nearby including The Commodore on Adelaide, The New Textile Building on Richmond (now an OCADU building) and the Hermant Building at Yonge and Dundas Square.

Despite defining the city at a critical point in its history, Benjamin Brown has remained relatively unknown.

At a time when people weren’t interested in Toronto’s architectural history, let alone the work of a single architect, Brown’s entire collection of drawings were forgotten about in the architect’s garage and left to deteriorate.

When Brown died, he left the collection to fellow architect Jim Levine, one of the only people who recognized the value of the work.

The Ontario Jewish Archives took over the collection in the 80s and has painstakingly restored it, ensuring that a valuable archive of drawings that document the emerging modernity of Toronto was not lost. Highlights of the collection are now on view in an exhibit of Benjamin Brown’s work at the Urbanspace Gallery on the ground floor of 401 Richmond, until April 23.

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The exhibit is an opportunity to get an up-close view of Benjamin Brown’s expertly executed hand-drawn plans and renderings. Brown was a master of lines. His incredibly detailed drawings even include the buildings’ ornamental windows and decorative stonework.

Brown’s drawings are also poignant portraits of Toronto in the 1920s and 30s, where the aerodynamic shapes and sleek lines of Art Deco and Art Moderne dominated architecture and fashion. In the rendering of the Tower Building, Spadina is bustling with crowds in stylish coats as streamline automobiles motor by.

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Brown was one of the first Jewish architects to build and sustain a successful practice in Toronto despite the discrimination within the city in the early 1900s. As a result, he was the architect of many spaces for the Jewish community, including Beth Jacob Synagogue (today, a Russian Orthodox Church) and the Primrose Club on Willcocks, a social club for Jewish men (today, it’s the University of Toronto’s faculty club).

As an artist and urban geographer, I was delighted to participate in the exhibit by illustrating many of Brown’s best known buildings, tracing over his lines and creating a map showing the geographic expansiveness of his life’s work. Indeed, Benjamin Brown has hundreds of commissions spread throughout the city.

CommMy illustration of the Commodore Building on Adelaide. Unlike Benjamin Brown, I didn’t use a ruler!

Looking at Toronto through the lens of a single architect is an opportunity to make connections between the city’s disparate neighbourhoods and styles. Benjamin Brown’s designs range from the Art Deco towers downtown to utilitarian garages in the west end, storefronts on Bloor and Georgian, Tudor and Colonial Revival houses in midtown.

Through the work of Benjamin Brown, an intelligible thread runs through Toronto, a city indebted to the grandeur he helped established at the turn of the twentieth century.

See the exhibit of Benjamin Brown’s work at the Urbanspace Gallery on the ground floor of 401 Richmond, now until April 23.

 

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Benjamin Brown is one of Toronto’s most important, but least well known architects.

Practicing in the 1920s and 30s, his Art Deco towers defined the Toronto’s Garment District when the city was emerging as a modern metropolis.

Beyond the downtown core, Brown’s work can be found throughout the city – store front designs, residential homes, synagogues and community centres.

To illustrate the expansiveness and character of his work, the Ontario Jewish Archives commissioned me to illustrate 15 of Benjamin Brown’s buildings, along with a giant map featuring  a selection of his commissions.

The illustrations and map are up at the Benjamin Brown exhibit at the Urbanspace Gallery on the ground floor of 4o1 Richmond until April 23.

Enjoy digital versions above and samples of the map below, and be sure to check out the exhibit to see the mastery of Brown’s plans and renderings in person!

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Heritage Toronto commissioned me to illustrate their award nomination forms.

The commission was an opportunity to ruminate on what “heritage” means. Though Yonge & Dundas Square and the Don Valley Parkway aren’t directly the subjects of Heritage Toronto awards, their inclusion on the nomination forms hints toward how we may consider them in the future. Indeed, a decade after Yonge & Dundas Square opened to “consternation”, architectural critics are praising its role in the city.

Don Valley Parkway

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The Hermant Building’s recently restored entranceway

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Community Heritage
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Yonge & Dundas Square
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Short Publication 
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As you may know, I recently moved to Guelph, and am spending lots of time getting to know another corner of the Southern Ontario industrial lands.

Guelph is made up of many neighbourhoods that each have their own distinct feel. (Dare I say, Guelph is a City of Neighbourhoods?)

I live in The Ward.

The Ward was first developed to house factory workers and is characterized by humble brick houses scattered between factories.

Some of these factories are still active, like Owens Cornings Reinforcements on York Road, which putters and sputters all day manufacturing something I still don’t quite understand. Other factories have been long decommissioned, and remain semi-abandonded, with only a barbed wire fence signalling anyone still cares about them. Others have been demolished, leaving behind huge brownfields that have yet to be remediated, subdivided and developed.

