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Top 10 residential towers in T.O.



Top 10 residential towers in T.O.

The Top 10 residential-tower countdown: Buildings we feel contribute more than property taxes to our town.

Kelvin Browne and Lee Jacobson
National Post

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Toronto's construction boom has created dozens of new condominium towers. It's probably not a bad time to ask whether all these buildings give anything back to the city -- besides floor space and the economic benefits of real estate commissions and mortgage interest. These buildings help shape the urban fabric around us, so they should be on your radar whether you're a prospective buyer or not. How a building connects with its environment -- on the ground and in the air -- is critical. Even projects that are not leading-edge contribute to the city's design quotient; for example, the Prince Arthur on Avenue Road makes a grand urban gesture with its dramatic entrance arch, its oversized sofa-cum-public-art piece and its tony shops on what could have been an abandoned stretch of the street. Our countdown:

10. Palace Pier/Palace Pier Court, Lake Shore Boulevard West

For many years, the first tower (Palace Pier was built in 1979) and then the second (Palace Pier Court in 1993) were orphans on Lake Shore Boulevard, sentinels for Toronto and disconnected from their neighbourhood by the Gardiner Expressway. Today, these still-imposing 46-storey towers are reminiscent of those along Chicago's waterfront. They've aged well, with the new adjacent development giving them context. The new buildings also demonstrate that the towers-in-park approach is a better concept for this location than the surrounding jumble of mediocre high- and low-rise designs that pretend to be a street-based community.

9. One King West, King Street West and Yonge Street

Rising 51 stories from the historic 1912 Dominion Bank Building, it's a sliver of a tower and now the titleholder of the tallest residential building in Canada. Its historic building base is repurposed and the project is a step in the right direction for the intensification of downtown. While you can quibble with some of developer Harry Stinson's clumsy details and finishes, from the perspective of the waterfront, it's an elegant, almost ephemeral tower, one we wish were even higher.

8. District Lofts, 388 Richmond St. W.

District Lofts is probably the most audacious and adventurous of Toronto's newer residential buildings with its parallel towers connected by vertiginous flying walkways and shed-roofed penthouses. On an unprepossessing stretch of Richmond Street, it rises over a narrow mid-block site with its two-storey parking podium allowing many suites to have a view over the building to the south. At the base, it succeeds at bringing a dim bit of sidewalk alive with retail activity. Compare its modern elegance and deft touch with the faux-Deco hulk across the street at 438.

7. 190 St. George St.

On a leafy but architecturally challenged street populated mainly by banal buildings from the 1960s, this modernist condominium, completed in 1972, looks like a dashing visitor from Miami. Even on a drab winter day, its crisp whiteness brightens the area and, while it does sit back from the street, the cantilevered entrance canopy and lovely landscaping distinguish it as a good, if reserved, neighbour. Wraparound balconies with see-through metal railings and floor-to-ceiling windows make this a timeless gem. The architect, Joseph A. Medwecki, liked the building so much he painted his self-portrait with it in the background.

6. The Lonsdale, 619 and 625 Avenue Rd.

The sedate twin towers called the Lonsdale that overlook Upper Canada College's verdant acreage seem as though they've always been there. Compared with the behemoths further south on Avenue Road, their delicate integration into the neighbourhood is why they feel so appropriate. They're simultaneously the right scale for a main arterial road, yet positioned to be respectful of their single-family-home surroundings. The townhouse segment of the project certainly aids the tower-to-low-rise transition. And, speaking of transition, its luxe rental suites are now mostly luxe condo units.

5. Jefferson, 11 St. Joseph St.

This was a real surprise. Completed in 2004, one face of this almost-hidden luxury rental building is sensitively inserted into a restored 100-year-old Victorian brick facade on a quiet mid-town street. The other facade fronts a back lane off Wellesley Street. With its six-storey townhouse apartments, an 18-storey main building, its elegant greenish glass curtain wall and white vertical blinds for each unit (to prevent any window-treatment misdemeanors), this building is a rose among residential thorns.

