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Quadrangle Architects' N-Blox will bring an architectural energy to College Street that will match its cultural vibrancy

From Friday's Globe and Mail

For a long time now, Little Italy has been an excellent reason for living in Toronto. This colourful neighbourhood of homes and shops along College Street west of Bathurst Street has almost everything going for it: terrific restaurants and intimate hangouts — Bar Diplomatico is a local legend —interesting book and record stores, the famous Sicilian Ice-Cream Co., and a scooter outlet that's delightful enough to make the most sober Torontonian want to be Italian — and 16 again.

What Little Italy hasn't had, so far anyway, is new architecture as vibrant as life on its streets. But this situation is due to change, when the striking six-storey condominium development known as N-Blox goes up at 799 College St.

Designed by Roland Rom Colthoff and Richard Witt of the Toronto firm Quadrangle Architects, the project contains just eight suites, each between 1,100 and 2,000 square feet in area. That's house-sized, with prices to match ($700,000 to $1.5-million). But size is part of the message developer Jim Neilas wants to get across. A unit at N-Blox is intended to be as roomy as a detached house in many a downtown neighbourhood, with ample space for life's long haul from coupledom, through child-rearing years, back to being couples again.

These are real homes, in other words, not starter apartments — and welcome gestures to high-earning, discriminating downtown people who would like to start their families in new houses, but who don't want to leave the city lights behind and move out to suburbia.

N-Blox will consist of just eight suites. There are no hallways in the upper stories; elevators open directly to each suite.

In order to keep the unit sizes in this steel-framed structure comfortably large, the Quadrangle architects have gone small on other features of the building, though without diminishing its refined livability. The lobby is little, and so is the retail space that opens to the sidewalk on the first level. There are no hallways on the upper storeys; the elevator opens directly into each suite. Parking has been tucked under N-Blox's second level and situated at the rear, below grade, under a common-area terrace.

Each unit has at least one small private terrace, and the two topmost suites have landscaped roof decks. But interior area has not been sacrificed to make balconies that are really usable — let's face it — for only a few months of the year. (It's high time architectural designers and their developer-clients started leaving off those superfluous balconies, but that's another story.)

Nor does N-Blox offer a substitute for the private big backyard. For that, you'll still have to go suburbia — though, for the deep-dyed downtowners this project is aiming to attract, I suspect, Little Italy's playgrounds, child-friendly street life and congenial cafés will more than compensate for the loss of the family barbecue pit.

Quite apart from its practical excellences, N-Blox offers something very special in the way of art and design. Instead of facing the street with a boxy front, camouflaging everything within it under a uniform exterior, the building presents to College Street a handsomely asymmetrical façade that expresses its internal organization of stacked, dramatically interlocking and overhanging units.

The suites (four of which are arrayed on two levels) will be forcefully outlined by exterior frames of dark steel or stone, emphasizing the graceful, animated swing of the façade. The resulting structure —midsized, urbane, chic without being trendy — is the kind of architectural tonic that's needed by many other principal thoroughfares in downtown Toronto. N-Blox promises to enhance the existing urban fabric, and also to give new voltage to the somewhat weary architecture of an otherwise lively metropolitan street.

At the same time, the imaginative, dynamic composition of N-Blox's façade does not appear even slightly novel or weird.

This is one thing I like about the project: the way it is rooted in history, recalling certain attractive passages in the story of modernist art and architecture, bringing them up to date.

The dancing abstract forms of the early 20th century's European avant-gardists, for example — just so many plain cubes, slabs, squares and circles, disporting themselves freely in space — are among the most durably vital icons of the creative spirit to emerge in the last century. The design of Quadrangle's N-Blox draws on that tradition of playful, sensuous geometry. And it does so with a mindful attitude, and with a will to apply past beauties to the needs and opportunities of contemporary Toronto.

edited for: small rendering in the globe:



Didn't see this one coming at all - and definitely looking forward to it!



Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yessssssssssssssss!

Oh gosh, sorry about that. I can't believe I did that in public. You understand though, right?


billy corgan19982

Very nice.

Looks like a modern and more refined version of habitat in Montreal.



Yes! Finally a developer comes along and does something simple but different. I've been waiting for something like this to appear in the city. These designs seem to be showing up in lots of other cities. I'd love to see more of these around the town.

Now i just hope a developer comes around and makes some more affordable units in a funky building like this.

Mystery Man TO

It looks like Teeple's house for Charlie Prachter but with more blocks. Looking forward to more like this.


That is cool! Trying to figure out exactly where this is.


it's pretty much at ossington, just east of it. it's sort of on the fringe of little italy, more like little portugal.

Mystery Man TO

Was just by the site, it looks like it will replace a house and a single storey retail building.


Awesome design, and perfect addition for College Street. I would love to live in a modernist masterpiece building like that, and want to see more developers take the same direction in unique designs.