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Double Dwelling presents new option for multigenerational living

"It's an instrument for living."

That's how architect Donald Chong describes the so-called Double Dwelling at the corner of Huron and Howland in Chinatown, a house that's been raising eyebrows while under construction in the mostly Edwardian and post-war neighbourhood.

It seems like it doesn't belong, but given the living situation of many people in Chinatown, it couldn't be more apposite.

"If there's anything that's particularly Toronto that's apparent here," Chong says, "it's that any sort of social stigma that might have been there since WWII of living with your parents seems to be slowly eroding."

Formerly two houses on two lots, Chong was commissioned to design a house that would accommodate three generations of a single family, allowing them to benefit from living together, without living on top of each other.

"Really good design is an expression of a culture that's ready to change and evolve," Chong says, "and I think this city is ready for it. We're in the post-honeymoon of the Jane Jacobs era; it's starting to taper out as we're maturing and we can now embrace it without apology. It's the foreground now, not the background, with people pretending not to notice it.

"It's not about eyes on the street so much," he continues, referring to a basic Jacobs concept, "as the fact that we can see a city within the house. You could live like a village not just beyond your doors, but within your doors."

Chong, the man behind Blantyre House, Galley House, and the concept that small fridges make good cities, sees the Double Dwelling as a natural extension of Canadian multiculturalism, circa 1968, and a potential prototype for future designs catering to clients who see family differently from the Anglo tradition.

"There were two dilapidated homes that were barely rentable, more squats. The parents didn't know what do with them as they were aging. Their kids came to us and said our parents are part of it. It was a large enough property because it was on a corner, we have two faces to take advantage of for separate entries, which makes it possible to be rentable, should the parents move out or die."

Chong says the main challenge for the house was to "manage the paths of living," allowing the three generations to share what they wanted to share, but also maintain their own space. So the kitchen is shared, but the living quarters are separated by stairwells and sliding doors.

Chong says there's ample opportunity to alter existing Toronto homes along these lines, given how many of them were designed with alley entrances and smaller, separate spaces for servants.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Donald Chong

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

Yorkville gets a new gateway

A decade after the idea was first bruited, Yorkville has a gateway.

It's just about finished now, just where Bay runs into Davenport, in a convenient blank space in front of Jesse Ketchum Public School, leftover after the realignment of the intersection.

"The site was chosen in response to the community's request for a gateway into the 'Village of Yorkville'," says Lara Tarlo, the urban designer with the city's planning department responsible for the gateway. The re-alignment of the road at Bay and Davenport created a normalized intersection and "resulted in open space in front of the School and opportunity for a gateway."

Though the gateway is outside the boundaries of the Bloor Yorkville BIA, they were consulted, and are generally in favour of what is now the most prominent identifier for the neighbourhood.

"Generally, it is a gateway to the community, so it is good to have it identified with the signage, which has been installed," says Briar de Lange, the BIA's executive director. "It was [an unattractive] and rather non-descript space prior to the construction, so adding streetscape improvements and greenery to the area is certainly welcome."

According to Tarlo, the project was shelved for lack of funding a decade ago, and was revived when the decision was made to fix the intersection, at which point a working group including the Bloor Yorkville BIA, the local residents' association, Councillor Wong-Tam, city staff, transportation services and a cycling group formed and met over the course of a year to work through the options and details.

The budget was $160,000, and it should be completed by the end of June or beginning of July.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Lara Tarlo, Briar de Lange

Tonight's Pug Awards recognize commercial architecture still better than residential

We don't have to look to experts or polls to know that Toronto's residential architecture over the past decade has been a disappointment. But sometimes it helps.

"The vast majority of residential entries were banal, negative for our urban landscape, not additive."

That was Gary Berman, co-founder of the Pug Awards, whose annual ceremony celebrating the best residential and commercial architecture in the city is tonight.

But the awards started out as a way to call architects and developers out on the ugliest buildings in the city (as in pug-ugly), and Berman retains a good deal of that constructively negative tenor.

"One of my biggest complaints in the city has been buildings with large institutional budgets for which the landscaping is an afterthought," he says. "Take a look at the ROM: There's no landscaping in front of the addition. Even the AGO, there's no landscaping at grade, and I think that makes buildings less approachable."

