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Ryerson's new architecture gallery seeks to bridge academy and public

Ryerson’s got a new architectural gallery.

Designed by Gow Hastings Architects, the small (3,150 square foot) space occupies an old storage area just off the main entrance of Canadian master architect Ron Thom’s Department of Architectural Science at 325 Church Street.

“The brief was to provide a flexible gallery space to mount a wide range of changing exhibitions," partner Valerie Gow says. "It was to provide a new learning space for the architectural students and simultaneously connect the public and architectural community to the building."

Built for $465,000, work on the Paul H. Cocker Gallery was begun in the summer of 2012. It’s most striking features are its three oversized glass pivot doors, and the thin white floor tile that serves to distinguish the space from the rest of the building’s lobby, and also doubles as a potential display space.

Gow Hastings specializes in educational spaces, and had renovated studios and offices in the Thom building before this latest commission.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Valerie Gow

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

Got a development idea but no money? Hire an architect

Architects can do more than just design your building. If you get them to believe in your project, they can help you raise the money to get it built.

It turns out that those renderings that architects do, sometimes for free, sometimes on spec, can be powerful tools to get developers, backers and government agencies interested in a project. When Tony Azevedo wanted to build a seven-storey condo in his old neighbourhood on Dundas West, for instance, he got Richard Witt, then with RAW, to do up an attractive rendering package, and it was on the strength of that package that Azevedo was able to make enough in pre-sales to actually start digging.

They can be even more powerful when the project is not-for-profit.

"Eva’s Initiatives, which provides housing and training for underhoused and homeless youth, are on Ordinance Street," says Janna Levitt of LGA Architectural Partners, who spoke with Yonge Street after speaking on a recent panel about design and social change. "They’re getting kicked out because of condos. They got a new location [city councillor] Adam Vaughan helped them find, and we’ re working with them to develop packages to go out and get funding."

It’s a skill some firms, such as LGA, have developed over time as they realized the power of the rendering to make a project seem more real to potential clients.

"I would say that at this point we have the expertise," Levitt says. "It became one of the things that we realized we were doing quite often. In our case, it was because the people we were doing it for were really forward-thinking people who had ideas about the way a certain program should run and didn’t understand it would cost additional money to do that, or who were just going out on a limb."

Levitt sees it as a way for architects to be "agents of change."

"You can, through your work, effect change on a whole lot of levels with every building," Levitt says, "and that’s very exciting."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Janna Levitt

Mizrahi build biggest new synagogue in decades

Construction is underway on the Spadina Road site just north of St Clair that will soon be the biggest newly built synagogue in Toronto for 45 years.

"It’s a very detailed building," says developer Sam Mizrahi. "The architectural style is a replica of the synagogue in Jaslo, Poland that was destroyed in the war by the Nazis."

The Orthodox synagogue and community centre, to be known as the Temmy Letner Forest Hill Jewish Centre, is being built with complex zinc roof structures, designed by architect Wayne Swadron, and will include banquet facilities, a learning centre, a Holocaust library, a shul, and a rooftop sukka.

The funders have been largely Ashkenazi families who were in some way affected by the Holocaust.

"It's actually been quite pleasingly well received," Mizrahi says. "We've done many custom homes in Forest Hill, and this has the same set of values and concerns in terms of neighbours and the community, including keeping the site clean, and building in a very tight space."

Mizrahi, who is also building 181 Davenport, expects the Letner centre to be finished by November.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sam Mizrahi

Brika pop-up doubles in size at The Bay

Pop-up shops tend to pop-up and pop back down again just as quickly, but Brika popped, stayed, and expanded.

Founded by Jen Lee Koss and Kena Paranjape as an online seller of "craft, elevated" in December, 2012, Brika popped up into the offline world in October in a 300 square foot space the two negotiated in the basement of The Bay on Queen Street in exchange for a cut of the revenues.

Brika is part of a stream of pop-ups popping up around the city, especially around West Queen West and the East Danforth, taking advantage of neighbourhoods intransition, where old shops are closing, but new boutiques haven't yet found the confidence -- or the cash -- to move in permanently.

"We knew we wanted to pop-up somewhere," says Koss, an Oxford-educated former investment manager, "and we had discussions with various retailers." Ultimately, The Bay ended up being the best fit.

Though the online end features objects designed and made all over the world, the shop is all-Canadian, with about 80 per cent being from Ontario, and a good deal from Toronto itself, like a set of wooden cufflinks with stags or anchors burned into them by Vancouver’s Valerie Thai.

After a successful holiday season, they decided to stick around a little longer, and doubled their size.

Koss says it’s not permanent, though, explaining that despite good foot traffic, they don’t plan to stay past Mother’s Day, which can be a sort of second Christmas for the woman-oriented business. Many small, typically online retailers are opting for similar options, choosing pop-ups as an alternative to the conventional brick-and-mortar building. 

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jen Lee Koss

Aroma spreads across the GTA and beyond

It seemed an unlikely addition to the mix at the time, but Aroma is quickly finding its place in Toronto’s evolving coffee ecosystem.

