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Energy efficiency retrofit conference hits Toronto

Canadian builders, architects and planners will get the chance to learn about cutting-edge energy efficiency retrofits during a conference this month with a delegation of German companies.
 
The September 22 conference brings eight German tech and manufacturing firms with an expertise in energy efficiency to the city to talk about opportunities to work together on making existing buildings more energy efficient.
 
“For us Canadians, it’s interesting because Germany is number one in the sector of energy efficiency and renewable energy because they have a long lasting program to turn their energy completely to renewable,” says Emma Sargsyan, manager of business development for the Canadian German Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Participating companies offer a range of products and services including more efficient windows and doors, measuring and control technology and engineering services.
 
Although Toronto’s building boom, with all its shiny new condo towers, has attracted much attention, Toronto also has a serious appetite for retrofits now, particular within the city’s tower renewal program. Though the chamber hosts regular conferences aimed at pairing Canadian and German companies, this is the first time they’ve hosted an event solely dedicated to retrofitting.
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Emma Sargsyan

New Downsview campus opens whole new world for Centennial College aerospace students

Centennial College’s new Downsview Park Aerospace Campus, slated to begin construction this fall, has big shoes to fill.
 
The campus will provide aerospace training for up to 900 students at a time in a 130,000-square-foot space that’s the former home of the de Havilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd., a storied company founded in 1929 that built planes for the Second World War. The massive building also hosted the Canadian Air and Space Museum from 1997 to 2011 and was slated for demolition just four years ago.
 
Instead, it will be renovated into a teaching facility and innovation hub that will be Centennial’s fifth campus, a project expected to cost $55.4 million and create new partnerships between Centennial, other academic institutions like the University of Toronto, and the private sector.
 
The design is by MJMA, the architecture firm behind the Regent Park Aquatics Centre and Centennial’s own Ashtonbee Campus Library and Student Hub. While most of the building’s exterior will be preserved, maintaining the ample natural light, the interior will accommodate larger aircraft than the original builders could have imagined. The area where 7,000 employees used to work at the main assembly line will become the main foyer.
 
“The spirit is intact and will remain the same,” says Andrew Petrou, director of strategic initiatives and external relations at Centennial and executive director of the Downsview Aerospace Cluster for Innovation and Research (DAIR). “The design pays homage to the history of what’s come out of that building.”
 
Adjacent to the Downsview Airport and close to Bombardier’s Downsview plant and Defence Research and Development Canada, students in the aviation program, currently based in Scarborough, will have unprecedented access to the aviation sector.
 
 “It’s a real game changer,” says Petrou. “Students can look at the latest technology in seconds.”
 
The college also has plans for outreach to the local community, and to build bridges between small and medium sized businesses and the academic community that will inhabit the campus. The result, Petrou hopes, will be a more vital aerospace ecosystem that will keep Canada at the top of its game.
 
“Canada’s currently fifth in the world, but other countries have their eye on our spot,” says Petrou.
 
The campus is slated to open by fall 2017.
 
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Andrew Petrou

Ryerson City Building Institute launches database of civil society organizations

A new database of organizations devoted to city building across the GTA and Hamilton aims to build capacity and cooperation among groups working on civil society issues in the region.

Launched last week, along with the first annual report on The State of City Building in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton City Region, the initial database contains listings for about 150 organizations ranging from Artscape and the Diversity Institute to the Toronto Environment Alliance and the Ontario Health Coalition. Rather than service providers, developers or government agencies, the database includes organizations that focus on public policy.

“We were quite careful to think of where we fit. We didn’t want to build a substitute for the Yellow Pages or a professional services directory. Those have been done well enough by other places,” says Tanzeel Merchant, executive director of the Ryerson City Building Institute, which is spearheading the project. Organizations can input the own listing, wiki-style, which is then reviewed by the institute. Merchant expects the database to grow to about 300 or 400 listings within a year. Toronto listings tend to dominate now, so they’ll be reaching out to boost listings in cities across the GTA and in Hamilton.

The database won’t go as far as providing a platform for organizations to communicate with each other directly, but will allow the participants and other researchers to easily see who’s doing what so they can follow up on their own.

