Not all developers are equal. We look at some of the most recognizable names, and what distinguishes one company from another.
A decade into Toronto’s unprecedented construction boom, new and transformed neighbourhoods can make parts of our city feel unrecognizable within the span of a few years. With 10 years of rapid high-rise development behind us, low-rise streetscapes and vacant lots continue to give way to modern towers, as seemingly unending glass and steel condos re-make the urban landscape.
While it’s often difficult to tell one concrete skeleton or glass tower apart from another, Toronto’s condo landscape is deceptively diverse. With a large number of companies doing business in the city, understanding the different approaches taken by some of Toronto’s top developers reveals a significant degree of variety in the market.
Though architects, designers, and landscapers all play important roles in shaping the buildings rising throughout the city, it’s real estate developers—subject to the City’s approval process—who ultimately control what gets built where and how.
While no two developments are exactly alike, and large developers employ a range of architecture and design firms, each company nonetheless has a defining and generally recognizable modus operandi. Some developers specialize in specific types of projects—whether mid-rise or high-rise, luxury or affordable—while others tend to cluster buildings together in master-planned communities. The degree to which developers are committed to building cohesive, diverse, and vibrant communities also greatly varies.
In order to better understand the various approaches taken, we profiled some major developers to highlight the variety in Toronto’s market, and how they shape our city.
One of the biggest and oldest players in condo development, the company was founded by Italian immigrant Jack DelZotto in 1927. Initially building single-family homes (particularly during the post-war suburban boom), Tridel gradually expanded into high-rise construction during the 1950s, coming to play a significant role in the 70s construction boom, building rental towers and condos throughout the GTA.
Following an acute downturn in the housing market during the 1980s, the company endured difficult years leading up to the early 2000s housing boom. Since then, Tridel has once again become one of the city’s biggest developers, with a range of high-rise projects throughout the GTA. Known for bringing relatively affordable—if somewhat unimaginative—condos to the market, Tridel’s projects are scattered throughout the GTA, with a large concentration of high-rises in North York as well as downtown.
Many of Tridel’s projects—such as North York’s recently completed Argento—embody what is often considered the “typical Toronto condo,” with no particularly notable focus on design excellence or community development. However, in recent years Tridel has been making a greater contribution towards green energy, community development, and quality design. Current projects like the SQ and SQ2 Alexandra Park redevelopment show a greater willingness to engage with community revitalization and provide affordable housing.
Meanwhile, the showpiece Ten York condo currently under construction in the South Core has been celebrated for the quality of its finishes, with an uncommonly durable, energy efficient (and more expensive) curtain wall set to be installed on the tower, which is the third tallest building currently under construction in Toronto.
The Daniels Corporation
Founded by former Cadillac Fairview CEO John H. Daniels over 30 years ago, the Daniels Corporation is also one of the largest developers in the city. The company is known for its strong commitment to community development, as well as ongoing support of the arts. Notably, Daniels is overseeing the redevelopment of Regent Park, where completed projects like the recent One Park Place and Daniels Spectrum have helped create a vibrant community atmosphere.
While Daniels Spectrum serves as a local cultural hub—it houses Artscape as well as events like the Regent Park Film Festival—many of Regent Park’s new mixed-income buildings are notable for the elite architects who designed them. Daniels Spectrum comes from internationally-renowned Diamond Schmitt Architects and One Park Place is designed by Hariri Pontarini. These acclaimed Toronto-based firms are often hired for more luxurious projects, which shows Daniels’ commitment to quality development.
Now in the early stages of construction, Daniels Waterfront–City of the Arts, promises to bring a mixed-use project with a vibrant street level to the waterfront. Located on the site of the former Guvernment nightclub, the project will feature 280,000 square feet of commercial and office space, including a large “creative industries hub,” which is designed to give new creative businesses a chance to thrive. In addition, a new headquarters for Artscape is planned, as well as educational space for OCAD and George Brown. Designed to be a pedestrian-oriented neighbourhood hub at ground level, the project is meant to create an arts and innovation-friendly community, rather than just a series of towers.
While Daniels projects are certainly not immune from criticism from buyers—no matter the developer, completed condos often do not live up to expectations—the developer brings a somewhat more thoughtful and community-oriented presence to the market than many of its rivals.
Another one of the largest high-rise developers working in the city, Vancouver-based Concord Adex—founded in 1987—is most notable for developing the master-planned CityPlace neighbourhood that stretches out across Toronto’s former Railway Lands. Under development for the last 15 years, the nearly-completed CityPlace community has transformed empty land into a home for thousands of new residents.
