UrbanToronto has had a great response to what we have put in our dataBase for Howard Park. You are bringing a different look to the city with it. What was the genesis of the project?
MR: With the first building [ed: Roncesvalles Lofts, around the corner at 25 Ritchie] we had a tough site to deal with, in the sense that we had a small frontage and a long side yard facing the neighbours, who are basically shops and gas stations, and from the beginning we tried to do something that would fit in with the neighbourhood, something not too big, but not too small that it wouldn’t pay our bills. And that was basically how we came up with 25 Ritchie.
Looking into my European background, I wanted this type of building with greenery and courtyards where people could come together and get to know their neighbours, which happens not so much in more modern buildings in the sense that you walk into your building and don’t get to know anyone around you. At the same time, I do like the modern design, so we incorporated it with some of the old — with the courtyards, which have worked quite well in Paris, Italy, Portugal and big cities — and we have a building that I like. The idea when we first built it was that I was going to keep a large number of units — I still kept some units, though I wasn’t able to keep as many as I hoped because I’m not so much of a seller as I am a buyer — so we built something that I really like, not just to sell.
We also have the property next door, and the block is really a dump, let’s put it this way, right now. I wanted to make something as nice and as beautiful as we did on Ritchie, or better. So we’re trying to do even better with that. We have a better street, Howard Park, and the objective is to tie in Roncesvalles to the rest of the block (at Dundas). Right now, it’s like there’s a desert in between. You have Roncesvalles, then you have our dump right now, and then you have Dundas, which is turning into a much better street. And with this building I think we’re going to connect the nieghbourhoods and make it a much better neighbourhood. Again, we’re not going for something too big, but the idea was to maximize what we could do, of course, but with respect for the neighbourhood and respect for the other buildings around it and Raw Design did a great job.
Not too big, but you’re still fulfilling the city’s intensification goals on the spot as well?
MR: Correct. I should add that the previous site was polluted, and this one is also polluted, and the amount of intensification has to do with that. We have to cover remediation costs.
Is the zoning in place on this land — do you have the approvals yet — or is that continuing?
RRC: We have the application for rezoning, it’s in and it’s in process. The site is currently zoned industrial, which is very odd for where it is, and we’re converting it to residential and mixed use.
Is the city concerned at all about the loss of industrial land?
RRC: This is a site that is not a priority for the city in terms of industrial use, they already have large swaths of industrial area nearby alonng the rail corridor. This is an anomaly.
This is a currently an industrial finger between other residential uses, isn’t it?
RRC: This is really bringing it back into the community, where it should have been to start with. So, adding residential uses will heal the area. This will knit Roncesvalles back to Dundas. There's currently a continuous curb cut along the site to allow for cars to access the automotive shops, and there's that propane tank…
MR: Yeah, we have that propane tank station there also, so most, if not all of the neighbours will appreciate that moving away.
RRC: We’ve tried to do a design that starts from the principles that 25 Ritchie laid out, so a courtyard is the focus of the development, and a scale of about 5 or 6 floors at the street will be what you see, and we have broken down the relative mass of the buildings on site into a rhythm, and at an increment, that matches the scale and character of Howard Park. The street is a little broken up on the south side — there’s a little 11-storey apartment building there now, circa '70s-era — but the balance of it is the typical High Park single family detached homes, two or three storey, 20-foot-wide lots. So we’ve mirrored that into our site. Most of the site length will be town homes, fronting on to Howard Park, so there’ll be front steps roughly every 20 feet as well, taking you up into individual units, and then we have the courtyard in the middle; this is the focus of the two buildings.