“One of the things that’s surprised me is the exponential increase over the last 20 years in the number of organizations involved in city building. What it shows is a very clear intervention by individuals, and sometimes government, to find ways other than big government to influence change,” says Merchant. “More and more of the policy conversations and the change-making conversations are happening in other fora besides the legislature and cabinet.”

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Tanzeel Merchant

City's app-assisted bike research nears 3,000 riders, 40,000 rides

Toronto's aptly named Toronto Cycling app is now approaching 40,000 captured trips in its mission to map the city's most popular cycling routes.

The city's current cycling routes total 570 km, and it's looking to expand along what some have called desire lines, routes that get used whether they'e promoted or not.

Created by Waterloo's Brisk Synergies, Toronto Cycling was released in May on Android and IPhone. Since then, about 3,000 people have downloaded the app, which uses GPS to track the routes cyclists use. A visualization the city has produced using the data collected so far, with recorded trips rendered in red as an overlay on a map, reveals veinous and arterial routes breathing two-wheeled life into the city.

The city will continue collecting the data until at least November, when they will compile it into a report to present to council in 2015. 

"At the end of the year we will be evaluating the value of continuing the data collection into 2015 and on," says Sibel Sarper, assistant planner. "The data collected in 2014 may provide a good baseline to monitor the change in cycling route choice after new cycling infrastructure is introduced yearly."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sibel Sarper


Short film highlights chief planner as a creative mind

Chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat is the star of a new short film by Freeman House Productions, a Toronto firm doing a series about creative people called The Guild. The project does Keesmaat, and the city, a big favour. In the seven-and-a-half-minute black-and-white film, Keesmaat  makes urban planning sound like fun.

“I believe we are inherently creative as a species,” she says at the outset. “I'm a city-builder. I build cities every day. That's my job.

“It's really tricky for me to walk down the street without looking at the shape of a building, the way the entrances are shaped, the width of a sidewalk.”

Though people looking for Toronto specifics will be disappointed – this little film is all blue-sky, big-picture stuff – the way Keesmaat thinks about her profession, as a mix of engineering and art, should make us all sleep a little better at night as our city, as dreamt up by her, coalesces around us.

Writer: Bert Archer

Planners in Public Spaces returns

The planners are taking to the streets again.

After a successful inaugural event in 2013, which saw city planning staff meet and talk with more than 1,700 Torontonians in 20 locations across the city, Planners in Public Space (PiPS) is returning with it's $5,000 budget to take city planning to the people.

"The information we received was broad and ranged from topics such as the Ontario Municipal Board to City governance [to] what worked (and what didn't) with respect to planning City-wide and in a local context.," says planner Giulio Cescato, who noted this is vital to informing the city's planning options. "As planners, our primary ethical responsibility is to the public interest, and PiPS helps connect us with the public in a way we haven't done before," he continues.

Perhaps PIPS greatest success last year was its ability to get up close with the public and educate them on what planning is, and what planners do. 

"An informed and educated public is key to effective public consultation, and the extent to which we value feedback from the community is based on our efforts to empower them. PiPS is a step to achieving that goal," Cescato says.

The initiative, modelled on something similar in Melbourne, Australia, is focusing this year on three planning programs, which the department's calling ResetTO, Growing Conversations and Feeling Congested.

"ResetTO is about bringing forward a Development Permit System, which is a more streamlined and predictable way of dealing with development applications," Cescato says. "Although its been in the Planning Act for a long time, it hasn't really been implemented before and there's a lot of confusion about what it is."

Growing Conversations on the other hand is City Planning's "new outreach program centred around how we undertake community consultation itself. Growing Conversations will examine how City Planning undertakes public consultation particularly in regards to Planning Applications. The initiative will see City Planning going to the community and stakeholders to ask how we could do it better.

Finally, "Feeling Congested is the ongoing consultation process on reducing congestion and improving public transit both from an infrastructure and planning point of view."

Cescato points out, however, that in addition to the focus areas, people are welcome to talk to planners about any issue that interests or concerns them.

