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-   -   At ground level, Toronto’s soaring skyline is a dud (http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=220994)

M II A II R II K Feb 10, 2016 4:24 PM

At ground level, Toronto’s soaring skyline is a dud
 
At ground level, Toronto’s soaring skyline is a dud


Feb. 09, 2016

By MARCUS GEE

http://beta.images.theglobeandmail.c...m-masthead.png

Read More: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/...ticle28682510/

Quote:

Toronto is growing up – way up. Tall buildings are rising left and right as the office and condo boom continues. That’s a good thing for the city, bringing vitality to the streets and filling the skyline with soaring pillars of glass and steel. But approach the base of many new buildings and the view is less inspiring.

- The boxy spaces inside sometimes remain empty long after the building has opened, giving it a woebegone air. When those spaces are filled, the new occupant often turns its back to the street, covering the glass and concealing what is within. Passersby are presented with a blank, faceless wall that is the furthest thing from the inviting diversity they get on an old shopping street like Queen Street West.

- These design failures make a big difference to the feel of the street outside. People encounter buildings at eye level, not from some perch in the sky. Good streetscapes draw people in, not shut them out like the chain drug marts or grocery stores that often emerge at the base of new buildings. Getting what architects call the “ground plane” right is a big deal, and Toronto is blowing it.

- Architect Gianpiero Pugliese notes that condo ads often present the buildings they are promoting as objects, passing over how the buildings will relate to the street. But “that’s how people interact with their city – at the ground plane, from the sidewalk to the building. That is really where the city is experienced. It’s critical that we get that zone right.” --- He says the city can do all it wants to beautify the sidewalk when a new building goes up – adding new trees or attractive paving work – “but if the building that fronts the sidewalk doesn’t work, what’s the point?”

- For a long while, modern builders ignored the street. Tall buildings were set in sprawling plazas. Developers often put nothing on the ground floor but a huge lobby. That is the pattern in many big office complexes that rose in Toronto’s core. Urban thinking has evolved since then, and most new buildings pay more respect to what is around them. Many have a “retail podium” at the bottom and a tower on top. Planners encourage “active uses” on the ground floor. The aim is noble, the execution lacking. Developers tend to fill ground floors with big spaces that they can rent out easily. So you get a drug mart.

- Smaller spaces are often afterthoughts, lacking the proportions and clear space that retail or restaurants need. Retired Toronto architect Peter Tovell says these spaces sometimes make no allowance even for a store sign, so the retailer slaps up tacky posters or signs on the glass. The texture you see on older streets is lost. “What makes Queen Street or Bloor Street interesting,” he says, “is you can look at something as you’re walking along.”

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M.R.Victor Feb 10, 2016 5:38 PM

This is true in some areas and not true in others.

Bloor and Jarvis - true
Wellington / Portlant / Bathurst / King - not true

Dale Feb 10, 2016 6:54 PM

Translation: Toronto is a lot like every North American city I've visited.

Crawford Feb 10, 2016 7:53 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dale (Post 7330771)
Translation: Toronto is a lot like every North American city I've visited.

I'd say there's huge variability in how highrises meet the street, depending on the city. Not sure how you could conclude that all cities are pretty much alike.

Dale Feb 10, 2016 8:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Crawford (Post 7330869)
I'd say there's huge variability in how highrises meet the street, depending on the city. Not sure how you could conclude that all cities are pretty much alike.

Short answer: by visiting them and concluding that what I've observed in Toronto I commonly observe in its peer cities.

esquire Feb 10, 2016 8:45 PM

The writer touches on one of the downsides of new construction... new buildings tend to eliminate small, old retail spaces in favour of much larger ones. The downside to that is that the smaller mom and pop operations that infuse urban streets with character disappear, and only larger corporate chains can afford to fill the bigger spaces that replace them.

In Toronto, that might mean that a space which once housed ten small businesses gets replaced with a podium containing a Shoppers Drug Mart and that's it.

Crawford Feb 10, 2016 8:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dale (Post 7330938)
Short answer: by visiting them and concluding that what I've observed in Toronto I commonly observe in its peer cities.

You're entitled to your opinion, of course, but it's bizarre. There are very obvious differences in street level environments, depending on the city.

There is no way cities can have the same streetscapes when they have wildly differing street uses. It's completely impossible.

Dale Feb 10, 2016 9:42 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Crawford (Post 7330962)
You're entitled to your opinion, of course, but it's bizarre. There are very obvious differences in street level environments, depending on the city.

There is no way cities can have the same streetscapes when they have wildly differing street uses. It's completely impossible.

Other people's opinions. Therefore bizarre. Got it. :tup:

C. Feb 11, 2016 6:51 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dale (Post 7330938)
Short answer: by visiting them and concluding that what I've observed in Toronto I commonly observe in its peer cities.

I don't know how anyone could say Toronto and its skyscrapers are just like every other city and its skyscrapers in America at street level. It's simply not true and one must have a very lazy eye when looking at design of the buildings not to see the differences.

The design of skyscrapers are greatly influenced by zoning. I personally hate above ground parking garages. It kills the street level experience and feels sterile. I don't see them too often in Toronto. Developers will dig deep into the ground, at great cost, to build a parking garage whereas elsewhere they may just lay a slab foundation and put the garage above grade. I can only assume Toronto has zoning in place which forbids or discourages above grade parking garages.

