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Designing a low-scale building that fits into the surrounding residential landscape was a priority for the Golden Nugget, a hybrid-timber, three-storey office complex, on Golden Avenue in Toronto’s west end.Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail

A newly opened retail and office building on Toronto’s Ossington Avenue fits in well with the century-old brick buildings in a neighbourhood that has attracted some of the city’s trendiest restaurants, boutiques and small businesses.

The arched windows on the two lower brick-clad floors reference historical architecture while its two glass-enclosed upper floors are set back, keeping the scale on the street similar to the two-storey building that it replaced.

But 12 Ossington is brand new, and it’s part of a growing trend toward mid-rise intensification of traditionally low-rise streets to provide housing and employment for a rapidly growing population.

Commercial infill at a human scale was also a priority for another project on a residential street in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood.

A new three-storey building at the end of Golden Avenue, nicknamed the Golden Nugget, respects the scale of the homes that face it and sets a precedent for smaller commercial infill projects that activate residential streetscapes, says architect Will Elsworthy, a principal at architecture firm Superkül, whose office is in the complex at 35 Golden Ave.

Our design tried to respond to the architectural cues and proportion of an existing low-rise commercial building. We looked long and hard to find the right yellow brick for the façades that face the street to relate to the buff yellow characteristic of the surrounding urban fabric.

Will Elsworthy, principal, Superkül

Intensification often has an image problem, seen with suspicion by existing neighbourhoods as the scale of new developments in the city has tended to go skyward. That’s why for both projects, the goal was to fit as comfortably into the existing neighbourhoods as possible.

“Our design tried to respond to the architectural cues and proportion of an existing low-rise commercial building,” Mr. Elsworthy says. “We looked long and hard to find the right yellow brick for the façades that face the street to relate to the buff yellow characteristic of the surrounding urban fabric.”

Meanwhile, the rear of the building faces a rail corridor, and, on that side, there are big ribbon windows and a cladding made of galvanized steel that resembles the grates you might find on a railway or subway platform.

A bridge, made of the same bar grate used for the north-facing balconies, is suspended above the courtyard, connecting the Nugget with an existing brick building, allowing tenants to have offices in both buildings. Construction contractor Structure Corp. is the building’s owner and main tenant.

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A new retail and office building at 12 Ossington Ave. respects the scale of the adjacent buildings, including an historic fire hall.Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail

There are some trade-offs in building a cost-efficient commercial space on this scale, Mr. Elsworthy says.

“For example, there is no basement in this building; it would have cost too much for the project, so we strategized to ensure all the mechanicals and exit stairs fit into as small an envelope as possible. Our goal was to maximize the usable floor space,” he explains.

An advantage of the building’s smaller scale in Toronto is that it was below the 600-square-metre gross floor size that is the threshold triggering the city’s time-consuming site plan approvals process that requires extensive infrastructure studies.

Both projects used mass-timber construction on a steel frame, a growing trend globally because engineered wood is a sustainable option that also speeds construction because it is prefabricated and can be assembled quickly on site.

“There are significant efficiencies in respect to time and construction logistics in building with mass timber,” Mr. Elsworthy says.

In this case, the prebuilt panels could be delivered by truck and erected by a crane in a matter of days, eliminating much of the disruption to the neighbourhood of hammering and pouring concrete.

On Ossington, Siamak Hariri, founding partner of Hariri Pontarini Architects, undertook the replacement of an existing two-storey building just north of Queen Street.

They transformed it into a four-storey retail and office space for developer Hullmark with the aim of harmonizing the design with the neighbourhood’s vibe.

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Mass timber roofs, beams and exposed mechanicals lend a heritage look to 12 Ossington Ave.Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail

Last year, the retail zone placed 14th in Time Out’s 33 Coolest Streets in the World Right Now for its restaurants, shopping and night life.

“We wanted it to be a real centrepiece and to have the feel that it’s always been there – as though they just added two storeys to two existing floors,” Mr. Hariri says. “The façade had to be playful and quirky and have a bit of grittiness,” he adds – and respect the scale of adjacent buildings, including a historical fire hall.

A plaque on the new building recognizes the fact that from 1890 to 1909 a previous building on the site was a branch of the Toronto Public Library before it moved to more permanent quarters.

The design started with sketches and scale models that incorporated arched windows, which are recurring features of the neighbourhood’s architecture. The result was a building with wide arched windows on the front and north sides and quarter-circle-shaped scoops at each edge to accommodate the entrance to the street-level retail on the right and an entrance to the three upper floors of offices to the left.

The second floor also features arched windows, one taller and slimmer than the other. In two workshops and a community town-hall meeting on the development, “people were extremely supportive,” Mr. Hariri says.

The building’s steel-beam framework supports nail-laminated timber panels composed of finger-jointed spruce with a light transparent finish to give it a modern industrial aesthetic that’s compatible with the heritage wood ceilings of buildings in the neighbourhood, says Jeff Hull, president of the building’s developer, Hullmark.

“Contrary to what people may think, there is no cost saving in building out of mass timber and steel,” Mr. Hull notes. “However, using mass timber and steel in this way creates a premium product reminiscent of historical brick-and-beam architecture but in a modern context. We are constantly looking at opportunities to intensify properties in ways that enhance the neighbourhoods we invest in.”

While 12 Ossington was not built for a particular client, it was quickly leased. Clothing store Lost and Found occupies the ground level and two digital production companies, Studio Feather and, moved into the upper floors. Since it opened, other potential tenants have been asking if there is availability.

“That means the design is resonating with the community, and that’s always satisfying for the architect,” Mr. Hariri says.

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