While the ambitious CityPlace neighbourhood has played a role in revitalizing Toronto’s downtown with an influx of new residents, the master-planned community has been criticized for the somewhat suburban, empty, and disconnected streetscapes created during the project’s early phases. A lack of retail and attractive public space led some to worry that the neighbourhood would eventually decline, much like St. James Town before it, which was itself marketed to young professionals before becoming a low-income community.
However, more recent towers create a more lively streetscape, while Concord’s Canoe Landing Park (completed in 2009) brought a valuable public space to the community. Designed in part by artist and author Douglas Coupland, the park remains a notable highlight for the area.
In terms of upcoming projects, CityPlace’s Block 31 is set to feature two schools as well as a community centre, with a large, gently sloped green roof creating an additional park space for the neighbourhood atop the school buildings.
The CityPlace neighbourhood will be capped by the showpiece Block 22 towers, which could rise to 64 and 75 storeys. Like many of the area’s condos, the towers are designed by Page + Steele/IBI Group Architects, a firm responsible for a large number of Toronto’s recent condos.
Founded in 1996, Toronto-based Urban Capital has a somewhat smaller presence on the market. However, it nonetheless has an impact on the city, with a number of innovative and architecturally significant projects underway. After initially entering the real estate market with a number of adaptive reuse projects—the first of which was the formerly industrial Camden Lofts—Urban Capital has in recent years become a more conspicuous presence in the city.
Perhaps the most recognizable of the company’s current projects is the master-planned River City community. Set to feature four distinctly-designed buildings—the first two of which are now complete—the River City neighbourhood is quickly becoming a destination. Located just west of the Don Valley at the edge of Corktown, the project is designed to make a strong architectural statement on the surrounding area, with buildings that can hardly be mistaken for “some condos.”
The under-construction River City 3 could be one of the city’s most iconic new buildings, with an aggressively staggered balcony pattern emerging from the two-toned 29-storey tower. The playful and slightly edgy Saucier + Perrotte architecture is set to be complemented by Urban Capital’s upcoming Emma Park, which will bring a bone-shaped dog park to the area.
Near Queen and University, Urban Capital’s Smart House condo is a venture into micro-living, with miniscule units outfitted with Murphy beds and foldable furniture. Though the project has its critics—no matter the creative adjectives used to describe them, the units are extremely smal—Urban Capital is open to taking some risks that bigger developers are often adverse to, which helps to bring new ideas to the market.
Like Urban Capital, Streetcar Developments is not quite as big a player in the market as Tridel, Daniels, or Concord Adex. While the Toronto-based company does not boast the same super-tall towers or master-planned communities as some other developers, Streetcar is noteworthy for a mid-rise oriented development strategy that aims to cohesively integrate new buildings with existing neighbourhoods.
Founded in 2002, the company’s name reflects a portfolio of buildings clustered around Toronto’s streetcar lines. While streetcar roads mostly lack the skyscrapers that define most of Toronto’s recent condo development, the company recognizes that unique and attractive neighbourhoods exist away from the city’s high-rise clusters.
The goal of the company’s projects is to bring new density to Toronto neighbourhoods without encroaching upon the character that makes them unique. On Queen East, Streetcar’s recently launched Riverside Square is designed to bring a new public square and shopping street to a site currently home to a car dealership while positioning the taller building away from the street wall, keeping a low-rise character intact.
While it would be disingenuous to suggest that the project had been universally well received since its launch—the current plans come as a result of a re-design—the Riverside Square condominium nonetheless showcases a sensitivity to area context rarely found among larger developers.
In the same area, Streetcar is undertaking the reconstruction of the historic Broadview hotel, with ERA Architects sensitively restoring the iconic building. On Queen West, meanwhile, Streetcar’s 8 Gladstone—completed in 2013—has delivered carefully scaled density that is consistent with the area’s architectural character, while the larger Carnaby Condos is currently under construction nearby.
Though many of the developers working in Toronto bring density to the city, it is important to remember that each operates as profit-driven businesses, and that every developer—even the ones praised here—has at times been criticized for poor execution and a lack of commitment to urban design. While the most sophisticated and forward-thinking companies now seek to build value by creating good, functional neighbourhoods as opposed to just good, functional buildings, developers alone are never likely to build a better and more complete city.
While Toronto has experienced explosive urban growth over the last decade, the new city being built has mostly come about through developer-driven agendas, with a relative lack of public impetus and vision from the City of Toronto. For all the benefits of new urban density, ours is a city built by the fast dollar, and if the rate of change seems frighteningly quick and almost chaotic, that’s because it often is.
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