As president and chief operating officer of Tricon Capital, Berman has been involved in the building of some of the city's most impressive residential projects, including Five St. Joseph. But he says that Toronto is, on the whole, residentially challenged.

"If you look at the building code and what the planning department wants, they want the point towers, they're looking typically for a rectangular massing that has a fairly small point tower, with something like an 8,400 square foot floor plate," Berman says. "All the buildings replicate that form. But I don't think that's an issue. I think the issue in Toronto is with the cladding materials, poor quality window wall systems, and I think that's in many cases unattractive, and creates a sense of monotony. I think the biggest problem, apart from the poor cladding, is that the interaction with the street at grade is not being thought out well enough. It doesn't matter if it's low-rise mid-rise or high-rise, the ones that have rectangular or cubic format, if they do a better job with cladding or at grade, they score well."

As for the Pug Awards, he's seen both the nominees and the results of the 40,000-50,000 votes received this year. His reaction? "The vast majority of residential entries were banal, negative for our urban landscape, not additive."

He says that, once again, the commercial buildings will be doing better at the Pug polls than the sub-par residential stock.

"Nothing on the commercial side is earth shattering," he says, "nothing that people from around the world should come and see; just decent, good buildings, which is a good way to build a city."

After the awards ceremony, which takes place tonight at the AGO starting at 6 p.m., this year's Pug Talk will discuss the architectural relationship between Toronto and Chicago.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Gary Berman
Photo: Courtesy of architect, Moriyama & Teshima.

Leslieville BIA makes the best of a big summer mess

Think of it as an east-ender's take on "Keep calm and carry on."

A few months ago, the Leslieville BIA was confronted with a conundrum that's becoming increasingly familiar around the city.

It's burgeoning strip, just a few years into its own, was going to be more or less shut down as the city and the TTC ripped up its very heart, the intersection of Queen and Leslie, to install new tracks for the new, bigger streetcars that will soon be streaming out of Leslie Barns to the south.

As a result, from May 12 to June 21, Leslieville, like St. Clair and Roncesvalles before them, was going to be in a form of municipally imposed suspended animation.

So they studied what happened on St Clair when the right of way was installed, and Roncesvalles when they got their tracks and much of their under-street infrastructure replaced over a period of months, and even went as far afield as Banff for ideas.

Then they hired a Leslieville designer, Kinnon Elliott, who came up with the poster for the "Take a Leslieville detour" campaign to keep people shopping, eating and strolling down their strip of Queen.

The BIA's co-ordinator, Cathy Quinton, says they used a bus shelter ad space donated by the TTC for one big poster, and the on-site TTC staff offered to put up other versions of Kinnon's work in place of their actual detour signs.

"The TTC themselves have been extraordinary," Quinton says, praising the weekly status update meetings they have together to keep the shopkeepers up to date during what can be very trying and frustrating times.

And to celebrate the end of the disruption, the BIA is organizing a Lemon Fest, following the theme of making lemonade when the city hands you a lemon.

On June 21, there will be neighbourhood lemonade stands between Vancouver and Booth, the boundaries of the BIA, a photo booth for people to give their best puckered faces, local framer Heliographics is offering a first prize of free custom framing for the best lemon-based image submitted by festival goers, and restaurants along the strip will feature a lemon dish of the day.

All proceeds from the day will go to Leslieville's family Red Door Shelter.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Cathy Quinton

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

36 Hazelton getting its skin

It may seem like the old school on Hazelton being turned into a condo has disappeared. But, apparently, it's coming back.

A big selling point of the low-rise building at 36 Hazelton – other than the fact that Mark Wahlberg bought a unit – was the facade of the old St. Basil's Catholic school that stood there. But if you walk by today, you'll just see the skeleton of the new place – it's final form just filled out recently – with no sign of the old brick.

"As with many adaptive reuse projects, the challenges were many," says Les Klein, principal at Quadrangle, the King West firm behind the project. "They included keeping the heritage facade in place while building a new building (above and below grade) behind it; access to the site for construction. This required moving a portion of the heritage facade away for the duration of the construction process to allow access to the rear of the site."

