Standard of Dwelling I

Spec­u­lat­ing on the work at the var­i­ous scales of multi­u­nit, mixed-use res­i­den­tial typolo­gies, we exam­ine what kind of sim­ple but impact­ful ges­tures have the capac­i­ty to define stan­dards for dwelling while oper­at­ing in some­times pre­scrip­tive indus­try stan­dards for build­ing. The North Block and Yard at City of the Arts  at Toronto’s trans­form­ing Water­front tests this idea.

The Podi­um

GPA’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the podi­um with­in a Toron­to con­text dom­i­nat­ed by the res­i­den­tial con­do tow­er stems from an over­rid­ing con­sid­er­a­tion of the city, and the new build­ing fab­ric that shapes it. While this pre­oc­cu­pa­tion folds into a larg­er tow­er-relat­ed research, Stan­dard of Dwelling, it ques­tions how build­ings “hit the ground” so to speak, and has informed Gian­none Petricone’s work for many years.

Cre­at­ing a new grade-relat­ed pub­lic realm, the podi­um is both the host and the mark­er of pub­lic activ­i­ty.

In fact, a num­ber of inte­ri­or projects at street lev­el that dom­i­nat­ed the port­fo­lio in the ear­ly years of Gian­none Pet­ri­cone set the terms for how street-lev­el inter­ven­tions can shape this pub­lic expe­ri­ence, and even give new mean­ing to the cus­tom­ary pub­lic to pri­vate thresh­old. Per­haps it is from look­ing at the small-scale project that the larg­er scale, city-block projects gain per­spec­tive. This search for the capac­i­ty of the omnipresent three to six-storey podi­um depends to some extent on both pro­grammed use, and POPS (pri­vate­ly owned pub­lic space.) Con­sid­er­a­tions that dis­tance the con­tem­po­rary tow­er podi­um spe­cif­ic to Toron­to from its mod­ernist pre­de­ces­sor. This ren­di­tion of the now ‘super­sized’ podi­um brings, at once, the typ­i­cal tow­er as object-in-the-field to fab­ric build­ing, which com­pletes the street wall.

A project of doc­u­men­ta­tion and com­par­a­tive analy­sis begins with five projects includ­ing the Don Mills Revi­tal­iza­tion Project and Flaire Con­do­mini­ums, and Daniels Water­front City of the Arts. Doc­u­men­ta­tion is cur­rent­ly divid­ed into three cat­e­gories: Street sec­tions; Cladding; and Urban Access (entry ver­sus store-front ver­sus ser­vice.)

The Win­dow Wall

A healthy part of our port­fo­lio is engaged in large and small-scale mixed-use con­do­mini­um projects, most­ly in Toron­to. This has giv­en us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to research and spec­u­late first-hand on the urban effects of the phe­nom­e­na one might argue is one of the largest con­trib­u­tors to chang­ing and build­ing our city – the glass con­do­mini­um tow­er and its podi­um.

The sheer num­ber of tall glass con­do tow­ers built over the last decade has had such a vis­i­ble impact on the mor­phol­o­gy of Toron­to; how­ev­er, it is the con­sis­ten­cy with which these tow­ers are ren­dered that en-masse cre­ates a shift in the City’s archi­tec­tur­al iden­ti­ty. We have built more tow­ers per capi­ta in Toron­to than any oth­er North Amer­i­can city. The sky­line of new glass tow­ers shares air­space with oth­er glass tow­ers that came before, like that of Mies van der Rohe and I.M. Pei, firm­ly root­ed in the Inter­na­tion­al style – a style found across the globe, there­fore tying nei­ther to a Toron­to-spe­cif­ic cul­ture. The new glass con­dos (very specif­i­cal­ly res­i­den­tial con­do­mini­ums) on the oth­er hand, are quite par­tic­u­lar to Toron­to. This dis­tinc­tive­ness lies in the relent­less win­dow wall tech­nol­o­gy and in the podium/tower ratios that engage the PATH sys­tem and the streetscape.

The mar­ket demand for glass com­bined with the rel­a­tive­ly low cost of win­dow wall con­struc­tion means the build­ing and devel­op­ment indus­try is hap­py to oblige. So much has been writ­ten about the inevitable fail­ure of win­dow wall and the inevitable climb in ener­gy costs for these build­ings because of it. Like the old­er con­crete stock that per­vades our urban fab­ric, the sim­i­lar “right time, right place” of the win­dow- wall tow­ers begs the ques­tion if this build­ing stock that is so active­ly re-defin­ing our urban city scape awaits the same fate of increas­ing val­ue. What can we do as archi­tects to embrace the poten­tial inher­ent in the con­struc­tion and devel­op­ment indus­try in this regard, to active­ly shape or re-shape the city. The typ­i­cal and inevitable glass bal­cony balustrade has become a fruit­ful site of oper­a­tion for us in this regard. This pre­lim­i­nary research was pre­sent­ed at the Daniels Faculty’s Stan­dard of Dwelling Sym­po­sium, and more recent­ly at the Toron­to, A Glob­al City? Sym­po­sium at the Ital­ian Cul­tur­al Insti­tute.

The Bal­cony

So, not since the con­crete bru­tal­ism of the 1960’s has the city of Toron­to expe­ri­enced such accel­er­at­ed growth whose expres­sion is so con­sis­tent­ly ren­dered. Among oth­er ‘reg­u­lat­ed’ ele­ments in the some­what for­mu­la­ic build­ing typol­o­gy, wrap around rib­bon bal­conies at a max­i­mum depth of five feet is dic­tat­ed by both the per­ceived need of con­do pur­chasers, as well as the lim­its of con­struc­tion and cost for max­i­miz­ing inte­ri­or gross floor area. A five-foot can­tilever of the floor slab is the lim­it before it requires a ver­ti­cal sup­port. Ulti­mate­ly, these stan­dards defined by build­ing tech­nolo­gies, min­i­mum code require­ments, and dimen­sion­al rela­tion­ships set by res­i­den­tial mar­kets and eco­nom­ics amount to cer­tain non- nego­tiable build­ing met­rics. The typ­i­cal and inevitable glass bal­cony balustrade that encrusts most con­do tow­ers includ­ing those GPA has tak­en-on, we have iden­ti­fied as a fruit­ful site of oper­a­tion. This research finds oppor­tu­ni­ty in affect­ing the req­ui­site glass guard in a sub­tle but sig­nif­i­cant way in order to trans­form the bal­cony space into a more hos­pitable one – even at the 45th floor.