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Condo on stilts give Widmer Street heritage homes some breathing room

Throughout Toronto’s tower boom, there’s been a growing reliance on a particular idea of what a tall building should be: a podium of several stories that pretty much fills the site and provides retail space at street level, on which sits a more slender point-tower reaching for the sky.
But the six yellow-brick townhouses at 8-20 Widmer Street just south of Adelaide, all of them built between 1876 and 1878 and all of them listed historic properties, gave Scott Shields Architects a unique opportunity to think beyond the podium for the Clairville Holdings’ 56-storey, 583-unit condo tower slated for the block. Rather than absorb the townhouses into the larger structure, the proposal, filed with the city for approval earlier this month, pushes the tower back from the street. The tower’s upper stories are supported by diagonal stilts rising up from behind the three-storey townhouses.
“We love heritage and the owner of the property loves heritage. The townhouse are pretty, but to be honest, they’re in pretty rough shape,” says Deborah Scott, principal at Scott Shields. “There are lot of steps to get up, then about three steps to get down to the basement, which is not ideal for turning them into commercial/retail.” So after excavating the site and building underground parking beneath the townhouses, they will be restored to essentially what they already are: six individual homes, with patios out front and a laneway behind them, separating them from the tower.
To the south of the site, where there’s a large laneway between the proposed building and King Street’s Hyatt Regency, Clairville has proposed a parkette that will also serve as the pedestrian entrance to the tower. “We wanted to let the townhouses be on their own. We’re not filling up the lower level with mass. We’re leaving it light and airy,” says Scott. “In this part of downtown, with more space at the base, nobody cares how high you are anymore, I think.”
About three storeys above the townhouses—six storeys from the ground—the tower gets wider, providing something of a canopy over the heritage properties. The idea for the stilts came, in part, from the Standard Hotel in New York City, under which the High Line elevated park passes. “They have some amazing columns that hold their building up, and they’re so beautiful. We can make these columns so refined. They will be angled a bit. They’re also like tree trunks.”
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Deborah Scott
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