As far as Klein is concerned, the facade, which should be back in place next year, is the key to the building.

"Change in communities should be organic," he says. "While the original use of the school was long out of date, its physical form provides a tie to the community’s historic roots. The new condominium points to the future of the neighbourhood, while being grounded firmly in its rich past."

Given both the scale and the high-end nature of the building, the owners of the unbuilt units demanded quite a bit of say in how their homes were being constructed.

"There were no 'typical' floor plans, and there were no 'typical' units. Each unit was an individually designed luxury home for a very sophisticated clientele," Klein says. "While each unit design has changed under the guidance of its owners, the building has such a strong character that it is able to accommodate the individuality of its owners without losing its identity or coherent design intent."

Klein expects 36 Hazelton, developed by Alterra and built by Zinc construction, to be ready for its new owners by 2015.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Les Klein

Competition invites young people to redesign public spaces

Development and design do not always play well together especially development as quick as ours has been over the past decade and more. But we've done pretty well with our new parks, especially down at the Waterfront, and the just-announced NXT City Prize is looking to build on that.

Developed by Distl, a "creative intelligence studio" working with the city and sponsors, the prize is for people under 30 and their redesigns for existing public spaces.

"Toronto is booming," says Distl's Christine Caruso. "We have cranes on every corner, and vacant lots are rapidly being snatched up and developed. Public space investment is more important than ever, as these spaces contribute to the vibrancy of our city. At the same time, young people are moving into the city – Toronto was recently ranked Most Youthful City – because of this growth, excitement and change. It's more important than ever to match this growth in our public spaces, and to empower the next generation to really take ownership of their city and our shared spaces."

With a deadline of July 31, the top prize of $5,000 will be judged on various criteria, including how implementable it is. But in order not to cap entrants' imagination, there's a second prize of $2,500 for most original submission.

In addition to the $5,000, the winner's design will, it is hoped, be made reality.

"Jennifer Keesmaat has been a huge advocate of this prize," Caruso says, referring to the city's chief planner, "and will lead a professional working group formed to support the winner as they move their idea from paper to the street. This group, comprised of City Hall professionals and other business leaders, will support the effort, help to build connections, and mentor them through the process."

This is the first year of the prize, but Caruso hopes the funding and enthusiasm will be sufficient to make it an annual occurrence, and to help it spread to other cities across the country.

The prize's sponsors include Rockport, Pinnacle, the Toronto Region Board of Trade and Tabia. In addition to Keesmaat, judges for this year's include Rahul Bardwaj, Zahra Embrahim and Sevuan Palvetzian.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Christine Caruso

Airport work brings people movers to a halt

The people movers have been moving fewer people around Pearson airport's Terminal 1 lately.

For the last several weeks, one or more of the moving sidewalks meant to abbreviate travellers' journeys across the vast expanses of airport nothingness have been shut down for maintenance and repairs.

The new yellow Express high-speed one was first, and though the Greater Toronto Airport Authority is providing no details, it seemed to have been down for several weeks.

And as soon as that one – which the GTAA's Patricia Krale says is the only one of its kind in the world -- was up and running the regular, slow-poke ones went down, and remained out of service until late last week.

Visitors to the airport will also have noticed some major construction going on outside in front of the parking facilities. Much of this, according to Krale, is the result of damage done to the roads during the especially harsh winter just past, in addition to terminal work being done for the new rail link to Union Station, which will, when finished, offer passengers slightly less than $20 alternative to the TTC's current $3 fare to and from the airport.

This all comes hard on the heels of the long-term construction project inside the airport to add more than a dozen new restaurant kiosks.

No word from GTAA on when any of it's going to be finished.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Patricia Krale

Artscape's Daniels Spectrum wins international design award

Toronto has two more award-winning buildings.

Daniels Spectrum, the Regent Park community centre designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects and run by Artscape, and the Rotman School of Management at U of T (KPMB) have won Architectural Record's Good Design Is Good Business Award, which according to the journal is given out to "demonstrate how embracing design can benefit an organization’s bottom line."

It was one of 10 given out internationally this year, and Toronto is the only city represented twice.

