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.