Almost five decades ago, architectural modernism came to the Toronto neighbourhood immediately north of High Park, taking the form of a spacious group of trim, well-proportioned apartment slabs and towers. (I know the project well, since I lived in it for 16 years.)
This tall-building development, however, took root a short distance back from Bloor Street West, which defines the northern edge of the park. For this reason, the north side of the avenue long remained what it had been since the 1920s: a pleasant, low-rise mumble of stores, small houses and interesting little walk-up apartment buildings, all facing the park across the street.
I have been sorry to see bits of this old streetscape cleared away to make room for new residential construction. As long-time readers of this column know, I am largely persuaded by the city's arguments for the intensification of our main thoroughfares, especially near subway stations. But in this process, we stand to lose pieces of ordinary urban fabric, such as elements on the strip along Bloor by the park, that have quietly helped give generations of Torontonians a sense of where we are.
And what does Toronto stand to get in return?
Among other things, a number of mid-rise apartment buildings artistically better than ones put up here in the 20th century.
Take, for example, The High Park, the 11-storey apartment block slated to rise at 1990 Bloor West, across the street from the wonderful green place it's named after. The thoughtful handiwork of a design team led by Brian Curtner, a partner in Quadrangle Architects, this 102-unit structure developed by North Drive Investments will contain 78 condominiums and 24 rental suites. The rental apartments replace the units lost with the demolition of the the existing three-storey building, which is surely no architectural treasure and will be missed only by those of us who are a little sentimental about that stretch of Bloor West.
For the record: The condos in The High Park will range in size from a 428-square-foot studio to a three-bedroom unit that is almost 2,000 square feet in area. Prices start in the $300,000s and go up to $1.5-million and beyond. To cushion the impact of the new density and attendant traffic associated with a building this size, the developer will provide three levels of tenant parking under ground. (It's too bad that room was not found below grade for public parking, since the streets around the park tend to be thronged by cars, especially in good weather.)
Prospective visitors to The High Park's sales centre, which opens tomorrow at 2124 Bloor St. W., should not confuse it with the sales office of High Park Condominiums, a larger and entirely separate project by the Daniels Corp., a few doors down the street – though it could be entertaining to compare these two similarly named offerings destined for the same neighbourhood.
The High Park has several things going for it, but, most conspicuously, it has location. The building is just a few steps from the High Park subway station, hence steps from the park's main entrance and a few minutes from the heart of downtown. A short distance along the street stand the popular shops of Bloor West Village. The higher, south-facing suites will have excellent, uninterrupted views over the urban forest in the park and Lake Ontario.
The architecture of The High Park promises to be a well-made, unspectacular embodiment of what the city's planners believe mid-rise residential structures should be: urbane and robust at the base, and stepped back a few storeys off the ground so that the building does not loom over the sidewalk. The vocabulary of this short tower is entirely modern, but not aggressively so.
As the renderings of its vision make clear, Quadrangle wants The High Park to fit comfortably into the low-rise fabric typical of the immediate vicinity. To that end, the designers will clad the building with a laid-back material palette – light brick (but not bright white) and limestone, with dark brown accents in metal or gypsum reinforced paneling. The bottom six storeys of the structure will be stolid and regular, giving the shaft a look of being firmly grounded.
Quadrangle retreats a little from its primness in the building's top half, where the units occasionally push out or pull back, creating an attractively irregular rhythm across the façade. On the whole, however, this is architecture that plays it safe, that intends to raise no eyebrows.
There will always be a place in the urban wardrobe for well-stitched, sensitively designed ready-to-wear structures such as The High Park. But as the newest batch of mid-rise multi-family dwellings roll out on main streets across the city, we could surely stand to see a dash more haute couture.