BuzzBuzzHome Corp.
January 26, 2011

This week we chat with Mansoor Kazerouni, Executive Vice President at Page + Steele / IBI Group Architects. Mr. Kazerouni tells us about his favourite aspects of his Pears on the Avenue project, the rise of mixed-use buildings, and what he’d ask Michelangelo over a cup of coffee.

Enjoy!

BuzzBuzzHome: Was there a single moment when you decided to become an architect, or was it rather a gradual realization that this would be your career?

MK: It was kind of a gradual realization. I was always artistically inclined with painting and sketching and was naturally drawn to the profession, but I don’t think there was a eureka moment when I discovered a passion for architecture.

BBH: What is the best thing about your job?

MK: Well, what I love about it is that each day is different. [My job] ranges from designing buildings to giving presentations, attending technical meetings, pursuing new projects and clients and finally visiting sights for design reviews during construction. Once you layer upon that the variety of building types, ranging from residential, hotel, office, theatres and community centres,you have quite a bit of variety.

So each project is a new experience and I enjoy the variety and challenge associated with each building type, though the ones that I tend to work on the most are hotels and residential projects.

BBH: What has been your most rewarding moment as an architect?

MK: I don’t think I can single out one moment or one project and say that it was the most rewarding. I think that every architect’s greatest reward is to be recognized for his design efforts and to that extent I’m always encouraged when I see my projects built and occupied.

You know, generally as a profession it’s tremendously rewarding to know that your work is impacting people’s lives in such a direct manner – especially in our residential work. We’re always striving to better ourselves and learn from the last project and take that experience to the next one.

BBH: What part of the GTA do you call home?

MK: I live in North York, in the Leslie-York Mills area.

BBH: Which architect, living or dead, would you like to share a cup of coffee with? What is one question you would ask?

MK: [Laughs] Those are great questions. You know, I’ve long admired many of the modern masters from Mies [van der Rohe] to Richard Meier. But having thought about it, it would probably be Michelangelo. Architect, sculptor, artist, poet, engineer. . . I’d ask how did he do it all in one lifetime! And with so much less technology than we have access to these days.

BBH: When considering condominium development, what for you are the most important design features? Were these things you were able to address with the Pears on the Avenue project?

MK: A number of aspects are important to all projects: context, street definition, views, orientation and unit mix. But in terms of condominium projects, I think what ultimately distinguishes a condo, apart from its location, which is always very important, is the layout of the residential unit and the architectural design of the project and the amenity spaces. These are the three key design elements, and yeah, I believe that we address all of these effectively at Pears on the Avenue.

In terms of location, the project is incredibly well located at the intersection of Yorkville and The Annex, at the highest point on Avenue Road. The project responds successfully to its immediate context. We have retail fronting Avenue Road which is a retail-oriented street which turns the corner artfully and transitions to townhouses, which is in keeping with the residential character of Pears Avenue.

The entrance to the residential lobby is located between the retail and the townhouses so that creates a nice buffer which facilitates a transition in scale and materiality between the residential and commercial. We introduced a lot of glass in the retail facade to maximize visibility and transparency. And the townhouses on the other hand are a combination of stone and glass to provide privacy while allowing daylight into the residences.

We’ve capped it all off on the podium with a very bold canopy projection that creates a strong horizontal datum. And the tower rises above that and is located closer to Avenue Road. We introduced a signature element on the building which are these metal frames that partially enclose the balconies or terraces creating outdoor rooms.

In terms of amenities, this project boasts a host of incredible things: an indoor pool; a gymnasium; a mini-theatre; a yoga room; and a party room with access to a great outdoor patio wonderfully landscaped with tree canopies, shade structures, an open fire pit, a sun deck, and seating areas for the residents to enjoy.

BBH: What is your favourite aspect of the floorplans at Pears on the Avenue? Is there one floorplan that you particularly like?

MK: What I love about the floorplans is that every suite is planned to maximize efficiency and views and it provides a really luxurious sense of space within the unit.

What you will notice is that the living and dining rooms have a wide and shallow configuration which means, basically, that the glass is along the length of the room as opposed to along the width of the room, which is typical in most units. So that makes them feel extremely bright and airy and allows maximum light into the room.

In terms of favourite, I think the Bedford – which is a two-bedroom plus den – is just a wonderful unit. It’s at the corner; it has a great outdoor terrace, the bedrooms have ensuite washrooms, plus a powder room; and finally there’s great living and den space and an open kitchen concept.

BBH: We love the circular staircase in the lobby. What was the inspiration or underlying idea?

MK: I’d love take credit for it but that staircase was the work of the interior designers, Munge Leung. They’ve done a spectacular job designing the project’s public spaces.

I read somewhere that it’s inspired by the [Frank] Gehry stair at the AGO, much as one might think. But in my mind, it’s a great counterpoint to the orthogonal geometry of the lobby itself and of the overall architectural expression of the building – it’s kind of this unexpected moment in the project, which I think is wonderful.

BBH: What, in your eyes, does Pears on the Avenue offer design-wise that may be lacking in Toronto?

MK: Well, I think it’s these over-sized balconies or terraces which are defined by the signature architectural frame that extends the feeling of spaciousness by creating an outdoor room, basically.

We’ve accomplished this at Pears in most units and it becomes a very valuable feature in the condominium, particularly when many of the owners in these condominiums are likely to be moving from single-family homes with backyards and they really appreciate this outdoor living space. These are not the typical 5 foot linear balconies that you see in apartment buildings; these are much more generous.

BBH: Your background suggests that you may have a particularly keen sense of global architectural trends. What interests you most about architectural trends today?

MK: I think that, to put my answer in context, one of the trends that emerged in the past decade or so is mixed-use development. It caught on very quickly and has become a very effective and sustainable manner of development with a multitude of benefits.

I think it’s particularly relevant to large urban centres like Toronto where mixing of residential, hotel, and office and retail uses into one development results in healthier and more vibrant communities. We did a bit of that at Pears and I think this kind of mixing of uses of types is really exciting and creates better communities.

It’s a trend that originated in large cities like London and New York and has caught on here in Toronto in the past decade or so.

The earliest one I can think of, that we [designed], was Empress Walk, for Menkes. And it’s fantastic! You have two approximately 40-storey towers and the podium that they sit on includes a giant transfer structure, then you have cinemas, a large retail component, a supermarket, three levels of parking, the subway running underneath and the residential towers with this incredibly tight structural grid sitting on top of it all.

It was a very complex project and hats off to Menkes for pulling that off earlier than most.

BBH: This past fall you told the Toronto Star: “What we’re finally seeing is that design actually sells. Good design attracts buyers, and I think our developer clients have recognized that, too. They’ve started to put much more emphasis on design, which we welcome.” Why now, and will this continue to be the case for the foreseeable future?

MK:
I believe that it’s happening now because, with the continuing of the evolution of technology and ease of access to information, there’s a growing sense of awareness of what’s going on out there internationally. Buyers demand the same quality here as well, and that includes design.

It’s not just buyers, though; it’s media, blogs, residents and city officials – everyone’s more engaged than ever before in this conversation about good design. And it’s incumbent upon us now more so than ever before to respond.

BBH: Has the fact that the dialogue is more vibrant and accessible changed the way you go about your day-to-day business?

MK: We’ve always applied the same level of diligence but there’s generally a heightened sense of awareness – and remember, we’re one spoke in the wheel of the development team, and so this awareness permeates through the entire team, which includes the developer and the marketing people. So there’s a universal focus now on design and that obviously is starting to manifest itself in some of the new developments you’re seeing.

Thanks to Mr. Kazerouni for taking the time to speak with us!

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