Housing

In Toronto's west end, modern homes of a human scale

Architecture critic — Special to The Globe and Mail

Rendering of a condo/townhouse project set to be constructed at 850 Richmond Street

Toronto is an architecturally submissive city, happy to take whatever design is laid over it. The British delivered the elegant but often pinched bay-and-gable Victorian row house to our military grid. In the 1960s and ’70s, there was the blitz of rugged concrete or brick-clad apartment towers. And, more recently, curtain-wall towers came at us like an unstoppable army of glass soldiers. At street level, in three- and four-storey housing developments, there’s been little of architectural interest for the home-buying, design-savvy public.

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Slowly, thankfully, that’s changing. In Toronto’s west end, there’s a finely tuned, human-scaled condominium arrangement of lofts and townhomes – totalling just 20 units – set to be constructed at 850 Richmond St. W., just south of Trinity Bellwoods Park. The neighbourhood is a wildly uneven cacophony of tiny workman cottages set next to high-end lighting boutiques and bargain-basement rental housing. The opening of a hot yoga studio at the corner of Wellington and Bathurst and a 10-storey politely-designed condo signalled all-out gentrification. But, because the area falls outside of the downtown’s designated urban-growth area, permits for dense, tall developments are rare. That means a modest lunch bar and grill tucked behind a heavy tree canopy can still happily co-exist next to a ruby-red Buddhist temple. Not even the deadly dull housing development allowed, inexcusably, to replace the vast Massey complex of factories north of King Street West has poisoned the atmosphere. So far, this west-end enclave has kept its curious spirit intact.

But housing options here – like elsewhere in Toronto – have been limited to Victorian, neo-Victorian and postage stamps. That’s why, with the arrival of Edition Richmond, designed by Berkeley-and-Harvard-trained architect Gianpiero Pugliese of AUDAX (Latin for bold), the neighbourhood is about to receive some contemporary design meat.

Mr. Pugliese, together with urban developers Gary Eisen and Adam Ochshorn of Curated Properties, has devised a residential architecture roomy enough for families. There are thoughtful gestures to help where an abundance of natural light was lacking: A shaft descends the entire length of the three-storey units, so that light infuses even the shower stall.

With operable windows and balconies, the upper units facing onto Richmond are what Mr. Pugliese refers to as sky lofts. “What I find interesting about this project and others happening in this city is that this is a new type of infill housing,” he says. “It doesn’t fit the conventional model of a high-rise condo that’s everywhere in the city.”

Most of the condo units have rooftop gardens, with a protective frame over an outdoor daybed, that hint at the arbours on the terraces of exclusive hotels. The arches create framed views of the city and are constructed of metal panels with wood louvres to act as filtering screens. “They speak to the idea of human architecture and human scale – they provide shelter and they become a larger icon for the building,” says the 35-year-old Mr. Pugliese.

In keeping with what you might expect in the neighbourhood, the multi-unit white-brick building replaces an old transmission repair shop. There is another one still happily humming across the street. A Centre for Addiction and Mental Health research unit sits down the street.

There is also, however, the promise of conversation between two well-crafted, low-scale contemporary developments: Across the narrow street, there’s an elegant and modern interpretation of the Toronto row house, designed by Core Architects, that uses large frames in Ipe wood and charcoal brick to accentuate the contemporary window treatments.

“Everybody wants modern design now. It’s catching up. The challenge is how do you not beat it to death,” says Mr. Pugliese.



For more on design and architecture from around the world, follow Lisa Rochon’s blog, chasinghome.org.

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