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Top 10 residential towers in T.O.

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

I think most people perhaps don't have a refined eye to differentiate historical from faux historical, but I am quite sure they would take detailing and whimsy over clean modern lines any day.
One St Thomas might just squeak by as "neo-deco and well-designed" in a Picasso-esque "Bad artists copy, great artists steal" sense.

Similarly, much Clewes could be dismissed as "faux-modernism" if it wasn't theft so stylish as to exist in an homage-zone ( such as his overtly TD Centre "X" tower ) way beyond the mere copy cat.
Perhaps adma so consistently dismisses critiques based on quality of design as "style wars" in order to disguise his weakness in evaluating what constitutes good design.

To me, District Lofts stands in relation to the more mainstream-looking Clewes buildings, much as 77 Elm stands in relation to the better known tall and swoopy Prii towers. Both have a certain wild child appeal, are difficult to love, but rewarding as you get to know them, and are the products of unique talents rather than marketing.
"and are the products of unique talents rather than marketing. "


suggesting the reason for the above grade parkades has zero to do with the need for additional parking and/or Clewes' take on modernism which suffers from the same budgetary restraints as the Morgan and therefore, in many cases, is hardly any purer to its form, is not as marketable
I will take a stand here and count myself amongst all those who acknowledge upfront their "weakness in evaluating what constitutes good design", with the confession that I'm sometimes unsure about why I like a building or dislike it, and that I genuinely do look to others to reassure my like or dislike of particular buildings and how I experience them. I've actually gone to certain buildings to look specifically at their materials to see what is so bad / so good about them, and re-appraised some buildings based on the comments of people here in the forum. It's not all that common for me to strongly dislike a building (but I reserve the right) and it's not all that common that I'm completely sure that something is a "great building" without having some qualms about it. I consider my lack of self-assuredness in this area an asset.

Having said all that, I'll note that both Morgan and District Lofts were recognized with awards by their peers, and I will take that at least as an indication that one ought not be embarrassed to like either of the buildings, and I do like both of these. On Morgan, I like the complicated massing at the top whose purpose I can never quite figure out. I love the corner windows. The treatment on the street is fantastic, it's an entertaining building to walk by and perfect for the neighbourhood. The Morgan is kinder to Richmond that the street really deserves. Certainly, it takes its cues from the surrounding buildings but is enough of its own design that I don't feel it's overly simplistic. I also, quite simply, like the colour pattern of the Morgan. It's grown on me as I've seen it from different angles and different locations, and I'm delighted its there.
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.

But the whole irony is, the exact nitpicky parallel to this "hack architecture to serve unsophisticated clients" judgment would have been commonly lobbed at Uno Prii's apartments 40 years ago. Yup, Babel's beloved Uno Prii.

Which is to say: ultimately, overwrought fussbudget "design judgment" in virtually *any* era has feet of clay. And time heals in funny, and sometimes wholly unexpected, ways. (Myself, I'm anticipating the moment when, at least, some of Toronto's prototypical "Frankenstein monsters"--like, say, the Grand Harbour condo out by Mimico--take on a "Pomo-retro" cachet. Could happen...)
I agree wholeheartedly with Archivistower's approach of spending time at a site, absorbing the spirit of the building aesthetically, observing the details and finishes, and evaluating "how they did it" ( or, when the taste fails to move ya, how they didn't do it ).

And I agree with Citywriter that you could clad the Hudson in just about anything and it would work. It is a building that's all about beauty of proportion, horizontals working against verticals, innybits playing against sticky-out bits, the whole broken down into units that play nicely together.

To me, the Morgan is a classic beau-laid. A cut above the faux copycat, but falling short of the audaciously Picasso-esque stylistic appropriations of a Clewes.

It falls into that category of unique buildings - like the Wolfond Centre perhaps - that wow initially with their novelty value, but are less and less rewarding upon further visits. I'm reminded of a Globe review last week of singer Measha Brueggergosman:

"... she relaxed into the Berlioz to create one of those exquisite moments in the concert hall where the artist disappears and only the art remains."

I think you can translate that approach to interpreting visual art, literature ... or architecture. With some buildings you're painfully aware of what doesn't work visually and of "technique", but with great buildings you are moved by the message they convey.

The Morgan tries to fit in, no doubt about it. It copies the brick colour and apes the stone deco details at street level, of the Fashion Building ( 130 Spadina ) immediately to the south. There are general stylistic nods to the old Spadina warehouses. The deeply "inset" balconies work nicely. But the over all effect is lumpy, there's too much going on. The upper floors seem cluttered and inelegant. And, lordy, what are we to make of that monstrous extruded central core, rising up all brooding and Ghostbusterish?