Mario has divided the site into two phases, primarily for financial reasons in terms of market absorption and construction, so it’s really two buildings with a linking element, and that courtyard is the link between the two, and is a shared viewpoint and amenity for those buildings. And we are proposing a building that terraces up to 10 storeys, and the kind of odd geometry you see in some of the images are a direct result of the shape of the site. This whole block is a triangle, and so our site is series of pyramid shapes that come off the north side of Howard Park, and we spent a lot of time trying to figure out an appropriate massing, again keying off the scale of 25 Ritchie which went before, to be around six storeys, and then try to not have an impact above that point, but also to resolve how all these different angles meet. They’re not acute angles, they’re very difficult to deal with in a residential setting — you don’t often see triangular living rooms — so we tried to come up with a way to resolve that to create livable and amenable space, and still directly reflect the geometry of the site. So you’ll see that we have a five-storey façade running the length of Howard Park, which is broken by that shared courtyard in the middle, there are all the individual town house entries, so these are all double height units; they immediately address Howard Park which gives it rhythm and gives character to the street, that, again, we feel is appropriate for the residential neighbourhood. But then the two larger buildings on site are oriented to the diagonal geometry of the triangle, so as they come in and meet Howard Park, you get these triangular terraces at the sixth floor, and then they’re resolved into square terraces that diagonally march up the building. One of the images we had in mind, is of a building we quite like in Denmark called Mountain by Bjarke Ingles (BIG), I don’t know if you know that building?
Once we had come up with this diagonal terrace thing, which also by the way, fulfills the city’s mid-rise guidelines criteria — this is what the city’s saying to build on an avenue, you should have an appropriate height street wall, you should set back at a 45 degree above that point — we’re close to meeting all of those criteria, so we think we’re being very good citizens in terms of urban design and character of the region, showing a good way to go forward for the city with development on the avenues. But this whole staggered terracing in the building, similar to what BIG had done, we were quite taken with because we could have larger units on the upper floors of the building and they could have tremendous outdoor spaces that all terrace down to the street. Where else do you get a unit that has a thousand square feet and three consecutive terraces that are each about 10 feet square?
Nowhere else in Toronto is offering quite this at the moment.
RRC: We also thought it was important that those aren’t just going to be the usual blank sea of pavers that most terraces for private units are, we’ve reserved at least one planter for each unit, which we’re trying to figure it out how to do it in the condo docks, but in the main common area and that will be heavily planted and the idea is that the plants that are placed there will spread out and grow over the façade of the building. It’s done for three reasons: 1) it adds a great environmental story obviously, the planter itself is great insulation value for unit — the plants as they grow over the façade will shade and actually protect the architecture; 2) the plants will be a beautiful object in their own right; and 3) was actually quite mercenary, we should be able to drive an extremely economical façade to the building because really it's just as an armature for the plants to grow on. We don’t have to use super fine materials to have a beautiful building, we’re going to use very mundane materials on the top floors, but it will be very beautiful because of the way it interacts with the plants.
Very interesting. There are a couple posts in our Howard Park thread where people are wondering if some of these plantings might go by the wayside over the years, but I suppose a section in the condo documents will cover that.
MR: They will be common elements.
Will they be self-watering planters or how will it be made sure that the residents maintain the look?
RRC: We are choosing plant material, which so much as is possible in this climate will be self-supporting. The planters are large enough that they will catch enough water to act as their own natural ecosystem. We are incorporating a system of storm water drainage and storm water capture throughout the building; this is just in design stages. We are planning that water from the green roof on top of the building would cascade down through the planters before it would get to the storm water tanks, and hopefully the water that falls on the terraces can be directed to each of the planters too. So we have a way of capturing the maximum amount of rainfall on the site and directing it towards these planters. In the short term, we may well have to provide irrigation to them.
MR: here will be a maintenance contract with a landscaping or greenroofing company for a number of years usually. They’re responsible for the first two years, it’s in their warranty for the plants and after the two years, the condo board has to have a maintenance contract with the landscaping company.
RRC: So even though we foresee that the people who would be attracted to these units would probably be interested in the plant material of the garden, you can’t count on everyone having a green thumb, there might be some brown thumbs, so we thought it was important that there be a common control over that. That goes to the condo corp as a whole because it is a very big part of the image of the building as well.
Right, and you can count on all of the owners wanting to maintain the value of their units, and part of that is definitely going to be the success of the gardens up top. Whether individual units have planters or not, what it looks like up top is also going to affect everyone's unit, so it’s definitely not something a condo board is going to let slide in any case. Is it landscape designers Ferris and Associates who are ultimately responsible for how all of this works?
Behind the triangular balconies, I assume that with the unit interiors you are dealing with 90 degree angles.