PiPS runs until Aug. 27. Dates, places and times are available here.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Giulio Cescato

Huge Distillery District data centre rises on Parliament

The Distillery district isn't leaving its industrial heritage entirely behind it.

The big building currently going up on Parliament just north of Mill – five storeys, 125,000 square feet, no windows – will be a data centre.

"The building houses mainly computer racks for storing data," says architect Nicola Casciato with WZMH.

In a quickly developing part of town that includes not only the Distillery District, but the new Canary District, Bayside and the rest of the burgeoning East Port Lands, a windowless building filled with machinery could really weigh the place down.

"The architectural challenge was to design a building located within a rich architectural neighbourhood that has no windows," Casciato says. "Architects typically use windows to provide urban animation, in this case, the animation was provided through a richly detailed terra cotta façade system that recalls early computer punch card technology and responds to the local brick environment."

Urbacon, the Toronto- and Montreal-based construction and development company in charge of the project, did not want to discuss the building.

The data centre is being built in two sections, and what's visible now are three of the first five floors of the first section.

Construction began in March, 2013 and is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Nicola Casciato

Client judo, or the art of influencing condo tower design

Do all those condo towers look a little bland to you, or is it just me?

I ask some version of this question every time I meet an architect. I can’t help myself. Our skyline is being comprehensively remodeled and I’m a little worried that were going from Toronto the Good to Toronto the Glass.

After a recent panel discussion at the Design Exchange, sponsored by an accounting firm that specializes in architects, which convened to discuss how design can be disported for social good, I asked panelist Michael McClelland of ERA Architects what he thought, as an architect, about all these ticky-tacky towers as the legacy his generation is leaving the city.

After making it clear that architects play at least as big a role as they ever have in the way a building comes out, he told me they weren’t the only ones responsible and that, as a result, "We may have a lot of ordinary buildings being built."

"In the 19-teens or 20s, think of New York when they were building the Chrysler Building, there were very spirited entrepreneurs [saying] ‘Let’s do the best thing ever.' We now deal with,…" he paused, thinking of how to put it politely. "It’s very rare to find those people. We’re often dealing with pension funds and boards who are looking for the safest expenditure and the biggest return."

But he says it’s the architect’s job to do a little of what he calls "client judo," taking the momentum of a developer’s (or pension fund’s) idea and flipping it into something that might make a good building.

The degree of judo required varies by client. "There are extremely knowledgeable clients out there, and very naïve ones," McClelland says.

The worst of the lot of them, in my very humble opinion, is the wholly inappropriate new Four Seasons, a pile of glass that both lacks distinction and makes a back alleyway out of Bay Street to boot. It was designed by Peter Clewes in a style that seems to be running wild across our cityscape.

But according to McClelland, I shouldn’t be too hard on the dwarf-starchitect. One of the reasons I think it looks so plain, he says, is that Clewes is one of the originators of a style that’s been copied to distraction.

It’s happened before.

Eden Smith, the architect behind Wychwood Park, built a few Arts and Crafts houses on Indian Road for some William Morris-loving clients. They were so successful, that developers started copying them, plopping them down all over High Park.

"Smith and his friends were horrified," says McClelland, one of whose specialties is architectural history. They wanted the houses in pastoral settings redolent of the English countryside, but now they were being wedged in everywhere in distinctly urban style.

"These Arts and Crafts houses, which we now totally love, were taking over and killing their bucolic environments,” McClelland says. “You can look at that in every wave of development of every boom period, where there might be some initially very interesting things and, if it’s successful, there’ll be a whole wash of it. Then critiques of it being ‘inappropriate’ and ‘running wild’."

So, Clewes does something new, other developers and boards like it, and as their architects to do that same. That’s where the judo is meant to come in but, as we are seeing, many of our architects seem to be of the white- and yellow-belt variety.

But the boom ain’t over yet – in fact, McClelland thinks we may now be in the same boom that began in the 80s, and then just experienced a lull before roaring back to life -- and he is quite chuffed about what David Pontarini is doing with more fluid buildings like 1 Bloor East and the Massey Tower.

