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Women's College Hospital's fašade joins the streetscape

Women’s College Hospital was, geographically speaking, always the outlier, tucked away up Elizabeth Street way, several blocks from University Avenue’s hospital row.

Then it raised a lot of money and started rebuilding itself in 2010. It’s still not on hospital row — its street address is still the same, in fact: 76 Grenville — but its presence in the city has skyrocketed, due mainly to its striking concrete College Street facade by architects Perkins Eastman Black and the IBI Group.

It’s not quite done yet, though the facade in its full neo-brutalist splendour is just now emerging. Though facilities moved into the new spaces in May, the work on the new 630,000 square foot complex is not due to be finished until 2016.

If CEO Marilyn Emery has her way, the new Women’s College Hospital will not only be more visible, it’ll be much more part of the community.

Due to what can only be called extreme consultation measures, including 25 focus groups and 35 online forums, the hospital’s interior design is looking to accommodate the women who live in the city now.

“Like seniors,” she told Yonge Street earlier in the development process, “and lesbian and queer women, lesbian and queer youth, the transgendered, women with addictions, abused women, women with disabilities, women living with HIV-AIDS, street workers, women with mental health issues, lower-income women, recent immigrants, Tamil women, Bengali women, Caribbean women, Mandarin-speaking women.…”

Emery trailed off, acknowledging that the list of Toronto’s diversity, at present and in the 30-year future she’s currently envisioning for the hospital, is more extensive than a single quotation can encompass.

Fort York's lauded visitors centre finally opens

The Fort York visitors centre officially opened last week, and with it, a new era in the career of one of the country’s most significant historic sites.

After playing a major role in the defence of the city of York during the War of 1812, the new city of Toronto rather overtook it, and in recent decades, it’s been in real danger of disappearing from the municipal consciousness.

“Until now, Fort York National Historic Site was invisible to passersby,” says Jonathan Kearns, principal at Kearns Mancini Architects, one of the two firms behind its design. “Altered by two centuries of lake fill, it is now 500 metres from the shoreline of Lake Ontario, below the elevated concrete canopy of the Gardiner Expressway and geographically landlocked by rail corridors. The Visitor Centre establishes a prominent front door to the Fort where none previously existed. As the area is growing with new residential developments, an opportunity was identified to make Fort York a focal point, urban amenity and cultural anchor to the neighbourhood.”

The 22,000 square foot, $25-million building, carved into the landscape so as not to overwhelm the low-lying site as well as to create the impression of the promontory the place once was, is the opening gambit in a long-term development plan for the 43-acre site.

“The façade asserts a strong physical presence from Fort York Blvd, anticipating future use of the space below the Gardiner as a wonderful ‘city room,’” Kearns says. “Behind, the building emerges from Garrison Common as an illuminated wedge clad in backlit cast glass channels, allowing the low-slung buildings of the Fort to remain the architectural focus. Environmentally, the earth-sheltered architecture allows for more efficient humidity and climate control and allows control of natural light without compromising the artifacts.”

According to Kearns, the intention is for the new building not only to welcome visitors to Fort York, but to the broader area of old York/Toronto, and ultimately becoming a new urban amenity.

“The Visitor Centre will act as a interpretative hub for the entire historic area, including not only the seven-acres within the Fort's walls but also the archaeological landscape, the Garrison Common, Victoria Memorial Square, the Fort York Armoury and Garrison Creek parkland being developed to the east.

“The Visitor Centre will include visitor and information services, galleries for permanent and temporary exhibitions, spaces for meetings and educational programming, a café and administration offices. The Centre will extend beyond its primary purpose to become a new venue for events and community gatherings within the city.”

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jonathan Kearns

Weren't we supposed to be getting a tunnel for the island airport?

A passenger who has just missed the Marilyn Bell to Billy Bishop airport and has to wait as much as 15 minutes for it to return from its 121-metre journey may well wonder, Whatever happened to that pedestrian tunnel they were building?

