And here is John Bentley Mays on the topic, just in time.
New developments give a nod to the future and a bow to the past
JOHN BENTLEY MAYS
Friday, September 1
Globe and Mail
A few days ago, I dropped by a couple of downtown Toronto residential projects that were still twinkles in their architects' eyes when I first wrote about them a couple of years ago. Both designs â€” the Hudson apartment tower at the corner of King Street West and Spadina Avenue, and the Gardens at Queen, on Bathurst Street â€” have since put on bones and flesh, and are nearing completion. So it seemed a good time to pay a visit, just to check out how the architectural realities have lined up with what I imagined they would be.
Designed for Great Gulf Homes by David Dow, principal in Diamond and Schmitt Architects, the Hudson stands in a district of old factories and warehouses near the bottom of Spadina. Globalization long ago swept away most of the manufacturing enterprises that gave the neighbourhood its industrial character, but workaday architecture lingers on to remind us of the past.
As Mr. Dow explained when I wrote up the scheme in 2004, the Hudson was designed to echo its historic context â€” and, indeed, it does so. The flat rooflines of the Hudson's elements (a 21-storey tower and lower buildings, all joined on the bottom storeys) reinforce the flat-topped skyline of the area, and make the compact complex seem at home among its neighbours.
But despite all its best efforts to be polite to its surroundings, the Hudson is not really one of the blue-collar guys down on lower Spadina. It is lithe and athletic, while the warehouses tend to be chunky. The buff brick â€” an old Toronto standby â€” that Mr. Dow has deployed on the Hudson's exterior may be a nod to ordinariness, but its use here is elegant, even chic â€” more GQ, in other words, than Truckers News.
It was clear to me from the designs that the Hudson would be more refined than what's around it. I was less certain, however, of this sophisticated building's ability to hold its own on the noisy, busy intersection of King and Spadina. Now that the project is done, it's clear that my hesitation was unfounded. The Hudson, as things have turned out, is a confident, handsome corner monument â€” not imposing itself on the streetscape, but marking an important downtown crossroads with modern grace and modest authority.
The Gardens at Queen, by Chestnut Hill Homes, never had an intersection to live up to, so it could afford to be more playful than the Hudson. And playful it is, in the way a "historical" setting in a theme park so often is: awash in nostalgia, brimming with references to a glamorous past, but, in the end, rather bare under its decor and doodadery.
This project of 177 units in seven 31/2-storey buildings would sweep us away from Toronto to 19th-century Paris, or so its early advertisements proposed. The Gardens, as built, sweep us (if anywhere) to Regency London: The exteriors are pale yellow stucco in the British manner, not Parisian grey limestone. Flights of steps lead to upper-storey entrances, each framed by a ponderous little porch, again in the British townhouse manner. The superficial effect â€” and it is superficial â€” is poshy and stodgy, and as jowly and bluff as an English bulldog.
There is a durable market for this kind of historical fantasia, both downtown and in suburbia, so I expect to be seeing new specimens of it for the rest of my days on Earth. But if architects must provide such storybook pageantry, then let it be done in a spirit of faithfulness to the finest examples of the historical style. The best Regency domestic architecture, for example, is light and trim. The buildings at the Gardens at Queen are overdressed and heavy-handed, and crowned with parapets that, like the other trimmings and flounces, are ostentatious â€” as though we would not otherwise get the point that the project is seriously old-fashioned.
When I talked with Clifford Korman, the architect, about his project two years ago, he said he intended it to be a "catalyst for the neighbourhood." Whether the Gardens at Queen will energize its rundown Victorian context remains to be seen. But if it does change things, what will it change them into? More historical pastiche? Is this the kind of Toronto we want? Or is it merely the best we can hope for?
As things stand so far, the Gardens is hardly an isolated island of antiquarian architecture in the midst of a 21st-century city. Many other contemporary residential projects around town self-consciously hark back to some style hauled up from the past. If it's not Second Empire, then it's bully-boy Victorian or pompous Edwardian. We will know that our city's architectural conscience has come of age when we see more buildings done boldly in the spirit of the current age.
The other retail client besides Royal Bank seems to be a gourmet grocery store, "Fresh and Wild". While a grocery store is much needed in this area, this one sounds like it will be pricey and not necessarily for everyday common use.
Edit: having looked around on the net for a bit, it seems this "Fresh and Wild" is a brand of Whole Foods.
That's brick cladding on the Hudson, right? The only think I don't like is the alternating brick/glass balconies on the two lower buildings. The lower buildings would have looked more solid if they all were brick and it would have resulted in a cleaner look overall. Still a great development though.
With aA, Diamond+Schmitt, KPMB, Core etc. going full tilt, I hope we'll eventually achieve a strong critical mass of such distinctively contemporary Toronto-style buildings downtown. Humdrum catalogue-shopped 'anywhere' buildings like The Met, and faux bloopers like the French Quarter, will then be seen as the exception rather than the rule.