Though not quickly enough to keep inner-city Toronto from becoming a fiefdom of twenty-somethings and empty nesters, new low-rise housing with both credible architectural flair and ample space for raising families does occasionally rattle off the real-estate assembly line in the downtown core.
The 20-unit townhouse complex known as Lighthaus, an offering from Great Gulf Group, is an interesting example of what I'm talking about.
Designed by the local firm of STAMP Architects, it is shelter with an exterior that's too timidly modern, but that at least shuns the faux-historical clichés of much recent family-friendly residential construction in the central city is located in Parkdale, a short walk north of the Gladstone Hotel on Queen Street West.
It will provide opportunities for young veterans of the condo towers and aficionados of downtown living to get on with the business of starting families without having to move into an old house or out to suburbia to do so.
That said, Lighthaus is not for every couple who's done with the club scene and is now ready to settle down. The price of home ownership is steep: A typical unit is on the market for just over $1.4-million, with all the suites tagged only a little less or a little more than that.
So what does a million and a half get you in downtown Toronto these days?
If you buy into Lighthaus, it gets you a three-storey, three-bedroom home that, at more than 3,000 square feet in area, will give a family of four plenty of legroom, but that won't seem too vast after the children grow up and move away. It gets you a finished basement that could be turned into a storage locker, a lair for a teenager, or a home gym as the needs of the family change. It also buys you underground parking spaces for two compact cars.
And if there's little in the way of a garden or backyard – you still have to go to the suburbs or into an old dwelling to find room for the kids to run around outside – the urbane interiors by Anna Simone, founding partner in the Toronto-based international design firm Cecconi Simone Inc., are notably spacious and chic. Most of these townhomes are more than 17 feet wide and all are 40 feet deep. Ceiling heights vary from 10 feet on the main living level, to eight on the second, to nine feet on the third floor, which is wholly taken up by the master bedroom and bathroom and dressing room ensemble.
But attractive physical expansiveness is only part of the Lighthaus story. Tad Putyra, Great Gulf's president and CEO for low-rise development, explained to me that the project is being pitched to consumers who are more than usually attuned to environmental issues. "Many families don't want to have to choose between city and suburban amenities, or between luxurious living and being environmentally responsible," Mr. Putyra said in a statement. "With Lighthaus, they can have it all."
The standards that are guiding the design and outfitting of this complex have been inspired by those formulated by the Active House Alliance, a non-profit, industry-sponsored European organization similar to the Canada Green Building Council. As with the Council, the Alliance has published an exacting schedule of criteria for evaluating the "greenness" of a given structure. The goal of the Active House Alliance, according to its website, is to promote "architectural quality [and] human health, comfort and well-being." Lighthaus is the first Canadian attempt to do architecture the Active House way.
Time will tell if the building envelope of Lighthaus is as extraordinarily tight and efficient as Great Gulf says it will be and the Active House people say it should be. But I have little doubt that, in certain key regards, this project will outperform many other condo developments I've had a chance to investigate.
Take, for example, the light. In traditional tower apartments and townhomes, the middle of the interior is typically dark. Not so here. A light well lets illumination spill from the roof into the heart of the house and down to the ground floor, where it brightens the kitchen area. Air quality is another department in which Lighthaus could excel. At the top of the light chute is a computer-operated, climate-controlling skylight engineered by high-tech wizards at the London office of Foster + Partners, in collaboration with the Danish manufacturer Velux – a bit of hardware that will act as the nose of the house, drawing in fresh air, and warming it before sending it into the middle of the building.
For the sake of Hogtown's aesthetically challenged public realm, I wish the exterior styling of Lighthaus were less plodding than it is. But the trimly modern interiors promise to be lovely – and a good thing, too, since inside is where we dwellers in these northern latitudes spend most of our time.