Turns out, tunnel-building’s a slow business, though you get some indication of how it’s going when you get across to the island and can peer down into a very large hole beside the gangway from the ferry into the terminal.

According to the Toronto Port Authority, who are doing the dig in a public-private partnership with Forum Equity Partners and contractor PCL, “The mainland terminal structure is progressing vertically as insulation, waterproofing, reinforcing steel and concrete continue to be placed. Within the tunnel, the motors that will drive the moving sidewalks have been installed and work has begun on the tunnel wall framing, as well as architectural finishes. The escalator bank roof slab on the island is complete and walls in the elevator shaft are nearing completion.”

It is also, apparently, still on budget, which was set at $82.5 million, which is coming from the partnership, as well as portions of the improvement fee departing passengers on Porter and Air Canada pay.

"The tunnel will be the only fully pedestrian, underwater tunnel in the world that connects travellers from a mainland to an airport island," says Ken Lundy, director of infrastructure, planning and environment for the TPA, "and is a key component of our traffic management strategy smoothing out the flow of passengers and alleviating congestion stemming from travellers arriving and departing in four ferry ‘waves’ per hour."

There was a glitch last April, when the diggers discovered metal sheeting and pilings from an abortive 1935 attempt at building pretty much the same tunnel, minus the Minority Report-style digital proximity-sensitive advertising the TPA and Black have planned for airport pedestrians. But in spite of that, it is still on schedule for completion early next year.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Erin Mikaluk

High Park's new bike park officially opens

Toronto officially got its third bike park this past weekend, as Councillor Doucette cut the ribbon on Sunnyside Bike Park.

Designed by Vancouver mountain bike rider and designer Jay Hoots, and built by Ferdom Construction, the park is the city’s largest.

“Bayview Bike Park is a smaller all dirt bike park and Wallace Emerson is also a smaller park with a dirt pump track and metal riding features replicating a more 'urban' riding experience,” says the city’s Parks, Forestry and Recreation spokesman Scott Laver. "The design of Sunnyside offers more progression and a wider variety of riding features for all levels and experience of riders.”

The off-road park’s wooden skills zone was constructed out of wood salvaged after the 2013 ice storm, and the clay used for the tracks came from the excavation of a development site near College and Spadina.

The park has been in the works since 2010, and cost $500,000.

According to the city’s press release, “This new bike park will address the lack of off-road cycling venues in the west end and ideally will reduce or eliminate the creation of informal bike parks in ecologically sensitive areas of the High Park neighbourhood.”

The city’s currently planning a fourth bike park, for Marie Curtis Park in Ward 6.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Scott Laver

Toronto gets some of its first aboriginally named streets

This citywide lane-naming project is turning out to be more significant than it seemed at first.

For the most part, downtown streets were named ages ago, by people whose priorities and frame of reference were often quite different from ours. Two major aboriginal roads were kept as Toronto developed, for instance, but named for an ale Etonian buddy of John Simcoe’s who was an expert on Roman roads (George Yonge) and a house that was named for an army buddy of the guy who built it just north of Bathurst (Major Davenport).

But these lanes are all about us, and a good number of them are looking to redress some of the oversights of those original street namings. Like Wabenose and Chechalk lanes in the Church Wellesley neighbourhood, named a week ago Friday.

When Connie Langille, chair of the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association’s heritage committee, was given the task of coming up with names for local laneways, she made a call.

“I contacted Carolyn King, past chief of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations, for name proposals and permission,” she says. “Each request needed the approval of their council.  Wabenose and Chechalk were the names submitted. Garry Sault, an elder, kindly explained the meaning of the names. Wabenose means the one that greets the morning, as when you lift your face to the sun for morning prayers. Chechalk is of the Crane clan. They spread the word of the people, tell the stories.”

Both men were signatories of the Toronto Purchase, by which the British acquired the land Toronto is built on. It turned into a contentious claim that was finally settled in 2010 for $145 million.