So, before we get a bunch of mini-Pontarinis, it may be time to break out the black belts.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Michael McClelland

Enerquality awards recognize green builders, renovators

It’s easy for city-dwellers to slip into the misconception that green building is an urban issue. But as the 14th annual Enerquality Awards gala in Niagara Falls has just reminded us, suburban doesn’t always mean what we think it means.

Take Sloot Construction, for instance. They’re a homebuilder in and around Guelph, and they built Ontario’s first house under the new Energy Star for New Homes Standard in April for which, among other things, they won the Building Innovation Award for "technical excellence while implementing high-performance building practices."

Or Steve Snider Construction, out of Port Perry, who started building R-2000 homes as early as 1986, and exclusively starting in the 1990s. He got the Green Renovation Project of the Year award.

"Sloot and Sniderman are standouts," says Corey McBurney, Enerquality's president. "They're the thin edge of the wedge." Because they are small operators in what McBurney calls small community housing markets (everything but the GTA), they're able to do things, like build homes to the very high R-2000 standard, that McBurney estimates are almost a decade ahead of what production builders like Mattamy Homes (which McBurney estimates builds 2,400 homes a year) can do in the GTA.

Suburbs and exurbs leading the charge? Who knew?

But Toronto wasn’t entirely left out. Empire Communities took home the big prize, Ontario Green Builder of the Year. Based in Vaughan, Empire is the developer behind Mark, Rain, Beyond the Sea, Modern, Fly, The Hub and Schoolhouse, all in the downtown core, along with projects in Markham, Mississauga, Brampton and beyond.

Enerquality, founded in 1998, is an association that runs programs described as being "designed to encourage and support developers, builders and renovators improve building performance and reduce the environmental impact of housing."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sarah Margolius

Row 1 left to right
Doug Tarry, Doug Tarry Homes, Andy Goyda, Owens Corning, John Sloot, Sloot Construction, Jim Dunstan, Union Gas, Larry Brydon, Ozz Electric, Rick Martins, Eastforest Homes
 
Row 2 left to right
Nikki Bettinelli, Empire Communities, Michelle Vestergaard, Enbridge Gas, Paul Golini, Empire Communities, Shannon Bertuzzi, Enbridge Gas, Darlene Fraser, Eastforest Homes, Carrie Alexander, Steven Doty, Empire Communities
 
Row 3 left to right
Corey McBurney, EnerQuality, Margaret Ward, Enbridge Gas, Dorothy Stewart, Enbridge Gas, Stephen Doty, Empire Communities

Toronto officially one of the 7 most intelligent cities in the world

In proof that a city is more than its political parts, Toronto has been named one of the world’s 7 most intelligent communities.

The designation comes from the Intelligent Community Forum, the 13-year-old international organization that rates communities based on "policies and practices that are creating positive economic, governing and social activity."

The 2014 shortlist is the most geographically concentrated in the ICF’s history, with two cities each from Taiwan and the US, and three from Canada.

The list includes Hsinchu City and New Taipei City in Taiwan, Arlington, Virginia, and Columbus, Ohio, and Kingston, Winnipeg and Toronto.

According to the ICF, Toronto is cited specifically for its "renowned waterfront development that will provide Internet at 500 times the speed of conventional residential networks."

Representatives from the ICF will be visiting the shortlisted cities over the next several months, and the final decision will be made in New York City in June.

According to Kristina Verner, Waterfront Toronto’s director of Intelligent Communities, the importance of this designation "is largely economic development, in terms of brand recognition that there is the technological capacity, as well as the innovation and workforce capacity, for emerging businesses."

Last year’s winner was Taichung City, Taiwan. Toronto was also on last year's shortlist.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Kristina Verner

Architect David Sisam talks about replacing time and space with "place and occasion"

Space and time are all well and good, but they’re not the most human of concepts.

Toronto architect David Sisam, principal with Montgomery Sisam, prefers "place and occasion," the title of a wide-ranging talk he’s giving on Thursday as part of Ryerson’s architecture series.