An award for design and business is perhaps not so surprising for a business school. But a community centre is a little less intuitive a choice.

But Daniels Spectrum, developed by the Daniels Corporation, is in the business of community outreach, and according to Seema Jethalal, who heads the place up for Artscape, it makes good sense--business and otherwise.

"Daniels Spectrum has a modular design that lends itself well to users with different needs," she says. "The 6,000 square foot Ada Slaight Hall, for instance, has been set up in dozens of configurations thanks to its partition walls and a retractable seating system."

In any given weekm Jethalal continues, the space can be divided to suit simultaneous events with different needs--from dance performances, to cinema-style film screenings, to art shows, banquet-style gala fundraisers, and 10-piece band performances.

But what sets it apart is the involvement Daniels Spectrum's tenants had in the initial design. 

"Each of the tenant organizations at Daniels Spectrum worked with Diamond Schmitt Architects to design their studios with their respective audiences in mind. Native Earth Performing Arts has a unique ventilation system to allow smudging in Aki Studio (a 120-seat black box theatre), ArtHeart Community Art Centre has a built in kitchen in their art studio so they can provide free meals for drop-in participants, and COBA Collective of Black Artists' drumming and dance studios have been built with a unique sound design to limit sound bleed."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Seema Jethalal

North York to get new medical offices at new Finch West subway station

Real Wealth developers have announced there'll be a new medical arts building going up in North York.

The eight-storey, 165,000 square foot building will be 200 metres from the future Finch West subway station, and also near the new Humber River Regional Hospital at Keele and Wilson, which is scheduled to open on Oct. 18, 2015.

According to their spokesman, Stephen Murdoch, the project has been in the planning stages since 2011, and construction on the site of a former gas station and Tim Horton's at Finch and Keele is set to begin this fall.

"Findings showed that there was a lack of supply, namely in relation to all that is happening with the new hospital and all that are relocating to it from around Ontario and the Country," Murdoch says. "Current office and medical facilities are old, maintenance fees high, and inefficient, surrounded by an aging population."

Designed by ACK Architects, the building -- to be called University Heights – will offer its 89 office spaces both for rent and for sale.

The building will also qualify for tier 2 of Toronto's Green Standard, and will include 7,100 square feet of green roof.

Murdoch said the building is scheduled for occupancy in June, 2016.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Stephen Murdoch

South Scarborough becomes city's first official cultural hub

It can sometimes seem that all of Toronto is a cultural hotspot of some description. From Dundas Square to the Ossington Strip, King West to Leslieville, things seem to be forever percolating.

But the city of Toronto wanted to systematize it, and in the process perhaps expand our notion of what, and more importantly where, a cultural hotspot could be.

So, on the recommendation of the city's Creative Capital Gains report, community cultural co-ordinator Andrea Raymond-Wong and others are establishing what she is calling "a rotating cultural hotspot in the city of Toronto," enabling the city and its citizens to focus on art, culture, and community.

The first of them is in South Scarborough.

"In part, it's about celebrating and marketing some of the things that are already happening," Raymond-Wong says. "There's already a wealth of creativity happening in Scarborough. There's a philharmonic orchestra, and you've got a lot of local businesses, it's a neighbourhood of strip malls, a lot of independent businesses, and there are a lot of green spaces."

Note the mention of strip malls as a positive. This bodes well for the program.

Launched May 2, the program has a budget of about $150,000 for each hotspot, in addition to what Raymond-Wong refers to as $200,000 worth of leverage from partners and sponsors.

In Scarborough, the initiative includes the creation of two gateway murals by Mural Roots, art in storefronts in the Crossroads-Danforth BIA by Kalpna Patel, a writing program for seniors that will result in a published anthology of their work and the Next Project, which aims through talks, workshops and other programs to foster the talent of the next generation of Scarborough artists.

The program runs until October, at which point Raymond-Wong says it will rotate to somewhere in Etobicoke.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrea Raymond-Wong

Ambitious Gore Park renewal Hamilton's great green hope

Alongside the new condos going into the old Royal Connaught Hotel in Hamilton, an entirely new Gore Park will start to emerge this summer in a roughly $7-million, three-phase project the city hopes will give Hamilton that post-Steeltown boost it's been trying to achieve for the past decade or so.