Until this month, there were a total of five streets named for aboriginal people, according to Brian Hall with the city's engineering services: Doctor O Lane; Oskenonton Lane; Sloping Sky Mews; Tom Longboat Lane; and Longboat Avenue. There are also 19 streets named more generally along aboriginal themes, but these include one ceremonial sname for part of Lower Jarvis (Warriors Way), and seven that include the word "Indian."

A closer look at the signs reveals something no other named lanes have.

“The banner above the names is very significant,” Langille says. “Banners are reserved for districts, etc. only. The first answer I heard to my inquiry was ‘No’.  Ultimately to have the banner read ‘Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation’ I needed to request the exception and have it approved at city council.”

There aren’t many streets or lanes with aboriginal names in this town, and locals were querulous.

“Neighbours were a little unsure at first,” Langille says. “Why native names? How do you pronounce them? But after getting a brief history, they are proud to have our lanes named after two great figures in history.”

Another lane in the district have been named for architect Macy Dubois, and one in the offing will be named Biscuit Lane for Brown’s Bakery, which used to be on the associations strip of Yonge, where Mr Christie first started baking cookies.

“Every lane we name adds to the stories of our neighbourhood. People are connected by the telling of the stories,” Langille says. “It is good.”

Langille also works at Oolagen Community Services, itself re-named two years ago for the Cree term for "where the flowers grow."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Connie Langille
Photo: Heritage Toronto

Tiny Home an alternative to the tiny condo

When we think of the future of Toronto housing, we often think in terms of cities that got big before we did, and those of which we follow. So, like New York, Paris, Moscow, we’ll slowly evolve into a place where only the very rich own single family dwellings, and the rest of us will live in apartments and condos of various levels of spaciousness and luxury.

Anthony Moscar would like to offer another option.

“Our current housing system presents an environmental, affordability, and economic growth threat,” Moscar says. “Rising income inequality, soaring housing costs and the shortage of new affordable housing have all resulted in an affordability crisis for many low- and middle-income households.”

The kind of house Moscar, a naturopath, is building now, for himself as well as to present the concept to the public, will be 11 metres long and between 2.5 and 3.7 metres wide, and costs between $20,000 and $60,000 to build, either yourself, or having builders do it for you. (Land sold separately.)

But Moscar isn’t just concerned with the price barrier.

“The greater Toronto area housing system is failing to meet the region’s needs,” he says. "Trends in land use have encouraged inefficient sprawling development and energy-inefficient construction that is ecologically unsustainable and costly for municipalities, landlords and residents alike.”

So his building materials include Vicwest metal for the roof, which maintains heat in the winter stays cool in the summer, and is 100 per cent recyclable; naturally occurring, organic insulation called ROXUL, Marmoleum flooring is made from 97 per cent recycled material, 72 per cent of which is renewable, as is itself 100 per cent biodegradable.

How does it look?

“To keep costs low,” Moscar says, “it was designed as simplistic as possible. The fewer bends and edges, the less construction costs and potential challenges.”

The result: It looks a little bit like a trailer. So much so, in fact, that the city has had trouble giving him all the permits he needs, given the fact that it's illegal to live in a vehicle (it's got wheels) in this city.

But Moscar is confident he'll be able to figure it all out.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Anthony Moscar

Waterfront Toronto declares a new era of transparency

Waterfront Toronto is changing the face of the city, attempting to reclaim its lakeshore from centuries of misuse. But because we’re still not in the habit of spending much time there, much of what’s going on down there — and it’s a lot — is happening without most of us noticing.

Waterfront hopes to fix that in a number of ways, primarily by building up areas people are naturally drawn to. But in the meantime, it’s decided to institute a new policy of transparency, so that whoever’s interested can have easy access to whatever facts and details there are about what’s going on down there, and how. They’re letting us follow the money.

“The change in how we disclose contract values is driven mainly because other public sector organizations – the city, in particular – are moving to disclosing actual contract values,” says Waterfront Toronto communications director Andrew Hilton. “Waterfront Toronto want to ensure we keep pace with any accountability measures and best practices from the three levels of government.

