Although the Toronto waterfront has long been plagued by banal, view-busting architecture, a fresh kind of design sophistication is evolving along the East Bayfront, most notably for the Moshe Safdie-designed condominium tower, slated to break ground in just over a year.
The $200-million Monde, next to the newly completed Sherbourne Common, is the architect's first foray into the coveted Toronto residential market, several decades after the Canadian-Israeli architect designed the iconic Habitat 67 in Montreal. Mr. Safdie is the author of major museums, such as the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, as well as glittering hotel resorts and Lester B. Pearson International Airport.
Visionary architecture begins in a design studio. But the livability and lovability of high-rise architecture depends not only on the imagination of its auteur, but on many different players and forces. Mr. Safdie's Monde is a case study undergoing plenty of scrutiny and demands, from the City of Toronto's planning department, to Waterfront Toronto's design review panel to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.
At its worst, designing by committee can heap a mash of bland potatoes on a watery stew. But when intelligent rigour is applied to a promising design, architecture sparkles not only for the people who live inside but also for the public walking by. Because it is the first residential development overlooking a park, the designers of Monde and the tower's landscape architect, Janet Rosenberg, are grappling with how to conceive a ground-floor restaurant that is inviting and park-friendly, while also preventing waiters, according to LCBO regulations, from stepping even half a metre into Sherbourne Common while carrying a beer tray. Crossing onto a public sidewalk to deliver drinks to a thirsty crowd in Paris is charming. In Toronto, it's sacrilege.
Many of the changes over the past year to Monde have come from its developers, Great Gulf Homes. They switched to a more seamless, expensive and relatively energy-efficient glass curtain wall, says Alan Vihant, Great Gulf's vice-president of development. The wall meets the aesthetic demands of a tower that has become more taut, and the glass balustrades have been detailed to assuage public anxiety about panes of glass coming crashing down.
Higher energy efficiency standards being handed down next year by the Ontario Building Code means that Monde is the first condominium being designed to deal with the odour and particulate from its industrial neighbour, Redpath Sugar. And, in order to help achieve its Gold LEED energy rating – something mandated by Waterfront Toronto – Great Gulf is installing a complex mechanical system that will recover heat from every unit and recycle it through the building.
Waterfront Toronto's design review panel, an advisory group of esteemed architects, academics, landscape architects and urban designers, has examined Mr. Safdie's design in public, monthly sessions, providing conditional support during its critiques and requiring Great Gulf to return to the panel with an evolved scheme.
The architect and developer must comply as they require full support to proceed, but the sub-text is that they want to please the colleagues they respect. The panel pointed out many areas for improvement. They wanted, for instance, to ensure that there was adequate shelter for people walking outside around the building. Glass canopies angled toward the sidewalk and suspended from steel cables should cover not only those eating at the park-side restaurant but also those walking along Bonnycastle Street on the tower's east side, or in front of the building where Queen's Quay runs.
The panel had concerns about the placement of a daycare on the darker, back side of the condominium, with a play area open to the sky and only a glass wall separating the preschoolers from the noisy, air-polluting Gardiner Expressway. While all of the air and noise assessments were completed without a hitch, the review panel has asked for a sun study.
Unlike most of Toronto's formulaic approaches to glass towers, the Monde (French for "world") relies on some serious sculpting of its façade, something of an architectural obsession for Mr. Safdie. But, what began as a tall glass tower animated by a graphic of cube-like precast balconies has transformed over time into a glass tower with glassed-in balconies, with sculpting into the masonry for the 12-storey podium building. Mini plant-covered rooftops (about 60 of them) open two to three levels above and terrace down toward the south edge.
In many respects, Monde is but one piece in a large jigsaw puzzle being put together along the Waterfront. The tower's connections to public space and future buildings matter. With that in mind, an eight-metre high open-air connection has been cut, mid-block, through the ground floor of the condominium, providing a natural connection to the park and a building scheduled to rise on the west.
Previously, the mid-block galleria was over-scaled and placed randomly within the tower's ground floor. Now designed at a lower, human-scale the open-air galleria aligns directly with an east-west pedestrian path that runs through the park. The connection is a lovely, small triumph for Torontonians who like to walk.