The concept comes from the late Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck, who said, "Whatever space and time mean, place and occasion mean more, for space in the image of man is place, and time in the image of man is occasion."

To illustrate, Sisam’s talk will cover four concepts basic to his firm's philosophy, using their Toronto-area projects to hammer the message home. The topics, which are also the titles of essays in a 2013 monograph on his firm, are "Light and Air," "Economy of Means, Generosity of Ends," "Transcending Expectations," and "The Space Between."

By "light and air," Sisam means the integration of indoor and outdoor space, "We do a lot of healthcare work," he says, giving the John C. and Sally Horsfall Eaton Ambulatory Care Centre on Cummer Avenue as an instance, "where the floor plates are very big, and we try to make them narrower to give more access to daylight and view."

Limited budgets are to architecture firms, in Sisam’s view what sonnets are to poets: a limitation that tests the mettle and can bring out some of the best work. "It's a rigorous exercise to stretch a limited budget to produce something of worth," he says, describing what he means by "economy of means" and "generosity of ends," and offering the Island Yacht Club and Greenwood College School as examples.

"When you get a programme for a building," Sisam says, referring to the technicalities of an assignment or brief from a client, "you get something called gross-up: corridors, duct shafts, and so on, space which s typically regarded as something the client wants to reduce, but which is actually an important part of the program. Corridors can become galleries, and so on,” he says. “In planning, public space are planned first, and the buildings are filled in later. With buildings, it’s often the opposite."

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Sisam will talk about the relationship between any given building and the place it’s built, a relationship that’s defined, in his view, by 'the space in between," whether it's in a city, like his firm’s Humber River bicycle and pedestrian bridge, or on a riverbank in the countryside.

The talk is at 6:30pm in Pitman Hall at 160 Mutual Street on the Ryerson campus.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: David Sisam
Photos: Tom Arban, courtesy of Montgomery Sisam Architects.

Toronto takes another shot at being an Intelligent Community

Last year did not do much for Toronto’s image as an intelligent city. But Waterfront Toronto is looking to turn that all around in 2014.

For the second time in as many years, Waterfront is spearheading Toronto’s application to the Intelligent Community Foundation in the hopes of being named the world’s most intelligent city. Out of more than 400 applications, we’ve already made it to the top 21, and at the end of this month, we’ll find out if we made the final seven, as we did in 2005 and again last year.

Cities are judged by the foundation on criteria such as digital inclusion strategies and the status of their knowledge-based workforce. The 2011 winner, Eindhoven, Netherlands, is known for its Brainport, a public-private project that’s controibuted 55,000 jobs over the past decade. Last year’s winner, Taichung City, Taiwan, is known for its environmental friendliness.

According to Kristina Verner, Waterfront Toronto’s director of intelligent communities, Toronto is already becoming known in global circles for building the only community in which the principles of intelligent communities are, in the words of people who speak of such things, baked in.

"We're serving as a catalyst for the city of Toronto," Verner says of the work going on at the Waterfront. "We're a living lab, not just for the city, but for other cities in North America."

According to Verner, winning the competition would drastically increase the city's so-called brand recognition in the community of site selectors – corporate types who decide where in the world facilities will be built – as well as governments looking to collaborate on large projects, as Eindhoven did with Waterloo, which won the title in 2007.

If Toronto makes it to the final seven, it moves on to the final phase, the results of which are to be announced in New York in June.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Kristina Verner

Photos courtesy of Waterfront Toronto.

Trees suffer under ice, point to the future

After the ice, and the branches and wires and crushed cars, things looked bad. The city didn’t make it any better by saying as much as 20 per cent of the city's tree canopy had been destroyed and that people wouldn't have to apply for licenses to take down damaged trees.

"I was concerned," says Councillor Sarah Doucette (Ward 13 Parkdale-High Park), the city's tree advocate. She called in to the city, and was assured that people would have to take pictures of the damaged tree to prove it needed to be taken down. How effective this will be remains to be seen, though the councillor, who lost half of one tree and the entirety of another in her own yard, says if you take the city's hasty announcement as a license for arborcide, "We will come after you."

That 20 per cent figure also concerns her.