It started out in 2007 with a single shop on the northwest corner of Bloor an Albany, an intersection already populated by both a Second Cup and a Starbucks, with a Tim Hortons a block away and one of the city’s most established independent cafes just two blocks east.

In the early months, you were as likely to hear Hebrew as English at the tables, but soon people started coming who didn’t know it from trips to Israel, where Aroma is the No. 1 chain, with about 150 locations, and the unlikely addition survived.

"When you do have other coffee shops in the area, it does mean the market exist," says operating partner Anat Davidzon, explaining the company’s lion’s-den strategy, "and the question becomes whether or not you can shift people’s purchasing behaviour."

With their breakfast and lunch menu, along with bread baked on site, and confections new to the Toronto scene like the dulce de leche cookies called alfajores, people's behaviour did shift sufficiently to prompt a second opening about two years later. And now, seven years in, a new one is popping up every couple of months, for a current total of 18 Aromas in Toronto, two in Vaughan, and plans for 10 more across the Golden Horseshoe – an area roughly the size of Israel – by the end of 2014. Their first Little Italy location just opened, and the next on in the pipeline is at the MaRS building at College and University.

Though you might have expected the chain to open in an area with strong connections to Israel – some place like Lawrence and Bathurst, for instance – Davidzon says the business plan was ambitious, and with a relatively small Israeli and Jewish population in the city, if the first shop couldn’t survive in a more typical part of town, it wouldn’t survive in the long run at all.

A franchise operation, each of the 20 locations has an owner-operator, working under the master franchiser, which bought the Canadian rights but is otherwise wholly separate from the Israeli company.

Canada has the second highest number of locations after Israel, and ahead of the US. Aroma also operates in Kazakhstan, Romania and Ukraine.

After MaRS, the company – with its head office in Forest Hill – has plans to open four more locations in Toronto this year, and another six across the GTA and as far as Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Daniel Davidzon, Anat Davidzon

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

Architects, social innovators gather to discuss social-interest design

A discussion among three architects and a community organizer managed, if just for a morning, to shift the focus away from condos toward what architecture can do for the city and its people, and how.

Janna Levitt, Marianne McKenna, and Michael McLelland joined Rosalyn Morrison of the Toronto Community Foundation to discuss various ways architecture and architects can contribute to the city’s social health.

"We're a firm about ideas," said Marianne McKenna, the "M" in KPMB. "How do we restore our position in society as advocates?"

"Other people make things," said McLelland of ERA Architects, picking up the theme. "Architects, like artists, are generally about ideas. Part of that means solving complex problems. I don’t love anything better than a fantastic problem."

And though some of those problems are problems of design, many of them aren’t. Levitt, of LGA Architectural Partners, spoke of her firm's work helping non-profit clients raise funds to get their project done. McKenna spoke of working with Manitoba Hydro on their zero-footprint building in Winnipeg to ensure the 3,000 newly consolidated employees would both benefit and integrate into their new neighbourhood by leaving out any cafeteria space, ensuring a large new client base for cafes and restaurants in the area.

The talk was hosted by the Design Exchange and sponsored by Shimmerman Penn accountants.

Writer: Bert Archer

New density a potential boon to Billy Bishop

According to data collected for Yonge Street Media, the new density in the core could radically alter the way an expanded downtown airport could be used.

The numbers, compiled by the policy and analysis section of the city’s planning division, report that about 30,000 people live and work within a 10-minute walk of Billy Bishop airport, and 600,000 within a 10-minute bike ride. Though at the moment one of the chief criticisms of an expanded airport, and even of the airport in its current state, is traffic congestion. But as more people move into the buildings in the vicinity -- including an entirely new neighbourhood planned less than a kilometre away at Front and Bathurst -- the benefits of an airport in the core may become ever more apparent.

According to a November report by BA Group prepared for the city, currently 35 per cent of passengers do not use cars of any sort to get to the airport. The report projects that number increasing to either 45 per cent or 50 per cent if shuttle and/or transit service to the airport is improved.

"The percentage of people who use other means to this airport is much higher than somewhere like Pearson," says Porter spokesman Brad Cicero.

The report did not look into the possible repercussions of the city's active encouragement of walking or cycling.

According to Porter, there are currently 2.3 million passengers using the island airport, of which 17 per cent -- or 390,000 -- are connecting passengers who never leave the terminal. Porter estimates this number would rise to between 25 per cent and 27 per cent should the new routes proposed by the use of jets be added.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: BA Group, Brad Cicero

Have your say: tomorrow's the deadline to comment on the future of the east Gardiner

Tomorrow is the deadline to communicate your thoughts on the future of the east Gardiner.

About 200 people showed up to the third and final public meeting for the environmental assessment of the 2.4 km stretch of elevated highway on Feb. 6, which was also streamed live.

