No Mean City: The World of Architecture, As Seen From Toronto

Feb 26

In Dwell: a Habitat 67 apartment, and Blantyre House by Williamson Chong Architects

2013 / Categories: Uncategorized

Habitat 67 by Alexi Hobbs

For the March issue of Dwell, wrote this story about a spectacular apartment in one of the great modernist apartment buildings: Montreal’s Habitat 67, by Moshe Safdie. The story is essentially about the interior, which belongs to Byron Peart and Stefan Weisgarber – two fashion professionals who are collectively obsessed with Expo 67, contemporary furniture design, Mies and the Bauhaus. It is gorgeous. And the building, as I discovered last summer, is holding up beautifully.


And in the next issue: Blantyre House, by Toronto favourites Williamson Chong Architects.

scientific thesis

Or, specifically, the kitchen, which is entirely wrapped in a cladding of rift-cut white oak. It’s a rigorously detailed room that seems to make the owners very happy.

Feb 14

AKB's Notan House in the Globe and Mail

2013 / Categories: Uncategorized

Notan House, AKB. Photo by Shai Gil

In today’s Globe is my story about Notan House by Atelier Kastelic Buffey. This is a spectacular example of a house that strives for, and achieves, a spare beauty. They’ve named it Notan House, adopting a Japanese term for the juxtaposition of light and dark.


Jan 26

At the Interior Design Show: Dubbeldam Architecture + Design and BlackLAB

2013 / Categories: Uncategorized

Cabbagetown residence family rm-med res

It’s a big weekend in Toronto for architecture and design.If you’re visiting, welcome. May I suggest my introduction to Toronto for Architectural Digest?

The arty end of the design world shows off at the cialis tablets Gladstone Hotel’s Come Up To My Room, which features installation and conceptual works, and the Toronto Design Offsite event in the Junction. I’m excited about both.

But the big event is the Interior Design Show, this weekend featuring two architecture firms I’ve covered here: Dubbeldam Architecture + Design and BlackLAB.

Dubbeldam Design Architects, Beach House

Heather Dubbeldam’s firm  is one of Toronto’s and Canada’s best emerging firms. Working on houses and interiors in Toronto, they’ve been building a body of consistently excellent projects. I’ve covered their work, and admired it, for years – including on the blog here and here.  Last summer I wrote for The Globe and Mail’s Style Advisor about “White House,” one of their recent projects (story PDF here).


Jan 24

In The Globe and Mail: a young architect’s corner-store urbanism

2013 / Categories: Uncategorized


Hi. More tomorrow (Jan. 25) about the Interior Design Show and other events. But I have a story today in The Globe and Mail about a project that shows some good design and equally strong community spirit.

It’s the home of my neighbours Aaron Letki and Angela Tsementzis (who is in the photo above). Letki, a talented young architect, grew up in our area – near Christie Pits Park – and when he moved back in, he brought a sense of community. He renovated a beat-up convenience store, added a storey on top to create a duplex for himself, and fought for the right to open a café here, and The Hub is a comfortable meeting place for neighbours of all stripes.

It’s an interesting case for how to redevelop this building type.


Jan 22

Death, "the projects," and the new Regent Park

2013 / Categories: Uncategorized

Regent Park South Maisonette Tower, from East/West, via Scott Weir

Terrible news in Regent Park last weekend: .

Fifteen-year-old Tyson Bailey was shot dead inside 605 Whiteside Place, on the top floor. Paramedics had to take the stairs because the elevators were not running; according to news reports it is unclear why they were not running, or whether this had an impact on efforts to save his life. Landlords Toronto Community Housing say the elevators were not broken.

However, in a broad sense this event fits an architectural cliche. 605 Whiteside is one of the highrise buildings of Regent Park South, designed by the modernist architect Peter Dickinson in 1958, with two-level “maisonette” apartments.

What did the building have to do with Tyson Bailey’s death?

There is an obvious answer, which may or may not be right.


Jan 9

Ada Louise Huxtable, and building for the future

2013 / Categories: Uncategorized

Ada Louise Huxtable. Photo by Garth Huxtable.

I was deeply saddened to learn this week that Ada Louise Huxtable had passed away. For those of us who write about buildings, she was a titan: a historical figure who basically invented the profession of architecture critic 50 years ago, and was still doing it, very well, this winter.

