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One Bloor East takes shape

The corner of Yonge and Bloor was known for decades as Canada’s main intersection, where two of its biggest streets meet in its biggest city.

But things haven’t been good there for a long time, and even in Toronto, its centrality has been usurped by Yonge and Dundas, Bay and Bloor, and even Queen and Spadina.

But looking at One Bloor East go up, I wonder if things aren’t snapping back to where they should be.

It was meant to be Canada’s tallest condo, but that fell apart. Aura, a little bit south on Yonge, took that honour. But it doesn’t relate to the street well at all. At least not yet. It’s out of scale, its mass overbearing, more appropriate to a much bigger street in a much bigger, and darker, city. Give it 20 years, maybe it’ll fit right in.

But One Bloor, designed by Hariri Pontarini, looks good already, its curves a welcome relief from the rectilinearity that has beset this city’s condo boom.

This week, it reached the 26th floor, and the curtain wall is going up, giving us a better sense of how it’s going to look.

The tower-and-podium show City Hall has imposed on all development has resulted in an almost unbearable degree of homogeneity in our buildings. But Hariri Pontarini show here how it can be done better. Working within restrictions and guidelines has always been a boon to the more talented, engaged artists and designers of every generation, ones who are also not constrained by unreasonable, unworkable budgets. It seems like Great Gulf decided to make a showpiece. I’m glad someone finally did.

We’ll check in with this one a little later. It’s been going up at roughly a storey a week, which would put the topping-off right about this time next year.

Writer: Bert Archer

Retail front of Five St. Joseph begins to emerge

Five St. Joseph is a big project, and an ambitious one.

We’ve written about it several times in this space as an example of the sort of civic responsibility, enthusiasm and creativity a developer can evince.

A big part of that is the Yonge Street frontage and what the developer has chosen to do with it.

If you walk up or down Yonge Street south of Bloor these days, you’ll see a lot of those black and white signs alerting you to development applications. Most of them are for towers, and most of the towers are proposed to be quite big. It’s a safe bet that in a decade or so, Yonge Street will be well on its way to becoming the sort of canyon we tend to associate with cities like New York and Hong Kong. How that canyon is constructed, however, is still up in the air. And we have in front of us two models: Aura on College and Five St. Joseph.

The developers of Aura on College chose to demolish the old two- and three-storey structures that have characterized Yonge Street for the past century and more to up the scale ante, replacing them with a massive podium and a sort of super-awning that, at the moment, looms over the street. That mass, which includes a Bed, Bath & Beyond and one of Madonna’s Hard Candy gyms, could either just be darkening a strip of the street. or pointing to a new model for the Yonge Street of the future.

A kilometre or so north, Gary Switzer of MOD is going another route. He’s not only keeping the facade of the old building at 5 St. Joseph that he’s building a tower on top of — that’s become fairly common in this town — he’s keeping the buildings on Yonge Street, too, both in structure, and purpose. It’s staying small-scale retail.

A sign went up on the Yonge Street hoarding recently indicating that one of the first tenants to sign up is Aroma, the Canadian-owned branch of the Israeli cafe chain that’s been sprouting up all over the city.

Aroma spokesman Daniel Davidzon thinks it’s all “amazing.”

“There is enormous density and significant residential growth in an already bustling neighbourhood,” he says. “The restoration and heritage components are stunning, as is the scope of construction. The engineering needed to bring this project to fruition is especially brilliant.”

Though Aroma has received no word on timing yet, Davidzon figures the cafe, complete with corner patio, will likely open in 2015.

Councillor Wong-Tam, whose ward this sensitive Yonge Street trench is in, is currently shepherding all those development applications through council, making deals with developers to forge the new Yonge Street. If the Aura model wins out, we’ll be in for a massive shift, our kids not quite believing our quaint stories of a small-scale commercial strip. If Switzer’s notions take hold, however, the Yonge Street those kids grow up with will have a comprehensible and visible link to the one we did. It’s revolution versus evolution. Stay tuned.

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

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

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

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

Roots opens new flagship shop on Bloor

It's summer, but there's a breeze coming in off the water, and in a small Austrian town on Lake Constance, a Chinese tourist walks through the old Corn Market wearing a red Roots sweatshirt.

Roots was never entirely Canadian. Founded in Toronto in 1973 by two Michigan natives, Don Green and Michael Budman, the brand has always been Canada as seen by Americans who like Algonquin Park, a vision of roughing it, Canadian style, through the patina of New England nostalgia.

What started as a binational hybrid has become global. The company announced that 2013, the year of its 40th anniversary, was its best ever due in large part to its success in Asia. 

So it's appropriate that their new flagship store, which opened on Friday, was built by a student of Mies van der Rohe, whose modernist aesthetic was known in its heyday as the International Style.

Eighty Bloor West was designed by Peter Carter, built in 1972, and once was the address for architect Arthur Erickson's Toronto office. The new Roots space is 6,500 square feet on two levels.

That's a little more than a third the size of the Bloor store it's replacing, which was 18,500 square feet. And that's a reflection of the other reality of Roots circa 2014. It may be expanding in Asia, but its physical retail operations are beginning to take a back seat to its online business.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Robert Sarner

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

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

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.
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