4. Mozo, 218 King St. E.

Context Development and its architects of choice, architectsAlliance, do it right again with the well-designed (if unfortunately named) Mozo. Perhaps the most laudable urban design feature is the six-storey corner element. It celebrates the intersection of two streets, acknowledges the building's Victorian neighbours and provides generous double-height retail spaces that are a gift to the city and to the merchants within. Now if Toronto Hydro would only get rid of all of those nasty poles and wires that pollute our city.

3. 10 and 20 Avoca Ave.

A classic 1971 modernist design statement with large windows and enormous wraparound balconies, these two towers by Seligman & Dick Architects were among Toronto's first co-ops. They're poised in a prime position overlooking David Balfour Park, but don't impose themselves on their location. Stroll around the neighbourhood. If you thought they were boring buildings, consider all the nearby and newer examples of how to destroy a bucolic location with designs that scream "look at me!". (The runner-up for careful consideration of a naturally beautiful site are the twin buildings of Tower Hill at St. Clair and Spadina Road. Let's hope the new condo going up on the site doesn't ruin that.)

2. Radio City, 281 and 285 Mutual St.

We know, this sounds like a Context promo. Maybe it's head honcho Howard Cohen's stint as chief city planner back in the 1980s or his desire to expiate the sin of those ghastly buildings on Queens Quay (he's done it in spades), but these guys know how to add to the city's urban design and still make a profit. Perhaps the most significant and well-thought-out recent urban space, this ensemble combines two sleek towers, a row of townhouses that blend but don't mimic the historic neighbourhood all wrapped around the new National Ballet School. A courtyard links the hubbub of Jarvis Street to the quiet of the residential street behind. Urban planning doesn't get much better than this.


1. 18 Yorkville Ave.

The city's most sophisticated condominium project is another architectsAlliance creation. It's not just a massive tower colliding with the pavement, but a sensitive combination of an exuberant 36-storey tower fronting Yonge Street, one that sings with style, and a seven-storey low-rise gem along Scollard Avenue. Continuing the high level of finesse is an intriguing Janet Rosenberg-designed park that relates the two buildings to the neighbourhood and the nearby historic library. This is urban renewal at its most sublime.


Towers aren't the only solution to living in the city, even at higher densities. The horizontal building, or block approach, has produced many successful urban spaces. The Colonnade on Bloor Street, residences set on a two-storey commercial podium, is a good example of non-tower development, as is the similarly organized but curtain-walled 110 Bloor St. W. across the street. The Manulife is a tower that was a worthy addition to the city until they filled in the courtyard with a big box of Indigo. KPMB's lovely 500 Queens Quay W. is one of the only worthy buildings on the waterfront. The Benvenuto on Avenue Road is a sprawling, but successful, buffer between a major road and an established verdant neighbourhood.


Many condo projects around town are still just images on sales brochures or in the early stages of construction. Hence, the jury is still out on whether they will succeed or fail, in the urban design sense.

For example, while the tops of many of the CityPlace towers are nice, the bottoms aren't producing much of a neighbourhood yet. -Will architect Robert Stern's One St. Thomas be a classic skyscraper or a Palladian pastiche? -Will the Armani tower have its namesake's understated elegance, or The Murano Towers on Bay the legendary shimmer of Italian glass? -Will Spire be too high and The Hazelton too squat?

Stay tuned.
I'd also have to add the Morgan to the list. I'm always amazed at how well they got this condo to fit into the area. The only thing i'd change on it would be making the ground floor retail a bit higher and give the stores more prominence.
Actually, the District Lofts entry refers to the Morgan in passing as, rather sniffily, "the faux-Deco hulk across the street at 438."

My attitude is: I like both. If the NYC of 75 years ago could handle "traditional" and "contemporary" cheek-by-jowl, so can the Toronto of today...
From Queen West the Morgan looks amazing, honestly one of the best buildings visible along the route. An excellent addition but not as impressive when you are on spadina itself.
Dismissing the Morgan simply because it's "faux" is ridiculous. It's one of the best residential buildings built in the last several years. My top 3 choices (in no particular order) would be 18 Yorkville, Mozo and the Morgan.
The Morgan? One of the best?

Very surprised to hear you guys say that. I'm with Browne. Never mind the "Deco" aesthetic -- it's just clumsy. The faux-facade on Spadina has no relationship to the Richmond face, and the tower is just so inelegant; all those irregular terraces, the loft-style windows against the "stonework"...