“As well, we think it is important for us to contextualize how we spend and what we spend it on, so that anyone can understand what we are trying to achieve in, for example, building a park or public amenity. For us, it is critical that Torontonians are able to get the information they need to form an opinion on Waterfront Toronto’s activities: our mandate, what we do, why we do it, how much it costs, and the benefits that waterfront revitalization bring to the city.”

There is a lot of money being spent down there. The East Bayfront, just one of several neighbourhoods being constructed out of what is largely former industrial and shipping zones, has been estimated to cost $1.1 billion.

The new transparency initiative is called Get the Facts. Though Hilton says there was no immediate motivation for Get the Facts, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong did express some public outrage in June over expenses related to Sugar Beach, accusing the organization of secret spending.

“We certainly hope that Torontonians pay attention to the revitalization of the Waterfront and why it is being done,” Hilton says. “The lack of progress on our waterfront for generations was why Waterfront Toronto was created, so we feel that informing and engaging the public on the progress we’ve made on one of the most significant parts of the city is important.”

The first fact released by Waterfront Toronto under this new programme was Hilton’s salary. He makes $130,000 a year.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrew Hilton

City gets tough on construction disruption

The city’s decided to get tough on developers who, city-builders though they be, take too many liberties with our roads.

“This is part and parcel of the City's overall congestion management plan whereby we are increasing enforcement of construction activity taking place on city streets,” says Andre Filippetti, Toronto-East York’s guy in charge of right-of-way management. “We consider this important because maintaining construction sites in a proper way is critical to ensure the safety of all road users.”

With constructions sites numbering in what Filippetti estimates to be the thousands around the city, most pedestrians, cyclists and drivers will have run into messes and other forms of encroachment into our rights of way. It’s hard to keep on top of it all, and even harder to do something about when you do encounter infringements and infractions, but the city figures it's up to the job.

“We employ staff who are certified as Provincial Offences Officers (Transportation Standards Officers) who are able to issue notices to the constructors and/or to lay any appropriate charges under the Municipal Code related to any violation within the City of Toronto road allowance,” Filippetti says.

If you want to report a case, call 311.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrew Filippetti

As the East Bayfront grows, Waterfront invests in making it cycle-friendly.

Waterfront Toronto is not satisfied to wait until the East Bayfront is finished before opening it up to cyclists. It wants them there now.

And so they’re building an interim cycling infrastructure (and one for pedestrians as well), that will serve the burgeoning area until development and funding are in place.

East Bayfront was a formerly industrial part of the waterfront,” says Waterfront spokeswoman Sam Gileno. “It lacked basic infrastructure such as a continuous sidewalk on the south side of the street. The full revitalization of Queens Quay in this area is dependent on funding for the East Bayfront LRT. The interim pedestrian and cyclists improvements will help connect the area until funding for this important transit line is in place and construction is complete.”

According to Gileno, there are two major projects getting underway.

First is a cyclist network.

“We will create a continuous off-street Martin Goodman Trail on the south side of Queens Quay which will separate cyclists from motor vehicles along the waterfront,” she says. “By spring, 2015, when both this project and the revitalization of Queens Quay are complete, the Martin Goodman Trail will be in place from Bathurst Street all the way to Parliament Street.”

The second is a continuous sidewalk for pedestrians.

“Currently the sidewalk in this area is an asphalt path,” she says. “It will be replaced with a city standard concrete sidewalk with landscaping alongside. A north-south pedestrian crosswalk will also be added along the east side of the Parliament Street intersection.”

The two will cost $1.8 million, which includes both hard and soft costs, and will remain in place until Queens Quay has been fully renovated.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sam Gileno

New Meccano-like home-building system debuts in Toronto

There’s a new building material in town. It’s called Bone, and its Quebec-based progenitors are colourfully enthusiastic about it.

“In addition to being environmentally friendly and energy efficient,” their press release says upon the introduction of Bone to the Toronto market, “the BONE Structure system promotes the development of local economies and gives free rein to clients' and architects' creativity by making it easy to form vast spaces with variable volumes and grandiose fenestration.”

