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210 Simcoe, co-developed by two Toronto-based, internationally respected organizations, Diamondcorp and The Sorbara Development Group, is to be a veritable jewel of a condominium complex, a compact, brilliantly sited, gracefully disposed, cunningly articulated, 25-storey building offering 294 one, two and three-bedroom condo units at the very heart of the city.
The building could not be more ideally situated. Indeed - and not surprisingly - 210 Simcoe rates 100/100 as a Google Walk score, where the site is proclaimed to be, with no exaggeration, "a walker's paradise"! It could scarcely be otherwise, given the building's location just a few steps north of the historic, artistically vital Queen Street West artery, with its fine art galleries and design shops, its exotic restaurants, and its brace of up-market coffee shops and pubs.
210 Simcoe is conveniently close to streetcars and both east-west and north-south subway lines. It is close as well to several of the city's major hospitals. The building is just a very short walk to Bay Street, Toronto's financial centre, to Osgoode Hall, to the University of Toronto. The site is just steps to the city's most important cultural institutions - the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, Cinemateque Ontario, Toronto Underground Cinema, Scotiabank Theatre Toronto and Loft 18 Cinemas - as well as to numerous commercial movie houses.
The expanding, increasingly exciting Ontario College of Art and Design University ("the university of the imagination"), with its iconic, stiltmounted, Wil Alsop-designed Sharp Centre for Design is almost next door. Sol Wassermuhl notes: "We intend that 210 Simcoe will inevitably come to be seen as a worthy background building to the radically designed, iconic buildings nearby - OCADU's Sharp Centre, and Frank Gehry's Art Gallery of Ontario."
The research, the fact-finding, the detailed urban planning, the proposals, the thorough interview processes undertaken in the building's neighbourhood ("we are essentially a neighbourhood builder," stresses Leith R. Moore, the vice-president of development for the Sorbara Development Group), underlying the making of 210 Simcoe - all of it has been carefully considered. "A large residential building, designed and built in a complex city like Toronto," says Diamondcorp President and CEO, Steve Diamond, "is a vital partof the entire urban fabric. The planning and research processes we have undertaken," he continues, "are of primary importance in producing a better building. And the best urban solutions always take into account the criteria we derive from the people living in the area."
The trajectory of a sophisticated project such as 210 Simcoe arcs over many years of subtle and increasingly refined decisions, revisions, and delicate adjustments until, in the end, the building carefully evolves into what will become its final form. "The age in which an architect, seized with inspiration, hastily scrawls a vision for a building on the back of an envelope," says Sol Wassermuhl, "is long gone."
Wassermuhl is the architect for 210 Simcoe. He is the possessor of impeccable design credentials. As President of Page + Steel/IBI Group Architects, he has designed and overseen the realization of a great many high-end luxury hotels and hotel-condominium projects both in Toronto (The Ritz Carleton Hotel and Residences, and the stunning new Museum House among them) and abroad (in New York, Las Vegas, Moscow and Budapest, to cite only a few of his projects).
An ingeniously contrived, virtuoso exercise in inventive urban infrastructure, the new building is being built on the narrow footprint (the site is only 19 metres wide) of what is at present an ungainly, two-storey parking garage.
210's rectangular site area is 1,361 square metres. This isn't vast. But one of the substantial achievements of Wassermuhl and the 210 Simcoe design team is to have informed this small, inevitably intense space with so much design vitality that this formerly throwaway area will now seem remarkably alive, responsive, and far more intimate to its clients than can usually be imagined for so big a structure.
Part of the building's design excitement and spatial elasticity is traceable to the arrangement of its overall massing - and the great subtlety of that massing. Where just another brut, slab-sided building would clearly be bluntly unappealing, 210 Simcoe possesses a surprising and pleasing structural delicacy, traceable, in large measure, to the presence of its two slender, bracketing towers, one addressed on St. Patrick Street to the west, and the other addressed on Simcoe Street, to the east. Bridging the two towers - which are masterfully articulated so as to appear to be, in reality, four elided towers - will be a three-storey architectural "podium", viewed from the Michael Sweet Avenue frontage. This podium will house the building's generously scaled and excitingly designed and appointed indoor amenities area (3,498 square feet of it), plus an appealing, outdoor urban-garden amenities space (of 2,368 square feet).
Michael Sweet Avenue, named in honour of Police Constable Michael Sweet, who lost his life in the line of duty thirty years ago, is, at the moment, pretty much a short, orphaned throughway running between St. Patrick Street and Simcoe Street.
In the final scheme for 210 Simcoe, Michael Sweet Avenue will be totally transformed from the rather colourless passageway it is now to a vital connecting link between St. Patrick and Simcoe and, most importantly, a stage upon which the new building is effectively presented in all its grace and beauty - its new importance emphasized by a living wall of trees and secondary contextual planting which will run along Michael Sweet Avenue for most of the building's length.
Flanking this green living wall, at each end of the structure's south-facing side, there are to be four enormous passages of etched glass (two near the St. Patrick side and two near the Simcoe side).
The Michael Sweet green wall is positioned as a kind of botanical announcement of the previously cited terrace-area of the building beginning just above it, at the third storey level - an outdoor atrium that, lying nestled between the structure's east and west towers, functions as an elevated urban oasis for the shared enjoyment of the building's occupants.
210 Simcoe is an undeniably handsome building. One might even go so far as to call it beautiful, if that didn't sound a trifle too haute couture for a work of architecture. The fact is, the structure's indented link - the airspace above the third storey oasis that so dramatically separates the building's two parenthetical towers (a space that functions like a phantom tower on its own) - opens up the massing of the building and thereby lends a pleasing visual rhythm to what might otherwise have been a heavier looking, considerably more inert structure.
The fact, also, that the two towers will each be of slightly different heights (the St. Patrick tower will be 19 storeys high, whereas the Simcoe tower will be 25 storeys high) will give the building a structural syncopation, a chording - a pleasing way of furnishing the 210 Simcoe complex with a kinetic energy that, even though you may not wish to analyze it deliberately, can nevertheless be experienced innately as a sort of architectural buoyancy, an architectural exuberance.
The exterior treatment (and detailing) of 210 Simcoe is as highly evolved as its structural design. Its façade, which would normally be simply a curtain-wall of glass, will provide, as architect Henry Burstyn, points out, "a play of colour and what will appear to be an illusion of movement in the glass." Burstyn, who is a Senior Principal at Page + Steel/IBI Group, explains that this shifting kinetic energy with which the glass is imbued - and which will be experienced as colour changes in the glass (blue to a soft rosy hue and back again) and colour changes which will vary from place to place on the building's exterior and vary according to the changing times of day. How can this be? Because, Burstyn notes, the glass to be used for the building's façades is a pixelated glass, which confers on the glass paneling a floating and artificial, changeable transparency.
Burstyn points out as well that the roof surfaces of 210 Simcoe will make use - like many advanced contemporary buildings - of high-tech plant materialand frit glass compounds (filtering devices which help to control solar radiation), which provide a "heat island effect," aiding in the cooling and, if it can be put this way, in the building's "respiration." The building, Burstyn notes wryly, "will breathe out oxygen for the city - like a gigantic tree."
Leith Moore stresses that to discover a desirable, developable site for a residential building that, like 210 Simcoe, is close to public transit and other necessities and conveniences requires that you become highly inventive and "pretty creative." Steve Diamond agrees. "Low-hanging fruit," he says - which is his colourful way of referring to highly desirable sites that are still available in the matrix of the city - "is getting scarce!"
And 210 Simcoe is for sure "lowhanging fruit" - clearly the pick of the crop.
- Gary Michael Dault
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