Other votes?
I've never understood the soft spot for the Morgan on this forum either. Perhaps people were grateful that it tried to fit in with the existing early twentieth century neighbours and titillated that it riffed a little bit on deco. It may have been seen as a harbinger of some edgy new Ghostbuster style that never materialized.
Though I'm trying to figure how much this critique of the Morgan is more of an all-around trumped-up grudge against all contemporary historicism/retro/faux/Pomo. In which case, it's damned if they do, damned if they don't. Too "elegant", and it becomes retrograde pastiche. Take "postmodernizing" liberties, and it becomes "clumsy". etc. etc.

Personally, I find the Morgan quite good at what it does. Compared to the French Quarter or New York Towers, it's exemplary (needless to say); and it's also less fussy and more refined than, say, the arched gargantua on Avenue at the end of Yorkville. It's far from fatally "clumsy"--it's good on the skyline, it's good urbanism, in fact, it's probably the *best*, er, faux-Deco condo in town. (And I'm not saying that because of execrable competition, either.) If you gotta design this way, it this way.

The problem is...the "style wars" all over again. Y'know, stick up for the Morgan and you're betraying yourself as a simple-minded wimp and urban reactionary.

Look: my opinion stands. District Lofts and the Morgan are complimentary. They're like twin guidebook entries: each the best of their genre, only they take different approaches. Neither is a rebuke to the other...even if it may appear otherwise.

But yes, I do agree about the naivety of a lot of the Morgan's defenders...
Also note this. Ironic how Shawn praises the Avenue/St. George streetscapes which the article dismisses ("banal buildings from the 1960s", "the behemoths further south on Avenue Road").

Interesting, too, the comparison w/ Chris Hume's past condo reviews--IIRC he knocked the Lonsdale towers with some anti-Modernist-planning boilerplate...
Meh, I know what I likes, and I likes me my Morgan.

Perhaps you're onto something Babel.
Interestingly, I have a weakness for the modern and distain for faux-historical....but I really like the Morgan and dislike District Lofts.

As Adma states, the Morgan gets it right. The material are decent, its 'faux' elements are not too garish and there is just enough 'modern' elements to keep it slipping into Disney territory. Yes, the retail could have been done better.

Districk Lofts on the other hand, just does not work for me. The large blank walls of precast facing Spadina are disrespectful (I realize that there are property line issues involved), many of the 'decorative' elements look cheap, and its form is both bulky and ungraceful. On the other hand, its retail, considering its location, is more than decent.
If you go up in the District to the top, you can look out windows east and west and look straight down Richmond....sits in a strange almost hidden jog that you only notice when up there. Well, now i notice it a lot more.
Though I'm trying to figure how much this critique of the Morgan is more of an all-around trumped-up grudge against all contemporary historicism/retro/faux/Pomo. In which case, it's damned if they do, damned if they don't. Too "elegant", and it becomes retrograde pastiche. Take "postmodernizing" liberties, and it becomes "clumsy". etc. etc.

Hey, Adma, chacun son gout.

But I don't buy this argument at at all. In this city, I can't think of one example of a tower that's neo-deco and well-designed. They're always Frankenstein monsters, with no respect for the symmetrical conventions of the genre (as reflected in the older loft buildings on Spadina, to varying degrees of success), and any po-moish design moves (whether classical elements or Modernist) are executed with little skill.

At least for me, the problem is not a Lack of Stylistic Purity; it's hack architecture to serve unsophisticated clients.

To my eyes, the Morgan is straight-up bad architecture; the massing is unneccessarily lumpy, and the Spadina "facade," which looks like it was painted on, is so-bad-it's-good... almost.

Just look at The Hudson -- another corner building down the block. Tack some precast fake-stonework onto its facades, tweak the street fronts a bit and you'd still have a pretty thing.
How does the Post manage to rank aA/Peter Clewes' work in spots 8, 4, 2, and 1(!) and fail to recognize aA/Clewes in the article?


That, and missing a number of other Clewes designed gems, including the stunning remake of Tip Top Tailors.

A chacun sa gaffe.


They did mention aA twice...but that's it. One would hope they'd deserve at least many mention as Context did.