It’s time to vote again on who’s been a good dog and who’s been a bad dog this year. The Pug Awards are back with their third annual crop of architecture, and if there’s anything that Torontonians like to do, it’s bitch and judge. And I say that with endearment. That’s why I’m gonna trash the Pug website in a sec.
We absolutely love the Pug (formerly Pugly) Awards, because it’s not only a criticism of bad design but a celebration of quality neighbourhood-appropriate development. While the City spins its heels on whether or not to implement a permanent design review board (there’s one being piloted now), the Pugs are picking up the slack with a handpicked board of experts including former Mayor David Crombie, fashion bon vivant Jeanne Beker, Toronto Life‘s John Macfarlane, the brilliant Margie Zeidler of Urban Space Development, and Canada’s Rockmaster General, Geddy Lee.
This year, voters are presented with 22 new buildings and asked to grant a “Fame” or Shame” rating, differing from the thumbs up/thumbs down system from previous years. Included are the hideous Be Bloor (1395 Bloor West) and the dull One Six Nine (169 John), but also the Frank Lloyd-Wright-inspired Gardiner Museum (111 Queens Park) and the gorgeous Tip Top Lofts conversion (637 Lakeshore West). To meet the criteria for inclusion, developments must have been completed within the city during 2006 and they have to consist of more than 50,000 square feet.
Acknowledging that the assessment of architecture is subjective, the yearly choices are made by a specific evaluation process which ultimately addresses “whether a building’s architecture raises or lowers the profile of a street and/or the original area.”
After decades of mediocrity and the demolition of architecturally significant buildings, Torontonians are only recently starting to understand the importance of good design, and the Pug Awards help advocate an understanding about the issues that go into creating viable neighbourhoods. A development can make or break what happens at street level; the perfect example being the Eaton Centre’s original insular design, which brought everyone indoors while the tumbleweed rolled by outside. The Toronto Police 51 Division renovation, on the other hand, was an unexpected triumph, turning what would normally be a drab police station into a landmark beautifully complimenting the Distillery District.
Developers aren’t always to blame either. City Council is gleefully starry-eyed when a relatively small amount of money is waved before them, and we are all painfully aware that most Councillors are hardly aesthetes. Business owners too often couldn’t care less if their edifice (or signage) is appropriate to the neighbourhood vibe or the needs of its residents. Condo buyers need to also be more informed about what makes a good living space—like how rounded walls may not be great for furniture placement or that $150,000 for 400 square feet is a borderline criminal price—and they need to demand excellence from developers.
There is still an sense of arbitrary judgment when it comes to the Pugs. The contest appraises only the exterior of a building on its looks and materials; not on the quality of construction or necessarily the role the building is intended for. For example, the Ryerson School of Business (Bay and Dundas) and the Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building (144 College) are educational facilities with a somewhat utilitarian feel that undoubtedly horrify some, but there are elements of both which indicate a concern for street-level appearances and utility. And then what to do about structures like the Federal Court Building and the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (both at Queen and University), which look fine from one or two sides, but are excoriating on the others?
Since we’re already in armchair scrutiny mode, let’s discuss the 2007 Pug Awards website: a time-wasting, browser-resizing, frustratingly Flashtastic affair. Even Methuselah would grow impatient waiting for the animation to stop moving, bouncing and spinning, forcing the user to do mouse rollovers to read what building they are voting on from the main index. Each selection only consists of three teeny-tiny pictures that hardly show any detail, and voters have to close the window for each building to be brought back to the main list twenty two times instead of allowing a logical “next, next, next” scheme. The Hall of Shame & Fame lists some past winners, but don’t expect photos or links to those, so you’ll have to do with just “10 Avoca St.” The website looks nice at first glance, but once you start navigating, it’s an irritating exercise in patience.
Still, we’re all for rewarding great architecture and bringing back some old-fashioned shunnin’ for the monstrosities that dot our skyline. We also think pugs are cute, in an ugly sort of way.
Voting is open until May 31 with the results released on June 6th.