Born of a transportation study of an adjacent portion of King Street, the Gore Park revitalization process blossomed into a project of its own, the details of which were hashed out over several years of public meetings.

"This space is as old as Hamilton itself," says Le'Ann Seely, supervisor of park planning and development for the city, "and the people of Hamilton care deeply about how it is handled."

The project's first phase will include some pedestrianization from James to Catherine Street along the park's north edge, as well as along King Street on the south border, refurbishing the cenotaph, the construction of one large and several smaller memorial walls to recognize Hamilton's veterans, relocating the statue of Sir John Macdonald, and the planting of trees.

"We hope it will achieve a high-quality downtown area that is representative of the economic strength and civic pride of Hamilton," Seely says of the entire project, which includes two as yet unfunded phases. "The economics of place-making suggest that public realm improvements that are pedestrian-focused are good for the economics of a city. Pedestrianization connects people with a place, making the place feel important and a destination, versus a space they rushed past on their way somewhere else. People therefore become more aware of a space and what is in it, and near it, which is good for business."

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Le'Ann Seely

Canderel to build another massive Yonge Street tower

Get ready for another massive tower on Yonge Street.

Just a few blocks north of the 78-storey Aura, set to be the tallest residential tower in the country, Aura developer Canderel is planning a 66-storey condo at Grenville.

"It's given that the neighbourhood of Yonge Street is going to have a lot of density," says Canderel VP Riz Dhanji.

Just as they made waves with Aura's height, Dhanji says they're planning to install the country's – and possibly the hemisphere's – first rooftop infinity pool, to be called Aqua 66, for residents only.

And in another illustration of the fruits of councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Adam Vaughan, about 10 per cent of the units will be family-friendly three-bedroom designs.

The buildings, which include a Royal Bank, Hoops, and the former offices of Xtra, will be demolished sometime next year, according to Dhanji.

The interior designer will be Buridifilek, who with their work for Pink Tartan and Joe Fresh (both Mimram-family projects), and Holt Renfrew and Brown Thomas in Dublin (both Weston family properties), seem to be in with at least a certain segment of Toronto's elite, which may bode well for sales, which start at half a million and go up precipitously from there, right up to the penthouses, which will occupy the top five floors.

Another feature of note will be the podium floors – the first eight floors – which will include live-work spaces.

Architects are Graziani and Corrazza, and the project is expected to be completed in 2017.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Riz Dhanji

Hamilton's Royal Connaught finally gets some love

Like the Lafayette in Buffalo and Detroit's Book Cadillac, Hamilton's Royal Connaught Hotel didn't deserve the history it got.

Opened in 1916, built by Harry Frost (of Frost Fence fame), it had some glamorous years. The NHL governors would have their meetings there during its first decade. It was the focus of Hamilton's high life for years, but by the 1980s, it was in serious decline, and in 1992, it faced its first foreclosure. By the 1990s, it was a has-been, lovely on the outside, seriously shabby on the inside. By 2004, it was closed, and sat vacant for 10 years, withstanding an absurd proposal from developer Harry Stinson for a 100-storey Connaught Tower in 2008 and then, nothing.

Until now.

A coalition of Hamilton developers, including Ted Valeri of Valery Homes and Rudi Spallacci of the Spallacci Group, bought the old girl about two-and-a-half years ago and will be turning it into condos, part of a five-phase project that may add as many as three extra towers in the adjacent parking lot for a possible total of 700 condo units in what many hope will be a revitalized downtown core.

The first two phases will focus on the hotel itself, where 232 units will be added to the renovated lobby, which opens as a sales centre June 7.

"As we were working, we found the original floor that was placed there back in the 20s or 30s," Valeri says, "and we managed to find somebody, really good tile setters, to bring the stone back to its grandeur. There were some places we had to fill in with new granite, but most of the floor is original. Same thing with the plaster mouldings around the columns."

There will be 10,000 feet of retail in the original building, with ground-floor retail also planned for the new towers.

If sales go well, the group hopes to have its first residents move in sometime during the hotel's centenary in 2016.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Ted Valeri, Rudi Spallacci
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