I’m guessing that was written by president and founder, Marc Bovet, based on the tone and timbre of our quick talk.

“I have been in different trades,” he says, talking about what got him into the building business. “I was born and raised in retail, probably even conceived behind a counter.

“I'm not an engineer, not an architect, not a handyman, I do not wear a tool belt on the weekends. In 2004, I bought a property, a 1942 house, the paint was original, even the phone was Northern Atlantic. People tell me I'm compulsive. I hired a master carpenter. It went way over schedule and I ended up in a hotel room with my wife and four kids for two weeks.”

He says the experience left him “pissed off,” and he went in search of a better way to fix your home.

After reading and travelling and consulting with his old colleagues at Bombardier, where he used to work in management, he came up with Bones, made of recycled materials, and put together in what he compares to Meccano, for those old enough to remember it, or Lego for those who aren’t.

Standardized parts, made of 40- to 60 per cent recycled steel into 11-gauge galvanized steel, mean as much as 1,000 square feet of home can be put up per day by four or five builders using a single tool (an impact drill). “There’s no cutting, no piercing, no welding, no garbage on our construction site,” Bovet says. There are also no load-bearing interior walls, meaning houses built with Bone are easily alterable.

“Your kids, they leave home at 28 if everything goes well,” he says. “You can knock down the walls, and put them back up when they come back at the age of 32.”

The system, he says, has been patented in 42 countries.

As a showcase, Bovet’s had a show home put up in Don Mills, open to the public Sept. 27 and 28, in conjunction with an information session at the Shops at Don Mills, from which there will be shuttle service to the site. (You can register by emailing [email protected])

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Marc Bovet

Bayview development looks to replace "outdated" concept of a "room"

Toronto is a grandly livable city. One of the world's most livable, in fact. And a big part of what makes it so livable are its neighbourhoods and its Victoria/Edwardian houses.

The flip side to this is a certain monotony. If it ain't broke, don't fix it seems to be the approach of developers and architects behind even the newest single-family dwellings, all of whom hew to some version or other of the classic Toronto look.

Andrew Sorbara figures it's time for a change, and he's calling his north Toronto contribution to that change Crafthouse.

“We've created a beautiful collection of contemporary homes that will comprise a highly unique urban subdivision,” the developer says. “Each home features well-proportioned and open spaces, with livable floor plans. Inside, we've removed the walls that typically separate formal and informal spaces.

“I think the most significant design element in Crafthouse, and the aspect that I'm most proud of, is the connection between interior and exterior spaces. We've successfully integrated courtyards into each of the homes, capturing light throughout. This is really unique to our Toronto subdivisions.”

Built on the site of an old public school, the subdivision of 20 houses was designed by architect Peter Vishnovsky. The houses are all fairly large, ranging from just over 3,000 square feet to just over 5,000, and starting at $1.8 million.

The first closings are slated for mid-2015.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrew Sorbara

City's Idea Space looks to engage the community beyond the public meeting

Public meetings are great democratic tools in principle. But in practice, they tend to attract a narrow demographic, consistent in both the nature of their concerns, and their attendance. The result can be an equally narrow glimpse into the mood and opinions of the city.

So the city's decided to expand its ambit.

“Over the last year, the city has been exploring ways to enhance our capacity to inform, engage and consult with the public including through the use of online tools,” says Fionna Murray, the city's director of corporate policy. The city commissioned a company called Mindmixer to develop consultation tools it could deploy online to get a truer insight into what the city thinks.

They're calling it Idea Space.

“Each discussion is created for a specific purpose,” Murray says. “City divisions can use the new Idea Space as one of their consultation tools – likely they will use a combination of traditional and online methods. Depending on the purpose or goal of that consultation the comments would be considered alongside other input. This online tool has the advantage of creating a record that can be shared and passed along to other staff as well.”