Nothing I’ve written on No Mean City would be possible without her. Nothing in Spacing would be possible without her.

Here is the New York Times’s obit. It was at the Times that she – “a young, brash, believing woman”   with an architectural-history degree – became an unlikely power player in the world of development and planning.

She defined how to write about these subjects for a general audience, bridging the scholarly and the concrete, highbrow and slangy. She understood construction and finance, zoning and traffic, the history of architecture  and the realities of marketing. She made architecture part of serious conversation.

She knew that buildings are made out of money, power and politics, and she was also a staunch defender of the public good: grand public buildings, diverse and lively streets, parks that are pleasant to be in, private spaces that serve their users comfortably. Her contemporary Jane Jacobs thought about the big picture; she thought about the big picture and also the details. In retrospect, she was right about everything.


Dec 22

Don River Park, Hurricane Sandy and the meadows that will save Bay Street

2012 / Categories: Uncategorized

Don River Park photo by Waterfront Toronto

What did we learn about building cities in 2012? From Superstorm Sandy, the lesson was that cities are not immune from the forces of nature. Wind and water trump steel and stone.

It was also, as the most powerful storm to hit New York in its 400-year history, a hell of a marketing event for climate change. This is not only a moral problem for the long term but also a practical challenge: where and how should we build our cities?

The wiser heads in landscape architecture are ahead of the rest of us – and their foresight produced real payoffs in New York. New redevelopment projects on the small Governor’s Island survived the storm, because landscape architects Adriaan Geuze and West 8 raised parts of the landscape 16 feet. (“I’m glad I hired a Dutchman,” says the island’s chief.) And on hard-hit Staten Island, some neighbourhoods were protected by the earthworks of Fresh Kills Park – a garbage dump that is being remade into a park by James Corner Field Operations.

Those two projects reflect the growing ambition of landscape architecture, Both those firms are working in Toronto right now, too.

And one of the biggest Toronto design stories of the decade will be the opening, in 2013, of Corktown Common – which is built on and around a landform that will protect downtown Toronto from flooding. [Edit; name of the park changed.]


Dec 14

PLANT Architect’s Westminster House

2012 / Categories: Uncategorized

PLANT Architect Westminster House

In the Globe today I have a feature about a house renovation by PLANT Architect. This one is unusual, within the world of architectural journalism, because it only goes halfway; the owners and architects left this Edwardian house largely intact, with all its woodwork and plaster, and then added on a new seciton that is totally contemporary.


Dec 11

The Green Line: how Toronto urbanism moves forward

2012 / Categories: Uncategorized

Architects and urban designers, have a look at this: The Green Line, a new urban design competition for a leftover site in Toronto.  Specifically it’s a five-kilometre hydro corridor, the area under a set of electricity transmission lines, on the edge of downtown Toronto.

A few locals have compared this to New York’s High Line, which began as a spectacular piece of infrastructure and ended up as a spectacular (and expensive) park. In fact the Green Line, which is an ideas-only competition, does not propose anything so grand; it’s more in keeping with the tactical urbanism that has taken root in American cities, from San Francisco to Detroit, during this economic downturn.


Dec 4

SANAA's Gallery of Time

2012 / Categories: Uncategorized

SANAA, Gallery of Time, Louvre Lens, photo by Iwan Baan

I recently attended a lecture by the Japanese architect Ryue Nishizawa, who’s part of the Pritzker-Prize-winning duo SANAA. It was part of the Daniels Faculty’s Bulthaup Lecture Series, which you must know about if you’re in Toronto and interested in literature review writing contemporary architecture. Next up: Manuel Aires Mateus, Jan. 15.

Anyway: Nishizawa mentioned a fascinating new project, a satellite for the Louvre in the town of Lens. SANAA’s design arranged the artworks and artifacts on display in one, long, continuous hall, with contemporaneous pieces arranged next to each other (and works with thematic links arranged in front of each other). It makes for a long, chronological walk through art history. It’s a fascinating gambit, and brilliantly executed,  to judge from new photos of the completed interior up at Architizer.

This is provocative, and I think a useful corrective to anyone who thinks the ROM’s Lee-Chin Crystal is an innovative museum design.

Sorry for the extended absence of this blog; more soon, I promise.

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