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Becoming Toronto: Jerome Markson and the Making of a City

junctionist

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I recently found an interesting article on Jerome Markson in Azure. Markson designed some remarkable buildings in the city's urban fabric, which are often hidden gems. His work spans the eras of modernism through to post-modernism.

I think he did a great job with Market Square on the northeast corner of Front and Church Street. Its elegant massing evokes a midrise Haussman block in Paris, yet it still looks distinctive and modern. Where it really shines is in its fine-grained urbanism. It created this picturesque retail-flanked laneway with St. James Cathedral as its view terminus, like many a pedestrianized old town lane in a European town or city. It brought a great mix of uses in its assortment of well proportioned storefronts, including retail, restaurants, a movie theatre, and condominiums.

With good materials, massing, and urbanism, it continues to shine to this day. While developers tantalize us with renderings of cobblestoned retail "villages" at the bases of their condo projects that may or may never be realized as depicted, Market Square created those kinds of spaces back in 1983.

The article also gives us some interesting insights into his ill-fated Alexandra Park project, which is now being redeveloped. It notes that he originally wanted to build around the existing grid of streets and to weave new buildings with the old. But it's apparently not what his client wanted.

Nevertheless, he achieved something to that end with 200 Sherbourne Street, where the TCHC building more carefully fits in with the Victorian urban fabric around it. It adds a whimsical brick street with pleasantly proportioned pedestrian bridges that add interest to the "streetscape".

Also, if you like unique modernist houses, then check out 45 Amelia Street in Hamilton. It's strikingly elegant.
 
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jje1000

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Market Square was definitely groundbreaking in its day, and I still think it's quite attractive and interesting to look at, but I think it falls short in a few areas, especially in having a recessed and shaded ground level (falling into the 80s-90s colonnade trope)- it works in some segments where a patio can utilize the extra space, but doesn't in others (i.e. on Church Street, where the colonnade becomes quite dark and low). Furthermore, the midblock laneway loses the design rigour of the exterior partway through, and feels a bit bland in parts- even a slight variation in brick colour could have helped make it feel less 'beige'.

This part of the laneway is visually interesting and quite intimate- with tight framing and layering, and many small vertical design details that draw your eye everywhere...while this part of the laneway seems to lose its vitality, especially as it becomes far more horizontal and less visually interesting with the large windowless segments. In the northernmost segment of the laneway, it peters off into a dark and dim driveway.

Nothing absolutely broken though- and much of it could be fixed via sympathetic renovation.
 
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innsertnamehere

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Yup Market Square is a success overall but I would say that it still has tons of issues.

The laneway is neat, but the retail along it is near useless. Something needs to be done to pull in better tenants, as well as get rid of the oversize drop off facility along Church St and just generally fix the Church frontage of the building.

The building is the retail centre of the neighbourhood in a lot of ways with the Metro, movie theatre, and restaurant.
 

Northern Light

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Market Square was definitely groundbreaking in its day, and I still think it's quite attractive and interesting to look at, but I think it falls short in a few areas, especially in having a recessed and shaded ground level (falling into the 80s-90s colonnade trope)- it works in some segments where a patio can utilize the extra space, but doesn't in others (i.e. on Church Street, where the colonnade becomes quite dark and low). Furthermore, the midblock laneway loses the design rigour of the exterior partway through, and feels a bit bland in parts- even a slight variation in brick colour could have helped make it feel less 'beige'.

This part of the laneway is visually interesting and quite intimate- with tight framing and layering, and many small vertical design details that draw your eye everywhere...while this part of the laneway seems to lose its vitality, especially as it becomes far more horizontal and less visually interesting with the large windowless segments. In the northernmost segment of the laneway, it peters off into a dark and dim driveway.

Nothing absolutely broken though- and much of it could be fixed via sympathetic renovation.
Good observations!

Lets try this, with someone else's property, LOL....

How about, we eliminate the current glassed-in portion of Hot House Cafe in the interior lane, but preserve much of its capacity as additional patio space.

