It’s that time again: The annual Pug Awards are back for the fifth consecutive year! Over the month of May thirty-two projects (fourteen of which are featured above) will face off in a battle for bragging rights as the 2009 people’s choice for best and worst new buildings in Toronto. The projects are divided into two categories. Twenty-four buildings fall in the residential category and there are eight in the commercial and institutional categories. It is up to the general public to choose the winner by voting online.
For each project, voters decide whether they “Love It” or “Hate It,” and for the first time ever, they can just “Like It” as an alternative. Many buildings on this year’s list of nominees are not necessarily spectacular, but it is difficult to pinpoint something that is outright bad about them. In previous years, the voting system was confined to a binary response. Modelled after the typical attitude toward the awards’ namesake dog, there was no room for indifference. As Gary Berman, co-founder of the awards and managing director at Tricon Capital Group, explained to Torontoist, “We no longer need to be as absolute in our decision making process.” The scoring system now reflects when a building provokes nothing more than a tepid response: A “Love It” vote receives two points, one point is awarded for “Like It,” and a single point is subtracted for “Hate It.”
To qualify for a Pug Award, buildings must have been completed within the last year, be located in the City of Toronto, and have an area greater than fifty thousand square feet. The Max Gluskin House, a nominee designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects, measures less than that, proving that some exceptions to the rule are allowed if the advisory board feels they deserve special attention. Berman said this project stood out “as a wonderful example of what architecture can do in this city,” due to its sensitivity to its context. Most prominent among the 2009 nominees is Frank Gehry’s $276 million addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario, a building for which Torontonians have repeatedly professed their love. Almost certainly, the 89.5-centimetre-tall Pug trophy is leaning toward the intersection of McCaul and Dundas.
A promising new addition to the Pug Awards Program is PIMBY (Pug In My Backyard), an important link in the feedback loop, connecting public opinion with the development process. This initiative helps users of spaces and residents of neighbourhoods compile their opinions into maps. This information includes, among other things, a wish list for each area regarding architecture styles, building typologies, trees, benches, and so on. Developers then consult these maps before taking their designs to a planning committee, thereby involving local stakeholders in the earlier stages of the planning process. PIMBY aims to “create an environment of collaboration, positivity, and dialogue.”
As always, the other bit of fun is finger-pointing to the perpetrators of hideous work. One major difference between the Pug Awards and the Ontario Association of Architects’ People’s Choice Award is that the Pug Awards call attention to the eyesores that Torontonians don’t want to have as a part of our urban landscape, a component of the program that promotes awareness and an interesting architectural dialogue about why one design is better than another, the kind of healthy competition and public shaming that should continuously push the quality of architecture to improve.
Results for the competition will be announced on June 3 at a reception at the Gardiner Museum, the 2007 winner of the commercial category. May the best design win.