Compared to Guelph’s wealthier neighbourhoods, The Ward has always been a bit neglected — but this is a good thing. Without much attention paid to it, its obvious from its ramshackle built form that The Ward was left unzoned for the better part of its existence. This left a lot of space for its historically Italian residents to expand their homes willy-nilly to accommodate their needs – whether that was to add extra bedrooms to their upper floors, or an entire front edition that would house a store front.

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The result is an incredibly eclectic neighbourhood, where every house is completely different from the next, each DIY renovation facilitating a need, each random addition representing a very specific human desire.

In The Chronology of City Repair, Mark Lakeman talks about how we are all villagers, and modern city development with its homogenous, top down plans and developments prevent us from expressing ourselves in the places we live, taking away our “villager” status.

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Its evident from its ad hoc shacks, its piece-meal additions and its random store front editions, that the villager spirit is very much alive in The Ward.

At least it was alive, at a certain time. With many of the commercial additions now inactive, and many unimaginative new homes, it’s hard to say if the villager spirit still remains as strong as the marks it left in its historic architecture.

Like many neighbourhoods similar to it in cities across the world, The Ward is changing. Its Italian residents are aging, their families living in other, shinier parts of town. Young families are moving in, and housing prices are rising.

Will the new residents of the Ward continue inhabiting this place in an ad-hoc basis, and be able to express their specific needs in the architecture? Do the by-laws, the DNA of the city, allow for a continuation of The Ward’s independent spirit?

Even if the by-laws changed, I believe that the places we live strongly effect who we are. And if there’s anything we can learn from the ramshackle, ad hoc architecture of The Ward, it’s that we can make our architecture work for us.

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Toronto is condo boom town. The explosion of development within the last ten years means that Toronto will be left with buildings that will be associated our time: the 2000s and 2010s.

Love them or hate them, 2000s condo design has a certain ubiquity — an immediately recognizable look that makes them identifiable among tall structures from other eras and that serve other purposes. Their heavy use of glass, the uninventive balcony design, the bluish, greyish colouring, all point to buildings that are unmistakably condos built in the last ten years. And there are a lot of them.

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Toronto condos from the 2000s have a certain ubquity

The Condo Box Project

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Using wheat paste, my street art collaborator Glo’erm, and I, transformed a Canada Post drop-off box into a mini-Condo. Their ubiquitous design, as described above, mean that the box is immediately recognizable as a condo.

The box is placed on Ossington, just south of College — a neighbourhood at the edge of condo boom town. Its mini-ness leaves the effect that this condo has, like its larger counterparts, somehow naturally emerged, like a mushroom in the forest. Its spawning feels inevitable and uncontrollable — a feeling many Torontonians have about the current explosion in, often low quality and sloppily placed condo developments.

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The size also puts passersby in the position of an urban planner or developer looking out over a model of the city. Its a position of power, that ordinary citizens do not occupy. But this position points to the agency we do indeed have over shaping our city. Like the planners and developers, Torontonians do have some say in the city they inhabit — the democratic processes may be somewhat broken, but political agency can be accessed, if only we had the motivation.

Another interesting phenomenon will be the box’s decay over time. Inevitably, the wheat pasted paper panels will begin to fade and strip away. Will this hyper-sped process of decay predict what the condos being built today might look like in the future? As they say, time will tell.

Forest Hill is changing.

One house at a time, the abundance of solid, modest 1940s era houses are being demolished, replaced by bigger, grander, and louder mansions. They tower over the increasingly rare, smaller houses.

Many streets, like the north side of Vesta Drive, west of Spadina, have been entirely transformed — no original house remains.

It is hard to lament the loss of mansions, as in this complicated and overwhelmingly unjust world, there are simply, more important things to spill ink over. As I explored in my first ever post on this blog, however, we cannot anticipate how the city will take itself up in the future, Today’s mansion neighbourhood is tomorrow’s subdivided, affordable apartment zone, as Toronto has experienced with the mansions along Jarvis Street. With this in mind, heritage, even in an exclusive part of this city, is important to consider given the extensions of time and transformations of space.

Regardless of the loss of old, beautiful, heritage and humble homes, and the influx of towering and garish mansions, the effect in the neighbourhood is mesmerizing.

A walk today through the streets of Forest Hill was accompanied by the clang of steel, a constant buzz of power tools, an incessant banging of hundreds of hammers. We are witnessing the metamorphosis of a neighbourhood. It is shedding a new skin, and is doing so rapidly.

