Toronto condos short in stature but long on style

You can blame them for the proliferation of tiny new condominium units and the paucity of family-sized ones in the Toronto area. (I do.)

And you can reproach them for the transformation of your once-quiet neighbourhood into a hive of chic bars, boutiques and dance clubs. (Rumour has it that even my hitherto downmarket corner of west-side Toronto may be getting a Starbucks.)

But young, mobile, affluent, kid-free, knowledge workers – the objects of every condo supplier’s desire these days – are important facts of life in Greater Hogtown, and they need places to lay their heads just like the rest of us. If the planners at Queen’s Park and Toronto’s city hall get their way, their digs will be in towers at important intersections and mid-rise buildings alongside arterial streets. Intensification is the official gospel at every level of government, after all, and woe betide any Ontario city that fails to respond positively to the preaching.

Many citizens, of course, are already believers in the notion that upping city-centre density is a good way to halt suburban sprawl. For those who are onside with this proposition, the big concern now is, or should be, how the new buildings look and how they perform in the urban landscape.

In the last while, I’ve gotten wind of a few mid-rise condo projects that are (a) being pitched to those young, high-earning singles and couples and that are (b) artistically right for their locations in the larger scheme of things. Here are a couple of these items that have caught my eye.

One is called Origami, a handle that suits it for reasons I’ll get to in a moment.

Designed for Symmetry Developments by Toronto architect Stephen Teeple, this seven-storey, 23-unit building has been proposed for a corner on Bathurst Street just north of Queen Street West – near the heart, in other words, of a formerly funky working-class district that’s now undergoing gentrification.

Stripped down to its basic shape, Origami would seem to be a stack of two rectangular blocks faced with floor-to-ceiling glass. The lower one is large, and the upper one (containing four two-storey penthouses sheathed in colourless glass) is somewhat smaller.

Anyone familiar with Mr. Teeple’s residential architecture, however, will know he’s not one to drop any pure geometrical shapes beside the sidewalk and leave them at that. In this case, a cascade of blue zinc cladding spills from the penthouse level over the lower volume, bending and tucking under (like origami) as it nears the tall, glassed-in retail space at grade. The blue curtain is opened by vertical and diagonal slashes, and its hemline is attractively ragged.

These moves change what could have been a small, routine box – just another mid-rise that does no more for the city than obey the zoning bylaws – into a restlessly vivid, urbane moment of interest in an otherwise lacklustre streetscape.

Not every cool young professional, of course, wants to move downtown and live on top of the Queen Street strip. Some are willing to become commuters. But even if they prefer the comparatively slow-speed life in Lake Ontario suburbia, style-conscious condo-hunters out there are probably looking for buildings with big-city attitude.

If my swing through Burlington last week is anything to go on, they won’t find much in that town that appeals to contemporary tastes and sensibilities. Almost all the mid-rise and low-rise multiunit projects I saw were dull pastiches of stuff salvaged from the junkyard of defunct historical styles. If they are really wedded to modernist condo living, and no place but Burlington will do, prospective home-buyers might be tempted to give up the search.

But Burlington developer Tariq Adi, 32, is hoping they won’t – not until, that is, they have checked out Mod’rn, the four-storey, 78-suite residential complex that he intends to raise on Guelph Line, north of the Queen Elizabeth Way.

The handiwork of Toronto architects Reza Eslami and Hoordad Ghandehari, the project should be a sturdy, clean-lined modernist reply to Burlington’s more usual sweaty historicizing, and (for that reason) an effective lure to attract the young consumers (and some empty-nesters) Mr. Adi is angling for.

Granted, the design is not as avant-garde and striking as that of Stephen Teeple’s Origami. The sculpted façade is composed of interlocking punched boxes clad in champagne-coloured stone, black brick and manufactured wood panels.

The visual rhythm set in motion by these forms and materials would be far too staid and genteel for a spot in downtown Toronto. But it’s lively enough to let posh old Burlington (and whatever streamlined young folk are lurking about) know that mid-rise modernism is in town to stay.

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Sherif Nathoo

Sherif Nathoo

Sales Representative
CENTURY 21 Leading Edge Realty Inc., Brokerage*
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