"I think that was a very quick ballpark," she says. "We need arborists to go out and look at these. Can we prune this tree and will it come back? But we’re really not going to know for another few years."

And as far as Doucette is concerned, those years should be spent taking a sylvan lesson or two from High Park.

"I drove through High Park after the storm," Doucette says of the park that forms a large part of her ward, "because I wanted to see what sort of devastation we had in the park. There wasn’t any devastation. Some of the branches came down, but for the size of the park, we didn’t have that much damage, and that’s because they maintain and prune the trees. If the city can put more money into pruning our city trees, we wouldn’t be losing branches like this during storms."

She also suggests there should be some education available for residents on the importance of tree maintenance to avoid the mess, damage and potential injury after storms like December’s.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source; Sarah Doucette

Ryerson sets up new urban economic analysis centre

According to David Amborski, Toronto could stand to look a little more closely at what it's doing.

"One of the things that often seems to be missing is economic analysis of urban policies."

Amborski, a professor at Ryerson's School of Urban and Regional Planning, is heading up a new research operation, the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development (CURLD), at Ryerson whose mission it is to tease out the economic implications of the decisions being made at Queen's Park and City Hall, with the hope that their papers will not only contribute to the general debate, but will occasionally land on the desk of some decision-making desks.

The centre is part of the Faculty of Community Services.

"One example I often point out: When the Greenbelt was put in place, they figured it wouldn't have an effect on property prices," Amborski says. "But as every economist knows, you can't effect supply without also affecting price. It’s not that we would have changed the Greenbelt policy but we could have done some things to mitigate the price impacts."

A more recent example was the talks a few years ago about dramatically increasing development charges. At the time, Amborski says, though it would have worked and improved revenue for projects in the downtown core, it would have seriously hampered development along current and future transit lines as described by Mayor Miller's Transit City plan.

The plan is for the centre to conduct seminars, hold public debates, and put out calls for proposals to do work related to various topics of compelling interest.

"We're looking to be part of the city-building initiative," Amborski says, "part of that base that provides information for decision making."

Though they’re still getting settled in at Ryerson and don't have any official areas of focus yet, Amborski did say that one likely area of study would be how to get the most out of Section 37, the regulation that ensures money flows from developers into areas of communal interest, such as park-making and public art.

"Some of the issues involve the way it's determined, who negotiates it," Amborski says. "Ward councillors have a major hand in it now. Can there be a more transparent approach? Can we be sure the money collected is being used in the best interests of the community involved?"

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: David Amborski

U of T unveils plans for newfangled engineering building

The proposed Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship at U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering was unveiled Oct. 29. According to one of its biggest proponents, it represents a great leap forward in the often retrogressive world of engineering education.

Designed by Montgomery Sisam Architects in Toronto and the UK’s Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, the new building -- estimated to cost considerably more than the $50 million already raised for it – is meant to encourage students to learn from each other as much as from the lecturers.

The 500-student auditorium will be the centrepiece as well as a model of how the school intends to conduct its teaching in this realm. Professor Emeritus Ron Venter, former chair of mechanical engineering and a consultant on the current project, explains.

"Normally the seats are next to each other, and the lecturer stands in front," he says. "We are trying to build the lecture theatre so it will still be tiered, but instead of the seats being one next to another in rows, the rows aren't there. What you've got are tables, a work surface with six students or four students being able to sit around, to discuss things in groups. You can lecture, but the group has a dynamic going on on its own. Then that group can interact with the lecturer. Everything is electronically connected, so if you've got a laptop on your table looking something up and find something that's pretty good that supports what the concept is of the lecture going on, you can, with the lecturer's approval, be beamed onto the Jumbotron at the front."

Another novel concept is the "alumni attractor" rooms, conceived as a place engineering alumni can hang out with current students, do some of their own work, and casually mentor the next generation.

If Venter’s optimistic timetable were followed, ground on the new building, to be put up next to Simcoe Hall on land that's currently a parking lot, would be broken next fall, with completion set for December, 2016.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Ron Venter
43 research and innovation Articles | Page: | Show All
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