In turn, having slightly eaten into HH's seating, how about we extend HH under the canopy right to Church Street, with openable windows facing out, and window boxes below the windows w/flowers/plants?

One, already successful tenant, without really moving could animate or better animate 2 of the spaces in question.

Next, pair Metro with a coffee shop that would also support a patio space, this can be offset from other tenant premises, if needs be, possibly TD.

Also, while allowing for some sort of attractive, low'ish fence/rail, do a set-up where Metro's floral dept has an outdoor display, at least during daytime hours.

The driveway is a tough fix. Not sure if its actually needed (the part that does not access the garage) and the ceiling height is likely fixed. Maybe just add recessed lighting that has variable illumination based on auto-detection to maintain a better lit space
during the day?

Reconsider the treatment of the driveway at the north end, and whether it could relate better with a refurbished laneway adjacent.
 
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Northern Light

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Yup Market Square is a success overall but I would say that it still has tons of issues.

The laneway is neat, but the retail along it is near useless. Something needs to be done to pull in better tenants, as well as get rid of the oversize drop off facility along Church St and just generally fix the Church frontage of the building.

The building is the retail centre of the neighbourhood in a lot of ways with the Metro, movie theatre, and restaurant.
I don't think you're old enough to remember what Market Square was like.

Where the Metro is now, was an indoor mini-mall; the place really turned its back to everything; the cinema entrance was also interior to said mall.

The current tenant mix, mostly facing outwards (though w/gaps and poor treatments at times) is a world better than where the complex used to be.

Which is not to say further improvements could not be made, as noted above.

Though for the most part, I think I'd be more focused on how those tenants relate to the public realm that swapping them out.

The 2 most prominent tenants, HH, and Metro both draw large traffic to the site and keep it animated.

They just don't share that animation w/their surroundings as well as they might.
 
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junctionist

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Yup Market Square is a success overall but I would say that it still has tons of issues.

The laneway is neat, but the retail along it is near useless. Something needs to be done to pull in better tenants, as well as get rid of the oversize drop off facility along Church St and just generally fix the Church frontage of the building.

The building is the retail centre of the neighbourhood in a lot of ways with the Metro, movie theatre, and restaurant.
I agree. The building has great bones, but it needs some enhancements. The pedestrian lane should be managed as more of a destination in and of itself with multiple restaurants and and patios, more interesting landscaping, public art, and perhaps programming like markets or buskers. I don't think the driveway at the north end of the complex would be that bad if the retail along Church Street and the laneway were more vibrant.

It needs more independent "destination" retail like in the Distillery District to draw people to the laneway and Church Street. The issue doesn't seem to be one of architecture. The retail spaces just aren't being utilized to their potential at the moment. A less monotonous colour and material palette would make the laneway more interesting.

I like the colonnade along Front Street. Colonnades are great on any day with precipitation and also on extremely hot summer days, when you get shade. This one was well done because the ceiling is relatively high, and there's clear signage along the street for the businesses in the retail spaces. Also, people still have the option of using an open sidewalk if they like to enjoy the beautiful streetscapes and skyline views along Front Street.
 
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junctionist

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I was really impressed by Markson's 45 Amelia Street in Hamilton. From the outside, the house looks like the kind of sophisticated Modernist dwelling you'd see in an upper class neighbourhood in a big metropolitan city like Montreal or NYC in the 1950s, yet it's located in a nice old neighbourhood in Hamilton. It's wonderful that Markson got to build the project:
“They let me go nuts,” he adds, thinking of his aunt and uncle, who were in their 60s and in the steel business when they handed their young nephew the commission. While perhaps not “nuts,” the home did present itself to the then-conservative street as a joyous, geometric composition of steel beams, brick panels, voids and clerestory windows punctuated by a dead-centre front door flanked by large sidelights.
Here are some more photos. Even with renewed interest in the Modernist architecture of the 1950s and 1960s, we're still seeing too many significant Modernist houses replaced by McMansions or being renovated into McMansions. It's quite impressive that the new owners were so sympathetic that they got Markson to help with their renovation. There's also another intact Markson house on the street which is quite interesting: 125 Amelia Street.
 

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