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The Globe and Mail

Home of the Week: A concrete Canary, but this condo on the Don has wings


Asking price: $659,900

Taxes: $3542.53 (2014)

Monthly maintenance fees: $509.52

Agent: Robin Pope (Pope Real Estate Ltd.)

All photos by Mark Wilson

The back story

In past centuries, the banks of Toronto’s Don River accommodated the industries that needed to be near highways, railways and the shipping ports of Lake Ontario.

But eventually the manufacturers moved out and the area west of the river and south of Queen Street deteriorated into a wasteland. Many years later, Waterfront Toronto asked builders, architects and landscape architects to put forth their ideas for revitalizing the brownfields lining the Don. The government agency is overseeing a master plan for a community called West Don Lands, which includes condo towers, townhouses, parks, cafés and retail shops.

This area is where an international contingent of athletes will stay when they arrive in Toronto in July and August to compete in the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.

Just north of the Athletes’ Village, the Montreal-based architectural firm of Saucier + Perrotte designed the project known as River City on land previously occupied by a cement factory and a train shed. Lead architects Gilles Saucier and André Perrotte laid out a plan for black and white buildings standing in contrast with the naturalized landscape.

River City Phase 1 was awarded a people’s choice Pug Award by residents of Toronto..

The taller of the two buildings that make up Phase 1 is 51 Trolley Cres. The architects say the bold forms and angles created from a combination of dark panels and transparent glass are a nod to the area’s industrial past.

All around River City, traffic flows over bridges, down ramps and onto the Don Valley Parkway. The architects were not aiming to hide the urban landscape but to embrace it.

The building today

On the fourth floor of 51 Trolley Cres., unit 404 has 1,025 square feet of living space, and windows on three sides for views to the north, east and south.

There are two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and the main living area combines cooking, dining and lounging. A concrete pillar creates separation for the home office.

Throughout the unit, the exposed concrete ceiling is nine feet high.

Doors open to a large balcony that stretches across the living area and master bedroom.

Owner George Argyropoulos is an industrial designer who chose the building for its architecture and design.

Saucier + Perrotte had an unusual degree of control in overseeing the details inside the units, says real estate broker Robin Pope.

That’s why every wall is tiled in the master bathroom, for example, he says.

The finishes throughout are mostly in neutral tones of white, grey and black.

The kitchen is white and modern, with an island, stainless steel appliances, a back-painted glass backsplash and valance lighting.

On the exterior, the building has complex angles that resemble the bow of a ship when seen from a distance. The effect inside unit 404 is one wall of windows which slopes gently upwards.

“I find the project has a very European sensibility,” Mr. Pope says. “It’s not just another glass tower. It’s cutting-edge.”

The project is also striving to be environmentally friendly with LEED gold status.

On the land surrounding the buildings, construction vehicles are still pushing around the dirt to create the hillocks and valleys that will become parkland. Underpass Park, beneath the Richmond-Adelaide overpasses, will be extended to connect various parcels of parkland and create a pedestrian and cycle-friendly route. The gardens and meadows will be filled with native plants, Mr. Pope says. He adds that the community seems cohesive because all of the developers, architects and landscape architects had to submit their plans to design competitions.

“You had one conductor, which is Waterfront Toronto, controlling everything from the granite curb,” Mr. Pope says.

A little down the road from River City is the 18-acre park known as Corktown Common. There, a playground, splash pad, athletics field, open lawns and wetlands give residents a place for outdoor play while the landform also provides flood protection from the Don River.

“It’s great that we have all of this a 15-minute walk to Yonge Street,” Mr. Pope says.

He points out that the surrounding area also includes the Distillery District, Leslieville and Corktown. The St. Lawrence Market is a short walk or bicycle ride away.

The best feature

The two buildings that make up Phase 1 of River City are connected by a three-storey fully-glazed bridge, which the architects say is similar to the design of warehouse buildings in New York, Chicago and Montreal.

Residents in the taller tower cross the bridge on their way to the shared courtyard. In the summer months they can use the outdoor lap pool, which is surrounded by a wooden deck that appears to hover above the landscape of undulating grasses. A grove of aspens borders an outdoor dining area at the south end of the courtyard.

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