Mayoral foibles, Google's urban charm offensive, finalists for George Brown's new wood building, and how many avocado toasts will you need to give up?
Please don’t poke the mayor – Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson found himself criticized in light of calling George Bemi’s award-winning Ottawa Library a “Stalin-ist bunker”. Watson’s rebuke wasn’t so elegant, but the following debate explored how contemporary ideas of wellness and accessibility requires real investment in restoration and renovation.
- Here in Toronto, Mayor John Tory was sent an open letter by a large contingent of the city’s urbanist intelligentsia, protesting his decision regarding REimagining Yonge, a proposal that would see changes to the streetscape in North York Centre. In short, the Mayor Tory has suggested a scheme that costs approximately $20 million more and retains the current number of car lanes, while the recommended plan (that has the support of city staff and the local councillor) removes one lane in each direction to add things like wider sidewalks and bike lanes.
Big data city – Sidewalk Toronto, the massive project from Alphabet (aka Google’s parent company) proposed for the Waterfront, held two public roundtables late last week. It’s the first of many such meetings, where the public’s input will help shape the face of the development. For some context, over on Spacing, John Lorinc broke down the history of consultation on Toronto’s Waterfront.
- Also released as a component of the meeting was a new app that maps historical photographs from Toronto’s archives all over the city. The initial reaction was largely positive, but as people used it, glaring errors and other issues provoked questions as to whether an incomplete but high profile app devalues the hard work of Toronto historians.
- Google’s use of data on the site also came under scrutiny. Their mission is a bit of a tough sell as the public comes to terms with the Cambridge Analytica big data manipulations and Uber’s self-driving fleet killing its first pedestrian. I predict there will be some sort of larger reckoning as North American cities come to terms what it means to be part of a living lab. Arguably, social and economic theory has been tested in a living lab since organized government has been able to mandate policy, but I concede that argument is hard to make when crushed under 5,000 lb of autonomously propelled steel.
- Now I’m truly on a tangent – but ICYMI here’s a compelling New York Times’ visual opinion piece on why autonomous vehicles may not benefit city design.
TIMBER!!! – George Brown has released renderings of the four designs proposed for a wood structure at its Waterfront campus. Contenders will present their designs on April 27. Early reactions on Reddit featured the eminent authority of internet commenters who worry this building is going to be destroyed by an errant cigarette butt before cooler heads prevailed – the entire thread is interesting exercise in individuals educating each other on a new building type.
Who are the players?
- Moriyama & Teshima and Acton Ostry: Moriyama Teshima has historically provided Toronto with solid institutional design dating back to the Toronto Reference Library – a project that is still capturing cultural imagination. Acton Ostry is BC based and recently completed an 18-storey wood tower there.
- Patkau and MJMA: Patkau is BC based research/design firm, with a focus on institutional work like the recently completed Audain Art Museum. You might know MJMA for their community and athletic centres locally. MJMA won RAIC’s firm of the year in 2016 and has been putting out consistent institutional work for some time now.
- Provencher Roy (this is a link to ArchDaily; as of this writing the firm’s website appears to be down and redirecting to ads) and Turner Fleischer: Provencher Roy is a Montreal-based firm and I personally am stoked to see some representation from Quebec. They recently won the National Urban Design Award from the RAIC in 2016. To my knowledge, Turner Fleischer is known for condominiums and big retail (like high profile Loblaws projects). Not to speculate too much, but their newly rebranded website and presence on this team might signal something.
- Shigeru Ban and Brook McIlroy: Arguably the team with the highest profile international firm on it. Shigeru Ban is a Japan-based firm with wood and design accolades – here’s their design for the Aspen Art Museum. Brook McIlroy has done a lot of institutional and urban design work, and recently got a nod from the Wood Design and Excellent awards for their work on The Orillia Waterfront Centre.
- Michael Green Architecture had some big news earlier this week with a mass timber complex being proposed stateside. Green set the record for largest mass timber project with T3 at 220,000 sq ft – this one more than doubles that. For those who don’t know him, Michael Green’s work has created a lot of momentum for tall wood buildings, with a popular 2013 TED talk that still inevitably comes up every time you mention the subject.
- If you want to see some engineered wood here in Toronto relatively soon, The Star recently published an opinions piece by Christopher Hume featuring 80 Atlantic and its developer, Hullmark (full disclosure: I work at Quadrangle, the firm designing this project). The project is currently a hole in the ground but the structure is coming soon. And, while not wood, just a down the street Sweeney and Co. has another commercial complex coming.
Run the numbers – Realtor David Fleming broke down the costs and profits of the average Toronto developer. It’s a thorough take and worth reading. If you scroll down to the comments and you can see for yourself that the results basically proved what many already know: some people think developers make too much money and other people don’t think they make enough.
- Mike Rosenburg, out of the Seattle Times, took a shot at patronizing millennial financial advice by noting that Seattle housing has gone up $266/day on average, meaning you’d have to give up 33 pieces of avocado toast every day to keep up. Apparently Curbed has also been at it with an entire instagram devoted to the subject. How does Toronto fare? Using TREB’s data from Dec 2017 and April 2016 in this CBC report, it looks like home prices across all types, on average, $521 every day. Assuming avocado toast is about $12, in that time period that’s:
43 avocado toasts/day
(Please check my math.)