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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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