In slightly circular fashion, the first issue up for discussion via Idea Space is called Growing conversations: Making engagement work, organized by the city's planning division to get a handle on people's thoughts as to how public consultations can be improved.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Fionna Murray

Ace Hotel-inspired condo rising at Richmond and Spadina

Inspired by the Ace hotel chain in the US, and influenced by its neioghbourhood's garment district history, Fabrik is about to begin its rise on Richmond at Spadina.

“Excavation is well underway,” says Menkes Development Ltd.'d VP of high-rise residential Jared Menkes, whose baby it is, “and we are approaching the bottom of the hole. Soon people in the neighbourhood will see our crane go up, for the start of concrete pouring, when we begin working on the parking garage.”

Designed inside and out by Giannone Petricone and Associates, the 17-storey just-above-midrise tower will fit in well with the similarly massed existing buildings along Spadina.

Giannone “were incredibly thoughtful in their design approach,” Menkes says. “All of the common areas incorporate small details and features that nod to the local area's history as Toronto's garment / fashion district. Giannone Petricone is responsible for the design of the Terroni restaurants in Toronto, and anyone who's been to Terroni would understand their great design aesthetic.”

The development is part of what may be a trend in next-generation condos in the city drawing their inspiration from, or being influenced by hotels.

Fabrik is being built on the site of the old King Textiles.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jared Menkes

New Arc'teryx store opens at Queen and John

When you go to Gstaad to learn to ski, you'll notice something about the instructors. They all wear the same orange ski jackets. They look pretty cool in them, and if you ask, they'll sing the jackets' praises, telling you how you can mold the hood in any number of ways depending on the visibility and wind conditions, how the bright orange makes them visible in even the worst conditions. They love these things. And they're made by Arc'teryx.

You've been able to get them at all the more serious outdoors shops, but on Friday, the company finally opened a 2,700 square foot standalone store on Queen at John, at the site of the old Quicksilver shop, conceived and executed by the Arc'teryx design team.

Like Canada Goose, Arc'teryx – an abbreviation of the name of the earliest identified bird fossil discovered at the time of the company's foundation in 1989 -- was conceived and founded in Canada, the sort of company the country could be proud of, that reminded us that we are indeed a Northern nation and know a thing or two about the outdoors.

And like Canada Goose, Arc'teryx, founded in North Vancouver, sold out to a French firm in 2001, which was then bought by Adidas, and then sold to a Finnish company. Its headquarters are still in Burnaby, B.C., though much of its stuff is now made in China, Vietnam, and elsewhere. It currently employs 600 people.

Queen and John is its 13th standalone shop, with immediate future plans to open numbers 14 through 16 in Portland, Minneapolis, and Washington D.C.

As its Toronto communications person says, though Arc'teryx products will continue to be available in shops aorund town, "Our brand stores are the only location where customers can experience the complete Arc’teryx offering."

Arc'teryx may not be Canadian anymore, but like William Shatner and Jim Carrey, we can still be proud of them.

Writer: Bert Archer

Senior nuns' residence wins international design award

The Sisters of St. Joseph, who once ran much of the Catholic school system in Toronto, are a dwindling breed, but they've decided to dwindle in style, and the commission they gave to Shim-Sutcliffe Architects to build a home cum hospital for the older nuns in need of care has just won the World Architecture News Healthcare Award.

The project included a renovation of their existing residence, built in the 1850s on the Don Valley, and an addition in the form of a private hospital for 58 nuns along side it.

As the jury described it, “Forming a sinuous line between the Don Valley to the north and the low rise urban fabric of the city to the south, the Residence for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto articulates both individual contemplative life and the community engagement of the Sisters ministries, making relationships to Nature and City to reinforce public and private aspects.”

The new structure includes geothermal heating, green roofs, solar panels and a storm water management system.

The project was completed in April, 2013. Shim-Sutcliffe is one of Toronto's most awarded firms, with 12 Governor General's Medals since its formation in 1994, and is best known for Integral House (2009), Weathering Steel House (2001), and Laneway House (1993).

Writer: Bert Archer
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