The small residential building - bigger than a house, not so grand as a tower - is an important tool in the patching and repair of old cities, but it rarely gets the notice it deserves. This neglect is perhaps especially notable in Toronto.
The American urbanist Andres Duany once told me that one problem with Hogtown is that buildings here tend to be either quite large or house-sized, with relatively few structures in the four- to eight-storey range. While I haven't done a survey to test Mr. Duany's contention, I'm inclined to agree that his general sense of things is right.
That said, Toronto's residential real estate boom has been spawning a number of midsized condominium buildings that matter architecturally. Notable recent examples include Quadrangle Architects' compact, modernistic N-Blox, proposed for the stretch of College Street that runs through Little Italy, and Brisbin Brook Beynon's stout, seven-storey luxury condominium building on Davenport Road. Both of these projects demonstrate that high design ingenuity is quite possible even in structures that occupy the unimposing middle scale between house and high-rise.
The two new live/work condominium buildings proposed by Toronto architect and developer George Popper for Colgate Street, in the city's industrial east end, are much more architecturally modest than either N-Blox or the Davenport Road project. But the quiet, unglamorous fit of Mr. Popper's buildings with the context of factories, warehouses and workers' housing makes them thoughtful examples of what's desirable in rugged old neighbourhoods threatened by dereliction and careless gentrification.
Designed for a small corner site off Carlaw Avenue, 59 Colgate is a sturdy, five-storey stack of 19 lofts that range in area from 533 to 1,382 square feet, and in price between about $195,000 and $830,000. Mr. Popper's exterior treatment is a response to the working-class built environment. Large, industrial-sized windows have been punched in brick cladding in the lower three residential storeys -- the bottom of the building has been reserved for interior parking -- while, even larger windows open the two-level lofts at the top. No historical furbelows soften the overall geometry of the building, which is robust, down to earth, forthright.
But 59 Colgate, despite its warehouse-like appearance, is hardly an old-fashioned building. Prospective homeowners with contemporary concern about urban over-reliance on cars will be encouraged to leave their automobiles behind when they move in.
Underground parking at 59 Colgate will be available for only 10 of the 19 suites, and two use-as-needed Zipcars will be provided in the parking garage.
Environmental enhancements in this building include low-water landscaping, heat-recovery units, a green roof, low-toxic sealants and paints, and above-code insulation. Solar-heated hot water is offered as an upgrade option.
For a site just along the street from 59 Colgate, Mr. Popper has proposed a rather different condominium building.
Instead of blending in with surrounding warehouses, 53 Colgate takes its design cues from the older domestic fabric in its neighbourhood. With its four repeating vertical sections and sloping metal roof, it loosely recalls a block of Victorian row houses.
But the resemblance stops there. Tall, broad, very un-Victorian expanses of glass punctuate the brick facade, and the whole high-density composition is boosted above grade by a low parking garage. The overall design suggests a kind of retiring, unconfrontational modernity that is suitable in a streetscape of old and new single-family houses.
At 53 Colgate, there will be 14 lofts, each arranged on two levels. These suites range from 710 to 1,049 square feet in size, are priced from about $320,000 to $490,000. Like the units at 59 Colgate, these apartments will be fitted out according to raised environmental standards to address the growing market demand for green-conscious dwellings. With their expansive, double-height windows and simple, open plans, the suites at 53 Colgate capture the airy, light-filled spaciousness desired by all modernist architects for nearly the past hundred years.
Though not as artistically adventurous as the things we would like to see in a historic, rapidly changing neighbourhood in downtown Toronto, George Popper's buildings on Colgate Street are solid instances of the well-mannered urbanism, and of the respect for local scale and context, that we should expect from the new midsized buildings among us.