Many years ago a typical zoning codes would regulate use, height, density, and setbacks. With that the city is at the mercy of a developer; they could end up delivering a landmark or a really shitty design and awkward site plan. Nowadays more is being done to require a minimum amount of building coverage to create a street wall or plaza, minimum and maximum setbacks, percent of frontage dedicated to retail, enclosing or wrapping of interior parking garages to hide them from the street, even down to building materials or glazing or masonry requirements.

Skyscrapers can be built better so they are more "human scaled" at street level and the vesicle already exists in zoning for those cities that are bold enough to care about design.

M.R.Victor Feb 12, 2016 5:40 PM

I agree with you CIA and this article simply uses a broad brush to drum up a semblance of substance to feed a common Torontonian complaint: no moar condos... too boxy, to glassy blah blah blah.

If we were being perfectly honest here, if we were to tally up the new condominiums which are replacing mom-and-pop storefronts with blank glass lobbies or bank branches or whatever, I think we'd come up with a fairly small number.

Bitch an moan as we might about Cityplace, it was built on top of a former golf course. Aura, shitty as it may be at ground level, was built atop a parking lot. Meanwhile there are countless examples of new builds that attempt, at least in some way, to integrate with their surroundings, and there are plenty of examples which do this really, really well.

To conclude, I feel the article has no substance and is simply stirring up negative public sentiment. Not every street will be a cornucopia of sensory experiences, but the devil is in the details. I could just as well complain about the abject pedestrian experience walking through Museumplatz in Vienna, because ultimately, there are no shops, the building sits on a superblock, and a facade of stone is not quantifiably more interesting than one made of glass. I say this in jest, but I hope you'll get the point.

M II A II R II K Feb 12, 2016 5:47 PM

The smaller condos are more likely to attract non chain stores, but even they have many of them like a Subway or a bank or something.

miketoronto Feb 15, 2016 4:38 AM

The downtown condos are mostly a disaster at street level. A few have interesting non-chain places in them. But overall, they have taken interesting areas, and turned them into nothing but drug stores, dry cleaners, and pizza chains.

If you want to see condos with interesting, unique, mom and pop retail, then head to North York Centre. The condos up in North York Centre have a mix of large and small retail spaces that have created some great little areas to explore. Great place to stroll and go for dinner, late night tea and dessert, etc. However North York Centre is often overlooked because it is not downtown.

But downtown, you just don't get what you see in North York Cetnre as much, and it is seriously turning many parts of the downtown into bland vertical suburbs, with non of the stuff that supposedly attracted people downtown in the first place.

So yes it can be done right, and North York Centre shows it. But downtown, there is a lot of work to be done. And sadly a ton of damage has been done. Just look at the Entertainment District, which has been turned into a mostly bland, increasingly less vibrant area, covered in dry cleaners and nothing else.

This is a serious issue Toronto must address. Basically all the great areas the City of Toronto had the foresight to protect in the 1970s and onwards are now being demolished.

mhays Feb 16, 2016 12:52 AM

Do buildings from the 1990s have the same issue?

It's common to have corporate retail tenants at first, then diversify as the building ages, particularly when new buildings pull away the "best" (corporate, no-risk) tenants.

niwell Feb 16, 2016 2:16 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by miketoronto (Post 7335902)
So yes it can be done right, and North York Centre shows it. But downtown, there is a lot of work to be done. And sadly a ton of damage has been done. Just look at the Entertainment District, which has been turned into a mostly bland, increasingly less vibrant area, covered in dry cleaners and nothing else.

What are you talking about? Then Entertainment District is FAR more vibrant than it has ever been with the exception of the closure of large clubs (which has been gone over ad nauseum). There are far more restaurants, smaller bars and independent stores than existed 10 years ago, when it literally was a dead zone during the day.

Mister F Feb 16, 2016 3:00 AM

lol so North York Centre is condos "done right" while downtown and the entertainment district are a disaster. Do you live in bizarro world, Mike?

MonkeyRonin Feb 16, 2016 6:08 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by miketoronto (Post 7335902)
This is a serious issue Toronto must address. Basically all the great areas the City of Toronto had the foresight to protect in the 1970s and onwards are now being demolished.


Ahh yes, the 70s, when great neighbourhoods were protected and nothing was demolished:

http://www.blogto.com/upload/2011/10...ts-history.jpg


There have been a few unfortunate losses, but so far most development has been correcting the mistakes of the 50s-70s, and filling in those parking lots and gas stations and strip plazas. Even if these buildings contributed nothing to their surroundings (in reality some do, some don't), they'd still be an improvement over what existed there 40 years ago.

There is some cause for concern for the future being that at this point most of the parking lots and underdeveloped land has now been developed - but as of yet that is not the case.


But is this really a downgrade?

http://urbantoronto.ca/sites/default...4164-39138.jpg

http://urbantoronto.ca/sites/default...4164-39139.jpg
http://urbantoronto.ca/news/2014/10/...de-street-west



Quote:

Originally Posted by niwell (Post 7336738)
What are you talking about? Then Entertainment District is FAR more vibrant than it has ever been with the exception of the closure of large clubs (which has been gone over ad nauseum). There are far more restaurants, smaller bars and independent stores than existed 10 years ago, when it literally was a dead zone during the day.


Quite a few of them in the podiums of new towers, even.


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