The Junction neighbourhood of Toronto is going to get a beautiful new midrise condo building. Carefully detailed and faced in lustrous brick, the Junction Point building will be exceptional.
And that’s a problem for the city. The new building from architectsAlliance and boutique builder Gairloch Developments will add to the neighbourhood – but there won’t be many others like it. City planning policy calls for midrise buildings to assume a major part of the city’s growth. But this one suggests that midrises are a boutique.
Junction Point, where the condos soon go on sale, will replace a tire shop on a busy stretch of Dundas Street West. Peter Clewes of architectsAlliance has designed a triangular building to fit the triangular site, rising up eight floors and stepping down as it moves toward the adjacent houses.
The architecture is carefully considered. The main façade alternates panels of solid brick and porous brick screens, which frame balconies and partly cover the windows to provide some privacy and shading. “If you forget the incredible complexity of the geometry, we were trying to do something straightforward,” Mr. Clewes said, “to make a brick building and create some good city fabric.”
There’s one precedent. Three years ago, Gairloch completed their first project nearby: a midrise condo building at 383 Sorauren Ave. Located on the fringe of the leafy Roncesvalles neighbourhood, that building was uncommonly well detailed. Mr. Clewes designed it with inset balconies, wrapped it in ironspot brick from Nebraska, and used that brick to sculptural effect in the folds and zigzags of the outer walls.
“We see this project as following along in the footsteps of Sorauren,” Bill Gairdner of Gairloch said. However, that building involved a multiyear fight to get city approval; the city policy, and local Councillor Gord Perks, tried to hold the building to seven rather than eight storeys. The developers won. (Not that anyone walking by could tell the difference.)
This time around, Mr. Gairdner and his partners are playing by the rules. The new building almost exactly fits the existing zoning for the site and the city’s guidelines for how the building should be shaped. These affect the overall form of the building, what professionals call “massing,” and the parking and loading requirements. And while they are theoretically “guidelines,” they are quite strictly enforced.
Accordingly, the building is not very tall, and it terraces down at the back, to prevent “overlook” and shadows from falling on adjacent houses. It follows the rules.
Here’s the problem: All those things make the building more complex, and each unit more expensive. Junction Point will be nearly as complex to build as a boxy 30-storey tower – arguably more so – even though it’s relatively small. This means the end product couldn’t possibly be cheap.
Gairloch knows all this, and is focusing its midrise business on a few upscale neighbourhoods, principally the Junction and Leaside. “You need to build in a place where you know the numbers are going to work,” Mr. Gairdner said. “Buyers don’t want to hear about your [construction] costs.”
“This scale of building is really nice, and really good for the city … but you just can’t make it go in neighbourhoods where [condo prices] aren’t as strong.”
And yet: The city’s official plan sees a substantial amount of future growth in the form of thousands of midrise buildings, on main streets the city calls “Avenues.” This is an idea that’s supposed to shape private development on a mass scale. But private developers aren’t eager to build such projects, Mr. Gairdner said; his company has a specific niche and not much competition.
In general, the city’s vision of a midrise future “is not likely,” says Jeremiah Shamess, a broker at Colliers who specializes in development sites. This is because the potential sites are few – there are only so many tire shops. (This raises another question: Even if developers can buy up and demolish all the main streets that house Toronto’s small-scale independent businesses, why would that be a good thing?)
Midrise sites also usually need to be assembled from different owners; and because of the relatively small scale. “The margins are smaller,” he said, “and the margin for error is smaller.”
That means that midrise development basically doesn’t work in less pricey neighbourhoods. “The sale prices are not as high, and the costs are, basically, the same,” he explained.
In most places in Toronto, midrise isn’t happening. A number of midrise development sites are currently on the market; Mr. Shamess says few developers are interested in them, and there is an industry consensus that they are risky. In 2019, a local developer chose to build stacked-townhouse building in Scarborough – and fought the city’s planning to build a less dense, but more profitable, townhouses.
All of this means that projects such as Mr. Gairdner’s will remain rare for now. Which is a shame. The developer and architect both like midrise buildings, and they’ve chosen to put unusual effort (and money) into making attractive architecture. But Junction Point will be a gem: beautiful and rare.
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