As the price per square foot of downtown condominiums invariably rises, architects and interior designers have to find innovative methods for creating livable spaces within increasingly small shells. Bedrooms with windows are no longer expected, and "barn-style" sliding doors have become the norm. Bachelor units are more common, and a number of home furnishing stores (CB2 comes to mind) are now catering to ever-growing tiny-home market.

A relatively new introduction to the Toronto market is, in fact, one that has been kicking around for over half a century. Concord Adex enlisted interior design firm figure3 to create the plans for Quartz Condominium in CityPlace. Figure3 wanted to introduce a new idea to the market, one based on the "fluidity and flexibilty" commonly found in European condominiums and apartments. The floor plan they designed centres on a "wet cube," a space within which all of the wet functions (namely the bathroom, kitchen and laundry space) are located. While the idea is far from original or even complex, it has seen surprisingly little traction within the Toronto condominium market. The floorplan received an award of merit last month at the 2012 ARIDO Awards.

Quartz Condo in Toronto by Concord Adex Floorplan at Quartz Condo by Figure3, image courtesy of Concord Adex

The idea of wrapping living space around a central wet core dates back to the early days of modernism; Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation located the wet functions within the centre of the building in order to maximize access to daylight for the living spaces. The most notable application of this method is of course Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, built in 1951, the iconic glass-wrapped structure continues to serve as inspiration for the design of contemporary homes.

Floorplan for The Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe in Plano, IllinoisFloorplan for The Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe in Plano, Illinois

Of more relevance to high-rise condominiums is Mies’ 860 – 880 Lake Shore Drive apartment towers in Chicago, where wet functions are grouped together in order to maximize window space and decrease construction costs.

Typical floorplan for 860 - 880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments in ChicagoTypical floorplan for 860 - 880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago

There are a number of benefits in locating wet functions in a centralized core. Living areas can become fluid and more tactile, less wall space is required and construction costs are reduced with less piping being necessary. The floorplan offered at Quartz takes advantage of the wet cube in that the bedroom can double as living space if need be and the corridor can easily become a walk-through closet, leaving the purchaser with greater control as to the division of space.

Concord reports that market response to this floorplan has been strong, only a few units having been designed in this manner in order to assess demand. Purchasers were most interested in the "convertible wall" between the bedroom and living room, and the fluid progression of space around the central cube.

While not revolutionary in concept, the centralization of wet functions indicates that the market is increasingly demanding greater control over unit layout. Where innovation comes in is the application of this mid-century idea to our ever-smaller units, shells that will require new ideas in order to create comfortable, livable spaces.