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Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario, keeps promising that a revived Ontario Place will not include any condos.

That probably provokes  many-a-sigh of relief to those Torontonians who are tired of the constant construction delays, obnoxious ad campaigns, homogenous design, and iffy quality of overpriced downtown condos.

Ontario Place, a theme park opened in 1971, has been largely unused since 2012, when its amusement park closed. Only a concert venue, an event space and its marina remain in operation. The site, including its iconic geodesic dome, takes up a large portion of Toronto’s waterfront.

I think it’s a lost opportunity to not include any residences in a re-invented Ontario Place. The vastness of the site leaves room for high density, mid-rise development, while maintaining large portions of open, publicly accessible park land.

A newly developed Ontario Place that is purely parkland risks becoming dangerous space at times when it is not populated. As we’ve learned with Jane Jacobs’ eyes-on-the-street philosophy, when there is no one around taking ownership of a space, it becomes harder to defend its positive uses.

Also, not including any residential units in Ontario Place is a lost opportunity to build much needed affordable housing, that is central and well connected.

As a commenter on BlogTO puts it:

Now I am not a condoist. Nor a condophobe. But has nobody learned anything from Jane Jacob’s?

Let me see if I have this right…. we’re going to build a prettier park in what was essentially a not pretty park and magically it will have life and people and interaction?

It’s not like it is High Park or Beaches, etc which are surrounded by residential – this thing is surrounded by the CNE and a busy road. Some residential nearby to the east but to the north it is walled off by CNE and train tracks and any residential access to the west is pretty far away.

So there was no money for Ontario place and since there will be no real development there will be no new money from anywhere other than govt for this. So what we will end up with is a $100m pretty park with crap access by public transit (not too many families gonna lug the cooler all the way from CNE streetcar across Lakeshore) and no residential embedded within. Basically we’ll end up with a $100m unused park.

Would it not make more sense to allow some moderate mixed use development which would accomplish a few goals: integrate residential, generate development income, generate real mixed-use, potentially have critical mass to justify some public transit?

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Spending many days beside the Gibraltar Point lighthouse has got me thinking about the deep roots of Toronto’s colonial history.

The lighthouse was built in 1808, and is the oldest stone building in Toronto. The lighthouse might seem out of place several hundred meters from the sandy shore of the Gibraltar Point beach. Originally built at the water’s edge, the Island’s constantly shifting sands and accumulations from deposits from the Scarborough Bluffs have stranded the lighthouse inland.

I often look at the lighthouse and the bulking skyline articulated by the CN tower just beyond it and realize that the solid stone lighthouse and the towers across the bay are directly linked to each other. The lighthouse was the British’s first attempt at establishing a permanent settlement in this part of the world. It’s guidance of boats around the Island and into the protected bay enabled the growth that eventually lead to the modern mountain of glass and steel that exists today. The lighthouse and the CN tower are in a constant conversation of imperialism, assertion and power on the landscape.

That was a little wordy, and aren’t things better in comic form? Please enjoy my comic TORONTO EMERGES, produced for distribution at Doors Open Toronto 2014!

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Amnesia 1

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Trees are also the holding-place for a community’s collective memories.

Amnesia

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Cities have different relationships with their memory.

Amsterdam holds its history close to its heart. Its famous canal belt is celebrated by Amsterdammers, and nothing can be built that deviates too much from the aesthetic of 17th century Dutch architecture.

Sometimes, cities can go too far with holding onto their memory, preserving their historic centres to the point they become essentially dead — frozen in time and preserved as museums of themselves. I’ve heard people speak about central Rome this way, and Bath in the UK.

And sometimes cities can go too far the other way — not paying credence to their history at all, leading to the demolition of beautiful and important buildings, and general disregard for history, culture and ecology.

At times, I think Toronto falls into this latter category.

In fact, I think Toronto has cultural amnesia. I’ve illustrated a few of my arguments in the comic above.

Do you agree?…. and what are other examples of Toronto having amnesia?

This post first appeared on Spacing Toronto

On a recent walk along Eglinton just east of Bathurst, I noticed that several blocks are lined with beautiful Art Deco apartment buildings. The apartments — most of them rental units — aren’t tall. At five to seven storeys each, they’re mid-rises. And they make for a very attractive, human-scaled streetscape.

With intricate brick-work and distinctive fonts carved into stone that spell out the apartments’ names (there’s The Crofton and The Forest Hill Manor and The Roycroft), Forest Hill’s Art Deco apartments feature quintessential characteristics of the international style-movement.