The section in question runs from Jarvis to just east of the Don Valley Parkway. The options being evaluated are to maintain it, "improve the urban fabric" while maintaining it, replace it with a new expressway of some sort, or remove it and build a boulevard. The options, as developed by the city and Waterfront Toronto, are on view here.

According to the environmental assessment, the four goals of the project are to reconnect the city with the lake; balance various modes of travel, cycling, walking and transit along with the previously favoured cars; achieving greater sustainability; and generally creating value, letting the project act as a catalyst for future development of the area.

After taking a look at the proposals, and scrolling through the Twitter conversation hashtagged #GardinerEast, you can send in your thoughts by filling out the form here before the end of the day tomorrow.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Waterfront Toronto

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

Developer proposes laneway community for Bloor and Dufferin

What might be Toronto’s biggest laneway housing project is being proposed for a small Bloordale street with residential and industrial heritage.

With the architect behind Chase, and designers from a young firm with Yabu Pushelberg DNA, the development, if approved, has the potential to add momentum to the slowly changing neighbourhood between Dufferin and Lansdowne north of Bloor.

The centerpiece of the development, as proposed by Curated Properties, is the former Pendell Boiler, a light industrial concern tucked away behind Bartlett Avenue.

"The site was originally marketed to demolish the existing building," says Curated principal Adam Ochshorn. "When I walked onto the site, while the Boiler room was functioning, I felt like I was in Soho, and I realized this is not the kind of thing you demolish."

The proposal incudes the new construction of three units on Bartlett, and 13 in the laneway behind.

Audax Architecture, who also worked with Woodcliffe on the Toronto North Station that became the Summerhill LCBO, has designed units from 1,000 square feet to 2,000 square feet, ranging in price from $500,000 to just under a million. All of them have been designed with outdoor terraces.

On the permit front, Ochshorn is hopeful.

"One lucky thing with this site," he says, "is that we meet the criteria for site serving. Other situations where people have had problems with laneways is how are people going to get in and out of the property physically, and how they’re going to service the property."

If approved, Ochshorn, who is also president of Grand Metropolitan Homes and the man behind Edition Richmond, hopes to start construction in early fall with a view to early summer 2015 completion.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Adam Ochshorn

Alexandra Park is being demolished now

Phase 1A of the reconstruction of Alexandra Park began yesterday, with the demolition of the first of 44 townhouses.

You can get an idea of how big a job this is going to be from the fact the first step is designated 1A.

According to Toronto Community Housing's taciturn spokeswoman Sara Goldvine, the timeline for the entire redevelopment of the poorly designed 1960s low-cost housing project will be 12-15 years, with just this initial demolition phase, being executed by Pro Green, taking as much as four months.

The replacement rental townhomes were designed by Levitt Goodman Architects, chosen in consultation with the current residents. The new Alexandra Park will also have market-priced condominiums, the first of which was designed by Teeple Architects.

Tridel, the developer, will ultimately be building 61 rent-geared-to-income townhouses and two condo towers in the projects first phase. Considered a revitalization project, it will also be replacing street that was eliminated in the 60s, as well as extending another, to allow people to actually walk through the neighbourhood.

According to yesterday’s press release, further phases will include a park, a community centre, almost 6,000 square metres of retail, as well as an “incubator space for local social enterprise and business development” on the south side of Dundas.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sara Goldvine

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.

City's chief planner to talk about her favourite subject: the value of walking to school

Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto’s chief planner, will be talking about her favourite subject, walking to school, at Walk Toronto’s annual general meeting next Wednesday.

"We're generating a culture change in our school system and in our communities around walking," Keesmaat says, "recognizing walking to school as being a fundamental part of creating healthy, happy communities."

Her thinking on the subject, which she has laid in several TEDx talks, is that walking to school benefits children's health, creates communities that are pedestrian friendly, and increases the chances parents will send their children to local schools, discouraging the development of what Keesmaat calls mega-schools.

"In downtown Halifax, they closed a series of schools and opened a mega-school," she says, "and guess what that mega-school needed? A huge parking lot. Part of the connection I would like to make is that there is a public policy implication in the academic performance of our children and the cohesive strength of our communities that is unrelated to the financial efficiency of having one building instead of five."

Keesmaat believes that walking and pedestrian issues are a fundamental part of a city’s transportation planning. "Thinking about walking is a part of how we learn about our community. It’s not a design question, it’s a choice question and a cultural issue.

"We have a culture where we've become inverted in just one generation from being communities, back in the 1960s, where 70 per cent of our children walked to school, to now, when 70 per cent of our children are driven to school. Schools are still centrally located, they’re still within walking distance, and the choice is being made to drive.”

Keesmaat says our communities are safer than ever but, ironically, our perception of their safety is lower than ever. She says there’s a direct correlation between this perception, having children walking on the sidewalks, employing crossing guards, and generally populating the streets with people instead of cars.

Keesmaat will be speaking and taking questions from 8pm to 9pm on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at the University of Toronto Schools auditorium at 371 Bloor St. W.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jennifer Keesmaat
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