The condo building boom that has been reshaping Toronto for several years now is beginning to offer a wider variety of buildings and architectural styles. First concentrated in the downtown core, redevelopment and revitalization is now moving to more widespread neighbourhoods. Quiet Birchcliff, in southwest Scarborough, is centre stage in today's story.

With only a few developments under its belt—but nonetheless famous for its bold and high-quality projects—Symmetry Developments has teamed up with Fortress Real Developments and Engine Developments to change the face of townhome design in Toronto, and bring cutting-edge architecture in the form of three four-storey building clusters to 2535 Gerrard Street East.

5468796 Architecture, Symmetry Developments, Fortress Real Developments, torontoRendering of The Tree House on Gerrard Street East, image courtesy of Symmetry Developments

Indeed, the companies have brought award-winning, Winnipeg-based 5468796 Architecture to Toronto for the first time for the critically acclaimed project The Tree House. This development will contrast with its surrounding neighbourhood by its forms, materials, and type of housing—townhomes, lofts, and apartments—but it still seeks to be a very good neighbour to the single family homes it will be adjacent to. We spoke recently with architects Sasa Radulovic and Johanna Hurme of 5468796, and Sayf Hassan, founder of Symmetry Developments to learn more about their vision for the project.

The Tree House, 5468796 Architecture, Symmetry Developments, TorontpRendering of The Tree House, image courtesy of Symmetry Developments

It is no surprise that infill developments can be challenging, especially in established residential neighbourhoods. The shape and relative size of the site, its integration with the community and the existing urban grid, financial and design code considerations, and the preservation of the neighbourhood's qualities are factors that can increase the pressure on architects and developers. The decisions they make can raise concerns of the existing residents but also drive creativity when it comes to putting together such a project.

While Hassan aims for his projects to distinguish themselves from more traditional developments in Toronto and elevate housing architecture, 5468796 Architecture has used its experience to provide the right balance of enclosed, private spaces versus open, shared/semi-private spaces with the idea in mind that even though the shape of a building cannot assure the creation of a community—either inside or outside the building— it is capital to create the potential for this to happen. This results in an intelligent design where three edifices interact with the preserved neighbourhood structure, as view corridors and sun access are also maintained without affecting the privacy of the adjacent backyards and houses.

The Tree House, Symmetry Developments, TorontoThe triangular shape of the previously light-industrial Tree House site, image from Apple Maps

"The triangular shape of the property allows for an innovative organization of the buildings on the site. This staggered geometry starts with a restrained face on Gerrard Street, stretches through the middle building and becomes most pronounced at the townhouses located on the south end of the site. In addition, the geometry creates a coherent massing that allows us to grow the building’s size as it ascends, therefore maximizing the square footage of family-oriented three bedroom stacked units on levels two and three and keeping the lofts at grade smaller, while at the same time maximizing open space," said Radulovic and Hurme.

"As they extend from north to south, the buildings' facades will change from a dark anodized aluminum to a light grey aluminum cladding and while more solid facades with minimal windows will face towards adjacent properties to respect the privacy of established residents, the architects have developed an almost 100% glazing walls to face the courtyards, and therefore encouraging neighbours to get to know each other and creating a sense of belonging in the new community. These facades are composed in a staggered grid pattern that carries through the landscaping strategy and unifies the three buildings across entire site."

5468796 Architecture, Symmetry Developments, Fortress Real Developments, torontoRendering of The Tree House, Block C, image courtesy of Symmetry Developments

Both the developer and architects understand that their work will reshape a whole block of the city, leaving a long-lasting impression on the neighbourhood and its residents. The Tree House aims to bring landscaping that will be a benefit to the whole neighbourhood. Thus, at the end of Coalport Drive, 5468796 Architecture is creating a welcoming courtyard that will provide entrances to 21 dwellings, putting an end to the detrimental existing condition of that part of the street, currently terminating in a chain link fence.

The Tree House, Symmetry Developments, TorontoThe Tree House site as seen from Coalport Drive, image from Apple Maps

This amenity will provide a unique, civic and communal space to be enjoyed by the new owners and neighbourhood alike, said Radulovnic and Hurme, before adding that gestures like these enable their projects to knit the neighbourhood together, and help the community see infill projects as an improvement rather than an imposition. This lines up with Hassan's vision to leave a durable and high-quality fingerprint on the neighbourhoods where Symmetry Developments' projects are realized.

5468796 Architecture, Symmetry Developments, Engine Developments, torontoEarly rendering of The Tree House, image courtesy of Symmetry Developments

Our readers know how rare these kind of projects are in Toronto, even though there is a growing interest in bolder, more innovative developments with a truly unique architectural identity. The Winnipeg-based team told us how Canada has changed and how nowadays Canadian cities like Toronto and more recently Winnipeg, Edmonton or Saskatoon have left their ambivalent feeling towards design behind, asking for better, more responsive and intelligent, tailored and sometimes daring design; changing the perception Canadians have of the country's cityscapes. While Hassan sees no mandate when he choses to develop only specific types of projects, he hopes that encouraging bold design will drive interest towards innovative architecture and increase the already growing demand for bold buildings as people are introduced to them and develop higher expectations for the places they want to live in.

Now in the planning phase that will last for the next several months and sales starting in March, construction should begin within the next 20 to 24 months. We will be keeping an eye on The Tree House, and will be sure to return with updates on the development as more information becomes available. In the meantime, Symmetry Developments, Engine Developments and 5468796 Architecture have confirmed that they are currently developing another project for Toronto adding they are "cooking up a storm"! 
Additional information as well as early concept renderings for the project can be found in The Tree House's dataBase file, linked below. Want to get involved in the discussion? Check out the associated Forum threads, or leave a comment in the space provided at the bottom of this page.