May 5, 2011
The following is a guest post by Richard Witt. Richard was born in Portsmouth, England and studied architecture at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. He worked across Europe in several cities including Prague, Geneva, Paris, Vienna and London for Foster+Partners and Aukett PLC. He returned to Canada in 2002 and was subsequently one of two founding directors at architecture and design firm RAW, which received the OAA Best Emerging Practice Award in 2009. In addition to making significant changes to the Toronto urbanscape, RAW has gone on to establish a network of associate offices internationally and is currently working in India, UAE & China.
After some delay due to political sensitivity (the 2010 municipal election), The City of Toronto recently released the results of their study, “‘Tall Buildings, Inviting Change in Downtown Toronto’.” A whopping 157 page document (and also building on the precepts established in the 2006 citywide Tall Building Guidelines), it contains a set of 17 regulations (not guidelines) aimed at establishing criteria for how tall buildings should behave in the downtown core – in addition to identifying where tall buildings should be located.
Given the scope of the brief, the lead consultants Urban Strategies & Hariri Pontarini Architects have done a thorough and comprehensive job of creating a framework for where tall buildings will be located, how they will be separated, transitions from tall to not tall, and, mostly (9 out of 17 regulations), how they will be situated and perceived at the street level. But the imperative for a considered high-rise city is broader than the brief and there are a number of factors that would benefit from another set of guidelines building on these ones. If we really want to achieve a genuinely mixed-use city of quality, it is essential, and the most important of these necessary and additional criteria is design excellence.
Design excellence is something that everybody wants and, although what it means may be different to different people,– it is an architectural issue that can be described. The Tall Building Regulations state very clearly that the city will demand design excellence in their new tall buildings, but don’’t define it – or what could/should/would be considered excellent or not excellent. Historically in the city, the term has mostly been used to define aesthetic –contemporary” buildings – and while that’’s an improvement over the Toronto of the late 20th century (the hideously derivative pastiche that was “what the public demanded”), it does not constitute excellence.
Unfortunately what definition of design excellence based on style leads to, as with all great design, is cheap imitation knock offs. The 1950s and 1960s were full of architectural nightmares that took a stab at the style of work by master architects without delivering the substance that made those buildings great. Toronto is currently in the same position of erecting residential tower after residential tower seemingly designed by window manufacturers and often seeking (claiming) LEED™ certification for a building that has 10% of what appropriate building envelope insulation should be. Design excellence should always be defined by performance – technically, sustainably and urbanistically, it should be quantified and outlined in Regulations 18+.
Our thanks to Richard for his contribution!