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The Forest Hill Manor, on Eglinton at Old Forest Hill Road, image courtesy of TObuilt.ca

According to the excellent building database TObuilt.ca, Forest Hill’s Art Deco apartments date from the 1940s — the height of Art Deco design internationally. The style, known for its whimsical, rounded and striking forms, represented a period when modern ideas were being expressed in traditional building materials, like stone, brick and wood.

Other cities’ mid-century experiments with Art Deco continue to define their contemporary identities. Gaudi’s Modernisme in Barcelona, most famously captured by the dripping stonework of Sagrada Familia, will forever stand as a symbol of Barcelona. The origins of Chicago’s smoky allure can be traced back to its Film Noir-Art Deco heyday. South Beach is Art Deco, Florida style. In Amsterdam, major swaths of the city are distinguished by expansive brick “Amsterdamse School” social housing complexes.

Mid-rise Art Deco apartment buildings line Amsterdam's outer streets

The intricate brick work of mid-rise Art Deco apartment buildings line Amsterdam’s outer streets

Not surprisingly, with its 1940s building boom, Toronto has its own abundance of Art Deco architecture. Think of the short apartment buildings in Parkdale, and the sturdy office towers that line St. Clair east and west of Yonge. (For more, check out Art Deco Toronto, or get a copy of Tim Morawetz’s book. Also keep your eyes open for exhibits like Smart Address, which just ended at the St Lawrence Market Gallery.)

Typical Toronto: this city can’t be defined by its abundance of Art Deco. Even though there are many striking examples,  most of Toronto’s Art Deco is less dramatic than its international counterparts. Toronto’s version plays more of a background role in the city’s landscape, as we can see in the genteel apartment buildings that line Eglinton east of Bathurst.

Strolling along Art Deco Eglinton, I can understand what Toronto Chief PlannerJennifer Keesmaat has in mind when she speaks of the importance of building mid-rises along Toronto’s avenues. Mid-rise population densities wouldn’t overwhelm the city’s infrastructure the way towers do, and their scale would promote walkable and strong communities. Building avenues of mid-rise apartments would put Toronto on the map with other beloved mid-rise cities like Paris and Berlin.

Keesmaat’s mid-rise Toronto would look and feel very much like Eglinton east of Bathurst does today. Based on my walks along Art Deco Eglinton, I agree with her. Eglinton’s mid-rise apartments make for a very functional and attractive cityscape.

Daniel Rotsztain is the Urban Geographer. After six years of formal and informal education in Montreal, Halifax and Amsterdam, he is happily back in his home-city of Toronto and ready to respond to it with words and art. Check out his website, or say hello on Twitter!

Leading photo by Robin Pope

This post originally appeared on Urban Toronto

An application has been received by the City to demolish 10 St. Mary, a mid-rise office building on the northwest corner of Yonge and St Mary streets. There has been no word yet regarding proposals by Lifetime Developments, owners of the property, to replace the building if demolition is approved.

10 st mary toronto demolition mid century architectureThe 8 storey office tower at 10 St Mary is a handsome example of mid century architecture, image from GoogleMaps

The eight storey building is a handsome example of Toronto mid-century architecture. Designed by Mathers & Haldenby architects to house their offices along with other architecture firms, the building’s thoughtful design shows in its details, with artful brick patterning and tilting casements. Heritage architecture specialist E.R.A.‘s offices continues the tradition of architects inhabiting the space.

Toronto is graced with many examples of mid- century architecture. However, without protection from heritage designation, many of these buildings are being demolished, and examples from this era are slowly being wiped from the face of the city.

10 st mary toronto demolition mid century architectureAn application for the demolition of 10 St Mary has been received by the City, image from GoogleMaps

The application for the demolition of 10 St. Mary joins two neighbouring projects in what is turning into a concentrated hotspot for construction and development in this area, just southwest of Yonge and Bloor.

Across the street is another loss for Toronto mid-century modernism. Though not being demolished, theChurch of Scientology building is undergoing a massive renovation, including a colourful PostModern recladding that has upset many as a major departure from the building’s Modernist purity.

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The Church of Scientology Building across the street is undergoing renovation and recladding

Immediately west of the Scientology site is Nicholas Residences which continues to rise. The 35-storey “off Yonge” project will tower above the 19th century low-rise cottages along St Nicholas Street. Nicholas Residences’ podium has been sized to recreate the exterior of the former planing mill that it replaces, clad with bricks which were saved from mill’s façade.

UrbanToronto will continue to provide updates on 10 St Mary as the application is received and more information becomes available. Check out the Forum thread to join the discussion and find out more about 10 St Mary Street and voice your thoughts about the possible loss of this architectural gem, or leave a comment below.