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MoDA brings an inverted condo to Calgary’s Bankview

A proposed 78-unit condo building is shaking up Calgary's speculative development model in a bid to bring families, diversity and a sense of community to a small corner of the inner-city neighbourhood of Bankview.

Village, designed by local architects Modern Office of Design + Architecture (MoDA) and being developed by RNDSQR, will be a $20-million development which, if approved, will feature four distinct unit types: studio, loft, condo and townhouse, all under one “pixelated” roof-scape.

“We're still in the conceptual stages,” says RNDSQR co-founder Alkarim Devani, “but we're hoping to have permit applications in by the end of the year and we're working towards a 24-month project timeline. We're currently addressing some of the community concerns with a traffic study and looking at how we can support the public infrastructure around the development.”

This will be RNDSQR's second development in Bankview and their largest multifamily project to date.

Architects and MoDA co-founders Dustin Couzens and Ben Klumper say their design turns the traditional approach to condo building entirely on its head.

Artist’s rendering of Village, a 78-unit condo in Calgary’s Bankview neighbourhood. (MoDA)

“We've inverted the typical topographical approach, putting a top layer of two and three bedroom townhouses on the rooftop rather than at the plinth of the building,” says Mr. Couzens. “Those units then cascade down to ground level. Underneath them is a wedge of microunits and condos.”

Mr. Klumper says the end goal is “to have a construction worker living next to a student, living next to a family, living next to a white collar worker, living next to a retired couple, and ultimately to create a diverse community living under one roof. That's why we called it Village.”

The largest townhouses in the development are planned at 1,100 square feet while the smallest studio will be just 475 square feet and there will be around 30 unique floor plans within those units. Wheelchair accessible single-storey options will also be available at grade level.

“Henry Ford once said ‘You can have any colour as long as it’s black’ and that's how we feel about the options on the market in Calgary right now,” says Mr. Couzens. “We know Calgarians want more than that. Economies of scale will limit just how many unique floor plans the developer can go with but we're pushing that aspect.”

Affordability is also high on the agenda. “There will be 78 units and only 58 parking stalls to keep costs low and also to encourage alternate modes of traffic among residents,” says Mr. Devani.

The entire Village will total a little over 62,000 square feet but Mr. Couzens and Mr. Klumper are confident that their “modulated density” approach will create an exterior “with a human scale.”

The developers wanted to create a building complex that allowed for density on a human scale, with amenities and neighbours close by. (MoDA)

“The building will taper down to just two storeys where it meets the street corner and grow to six storeys towards the rear. It's important to respect the streetscape, especially in an established community like Bankview. This formation also means we create light and views within the whole building.”

The overall effect is striking; multiple unit rooftops create a mini-skyline. Mr. Devani says his company is focused on building “beautiful legacy projects” for the city.

“Look at Habitat 67 in Montreal; it's one of the greatest pieces of residential architecture in Canada,” he enthuses. “That’s what we’re aiming for here. Something that will stand the test of time and something people will love.”

Aesthetics aside, the graded height of the building combined with the “pixelation” of the units also masks its ambitious density.

“Density in Calgary is kind of a bad word,” says Mr. Klumper. “We’re not New York or London and we’ve never had to deal with density but we can't keep densifying at our perimeter, it’s not sustainable.”

“Areas of suburban sprawl use two and a half times more energy than inner-city areas of density,” adds Mr. Couzens. That's just one of the many compelling reasons why density is a great thing for a city’s core.”

“Density also creates safety, reduces crime and draws critical mass to allow for mixed-use,” he continues. “We don't believe people living in the inner city should have to get in their car for a carton of milk or a bouquet of flowers. Those amenities should be there but you need critical mass to make that work.”

To realize the project’s other vision; diversity, Mr. Couzens and Mr. Klumper were challenged with creating an attractive townhouse proposition for families and integrate it within the condo building.

“We knew we had to pay attention to the attributes people love about traditional single family homes and capture those attributes,” says Mr. Klumper. “Having done that, we hope we can sell to even the more conservative clients.”

“Human scale, living over multiple-levels, a large back-yard; these are the things that single family homeowners value so we prioritized those things,” adds Mr. Couzens.

While the development's townhouses won’t quite have full size backyards, they will have over-sized patios which will be graded in such a way as to create a “backyard community” on the rooftop of the building.

“We want people to be able to see and speak to their neighbours across the ‘backyard fence’ in this development because that’s part of the experience of living in a single family home.”

Nora Spinks, chief executive officer at the Vanier Institute of the Family, says allowing families to return to inner city living by providing appropriate housing and affordability has many advantages to a city.

A conceptual diagram of Village. (MoDA)

“Research shows us that reducing commute times means people spend more time with their family, they eat with their family, they engage more with their community, they take more exercise. The social and community benefits are huge.”

She also claims an increasing number of architects and developers are creating spaces which reflect a modern family and community structure.

“Traditionally, families would have had a pyramid structure with more children than adults and a supporting cast of parents and grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. The World Health Organization describes today’s modern family as a beanpole,” she explains. “There are fewer extended family members and people are living longer. With the beanpole family, if something happens to one member, the whole pole collapses. There’s less support.”

Replacing that family support with community support, says Ms. Spinks, means “rethinking the way in which we as a society builds homes, streets, condo developments and whole cities.”

“Support is crucial, if you don't have it, you're going to manufacture it. We're seeing that from urban planning to architecture. People are creating ‘villages’ on many levels.”

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