I rarely understand mark simpson's posts, unfortunately. In this case it seems to be about parkades. I think that when private automobiles are eventually banned from downtown, the above ground parking garages of both the District Lofts and 77 Elm could be converted to any number of smashing cultural uses - a museum, galleries, community centres, you name it.
One King West should have been a lot taller, I agree. I wonder if any of the CityPlace condo towers will ever make it on this list?
May I remind everybody humbly that not every building has to be a "chez d'oeuvre" that pushes the boundaries of aesthetics and architecture (tongue firmly planted in cheek here). Heck, even bubblegum can be tastey at times! Buildings that are faux-this or faux-that or 'pomo' or whatever can be entertaining and dynamic if they meet the street/neighbourhood well in an urban way, adding to the density and diversity of the city. So in defense of big and splashy, unrepetant but loveable schlock, can't we all just get along???
Naw, that's for miketoronto;-)

But anyway, three points...

1) as I get older, I tend to be more and more of a jaded anthropologically-minded relativist re matters of "proportion" and "taste". Y'know, my world includes both Measha Brueggergosman *and* Black Oak Arkansas. That sorta thang. Thus, I've come around to realizing that to fussily fret over the Morgan's design "solecisms" is just that--fussy fretting. (That's what makes a lot of those old Montgomery Schuyler fin-de-siecle skyscraper critiques little more than puzzling curiosities today.) What matters is the general effect, i.e. the "Central Park Westing" of Spadina--and IMO the Morgan *does* pull it off well, to the point where one can forgive its imperfections. (For that matter, an argument can be made that it's *better* for its "imperfections", whereas something as "perfect" as, say, 1 St. Thomas, can come off as effetely dull as dishwater. Too much perfection is a bore, y'know.) Meanwhile, District Lofts pulls *its* thing off well, too; and yes, I, too, am more "naturally" stylistically disposed t/w DL--but don't automatically assume that criticisms of its supposed barrenness and pretentious arbitrariness are off a certain mark, either...and be prepared to forgive *those*, too. For me, DL and Morgan are an accidental-yet-fortuitous urban ensemble--in the best way.

2) but granted, re the "why can't we all just get along" point, let me say this much: I can sense the trajectory of cultural/taste judgment re architecture and the urban environment heading from a pattern of greater expansiveness--exactly the sort of pattern that breeds relativists like myself--to a pattern of greater segmentation. Y'know, a red/blue state phenomenon, poisoned by the third primary colour of jaundice. Which, in effect, is a death blow to "just getting along"...

3) and an interesting semiotic question. Why is it that we tend to be more forgiving of retro-styled condos and skyscrapers than retro-styled private residences (i.e. McMansions and their like)? It sure says something about the power of raw urbanism, as opposed to suburbanism...

From my perspective, as a designer, the "general effect" is a result of attention to detail, of paring down your message to make it as direct and effective as possible. More is less, y'know - eliminate unnecessary elements and speak as directly as possible to your audience. It's all about taking things away, not adding pippypoos and doodads. When I look at the upper levels of the Morgan, for instance, I feel like I've died and gone to pippypoo and doodad heaven.

I'm not saying decoration is the enemy - I think the dance notations etched on the windows of the ballet school, and the coloured glass gene-design on CCBR, work well because they have symbolic meaning. The pixillated canvas of the OCAD tabletop speaks of contemporary design.

The more visually literate one becomes, the more one requires higher standards of design personally and from others. It isn't "fussy fretting" to assess a design in aesthetic terms, since getting the details right impacts on the whole, and affects Joe Average who looks at the building, or reads the magazine, or surfs the website, or whatever.

You can't get anything wonderful out of any work of art unless something was put into it in the first place, so standards count.

And it isn't a moral failing to have an aesthetic sense that isn't fully formed. Design literacy is a continuing journey for all of us, not something that is bestowed, fully formed.

"Fussy fretting" can produce high quality. And quality and beauty are what survives and is treasured by future generations. So when a beautiful building goes up I celebrate, when a second rate building goes up I mourn - because I realize it will be many years before the wreckers ball will present the opportunity for a superior replacement. And when a downright fugly building goes up ... I get out my voodoo doll and pins and rush to the net to figure out what "plastique" means.

Just as the government funds ESL and literacy programs, so should it promote visual literacy, since the results are just as necessary.
babel: I certainly cannot argue against your points because I largely agree with what you have said. Fussy fretting, nit picking or poopooing over a design is what elevates the discussion around art and design, and ultimately leads to criticisms which only help advance the work of artists and the works that follow.

To put it in much less poetic language, a shitty building will remain as such and only degrade over time. A beautiful building, like wine, ages with grace and only becomes more treasured over time. And as you said, a higher level of visual literacy is needed in this country so that more people have a better understanding on just what wonderful impacts works of high quality and craftmanship can have on our lived environment.

I may understand mediocrity. I know that there are certain conditions of our society that have and will to a certain extent lead us to construct less than beautiful buildings. I can also find beauty in the tragic scenes of abandoned suburban parking lots or vinyl wasteland in Vaughan. But I still see no reason to accept the status quo and not push the boundries further. And yes, not to force people to increase their visual literacy, but at least create a society and public environment where high design and fine art are not just poopooed as being elitist or academic but appreciated even if only minimally and where everyone has the opportunities and resources available to immerse themselves in a wealth of knowledge, art and urbanism, even if it just between Survivor and Leno.