RRC: Yes. That’s the sort of pleasure of the design we’ve arrived at, the sort of acute angles and the angularity of the site are taken up with the balconies and the terraces on the lower levels, and when you look at the plans, you’ll see that they resolve into regular orthogonal shapes on the upper floors. Even though you’re on site that has this very odd geometry to it, you’re unit itself will be pretty normal, but also pretty spectacular because each of these rooms, these three principal rooms at the front, which be master, living room, dining room, some of them will have three sides glazed, and all the other ones will have two sides fully glazed, so it’s pretty unusual. Usually your window is on the one side and that’s it, that’s all you get.
The fenestration is also dealt with in a way that one unit is not looking onto the balcony of the neighbour?
Mario: There’s privacy.
RRCs: Intermediate balconies have the planters. A unit would have a terrace, likely adjacent to the master bedroom – so they have a private area for them to use off the bedroom — and then another one off the living/dining area and then separating those two would be the planter itself, which will have roughly two feet of soil to support a good sized shrub or a small tree and lots of vines, hopefully that will make their way through the whole structure.
You’re preparing for the launch: when does the public get a first crack at the building?
RA: It’s going to be late October. There’s a direct mail that’s gone out to about 100,000 households in the immediate neighbourhood.
Just under 100 units are available in the first phase?
The 25 Ritchie building is not super-heavy on amenities, really. There's a lounge, but it’s the courtyard and the sort of life the residents find mixing in it that is the amenity really. Are you taking that approach to amenities here?
MR: Mostly, but in this case we do have a fitness room and a couple other amenity rooms. In Ritchie we didn’t have that, we had the lounge and then we had a lot of exterior space. The area is really well served by local shops and gyms. So we’ve got a lot of amenities already in the neighbourhood.
RA: Nobody at Ritchie misses or addresses the lack of the pool or anything else like that, the demographic shows that people are outdoors all the time. At Ritchie we have a small bike rack, but we could have had something four times the size, that’s how many people have bicycles, it’s crazy.
It’s really growing in the city. We’re seeing a project going in on the waterfront, a 40-floor tower which is proposing 566 bicycle spaces, so it’s just exploding.
MR: Yah we have a lot of bicycle spaces, how many is it Roland?
RRC: One per unit.
MR: So a couple hundred.
RRC: In phase two we have this major bike area that comes directly off the street. So if you live in the building you can walk your bike directly from there on to Howard Park. Most bike parking is down in the garage and it’s awkward to get down there.
There’s a small amenity space in phase one that will look onto this new courtyard and there’s another amenity space in phase two that will share that courtyard and then also go into the back. A lot of these units have terraces at the back. The building terraces back on the rear as well, away from the neighbours here, and these townhomes will have small terraces to maximize the use of the outdoor space.
Is the back a greenspace that is part of this property?
RRC: Yes. We’re a bit lower than 25 Ritchie's courtyard. We don’t want to disturb their privacy and peace there or that of the other neighbours as well.
When I toured 25 Ritchie last year, I discovered how great the view of downtown from the upper floors here.
RRC: They’re going to see the lake, the tower and everything.
MR: It’s something that I was very surprised myself. I only realized the kind of view we have form this site, once we were actually building 25 Ritchie and we reached the fourth floor, and I’m up there and I see the lake, I’m like ‘Wow!’ Of course we said we sold it too cheap!
Another nice benefit now is that the City has finally finished rebuilding Roncesvalles. That took a long time.
RRC: Yes, and Dundas too is surprisingly vital. We’re renovating a building right here at 35 Golden, and it’s going to be a little high-tech hub — it’s going to be a major software company moving into there – and there is going to be a number of graphic designers, there’s a chocolate factory moving into there. The Soma guys in the Distillery are going to move their fabrication up here. And there’s a guy who does computer imaging for people — it’s for the better.
Major arts communities moving, definitely, into the area.
RRC: Yeah, Olga Korper has really held out for a long time. You know that gallery?
I’ve heard a lot about it. I'm ashamed to say I’ve never been in.
RRC: You have to go, it’s just here. It’s been here for like 20 years, by downtown lumber.
UrbanToronto thanks Mario Riberio, Ross Anicai, and Roland Rom Colthoff for sitting down with us. UrbanToronto's dataBase entry for this complex, linked below, features several more renderings for you to pore over. Want to join in the conversation? Click on the associated forum link!