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London is piloting its first ever 3D zebra crossing

London is currently running a 12-month pilot on its first ever 3D zebra crossing. The objective is to improve pedestrian safety by making the crossing more visible to drivers. A 3D zebra crossing stands out by appearing to float above the road.

Here’s a photo (image credit to Gusti Productions):

While this is the first of its kind in the UK, similar crossings have already been installed in Iceland, India, Taiwan, and other countries. According to the trials in India, they do appear to have a meaningful impact on vehicular speeds. They also feel like public art.

If this first one proves to be successful, the plan is to roll out these 3D crossings across the entire borough of Westminster. Assuming they do actually work, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more noise around them here in Toronto.

A London-based software company is also working to completely rethink the zebra crossing for today’s smartphone world. Their system imagines LEDs embedded into the street so that a crosswalk can be triggered basically anywhere.

Perhaps this is something that might work with the street paving that Sidewalk Toronto is piloting.

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Golden hour cranes

I was out this past Saturday evening with my Fujifilm X-T3. I usually always have it on me when I’m traveling, but less so when I’m at home. It can be harder to be a “tourist” in your own city because things don’t stand out in the same way. And oftentimes it is that novelty which sparks the desire to take a photo. But that’s no excuse. So here are two photos that I took right before sunset from CityPlace, Toronto. The cranes you see in the first picture (mostly) belong to The Well.

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Canada admitted 321,065 permanent residents last year

Bloomberg recently reported that Canada admitted 321,065 permanent residents last year. This is up 12% from 2017, where the country admitted 286,479. Last year was also the largest cohort since 1913 (the year before World War I), where the country admitted just over 400,000 people.

Here is a chart from Bloomberg (it is interactive if you click through):

Of course, Canada was a much smaller country back in 1913 (about 7.6 million people), and so on a percentage basis we are much lower than where we were at the beginning of the 20th century. We’d have to admit close to 2 million permanent residents a year to get to a similar rate.

And that is not what is in the books. Here are the projected admissions for 2019 to 2021. All of the below stats are from the 2018 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration.

I couldn’t find a geographic breakdown for last year, but in 2017, about 40% of admitted permanent residents (or 111,925 total) ended up in Ontario and about 72% ended up in Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta (the top 3 provinces for this year). If we add in BC, it brings this figure up to 86%.

Here are also the top 10 countries of origin:

If you’d like to download a PDF of the full report, you can do that here.

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Junction House is a finalist in the 39th Annual BILD Awards

I am excited to announce that Junction House is a 2019 finalist in the 39th Annual BILD Awards. The project is up for the following 4 awards:

  1. Best Signage (it was probably the neon that did it)
  2. Best Suite Design (large suite)
  3. Best Innovative Suite Design (it’s a suite from our unique 2-storey House Collection)
  4. Best Mid-Rise Building Design

This last one is a “Pinnacle” award, but I’ll be honest in that I don’t know what that means. It sounds impressive though.

BILD received some 850 submissions this year, so kudos to the project team: Superkül, Dialogue 38, Vanderbrand, Unique Urban Homes, DTAH, WND Associates, and others.

We spend an inordinate amount of time on our floor plans — they are people’s eventual homes. So it’s nice to see a bit of that effort reflected above.

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An elevator equalizer show

This week two new office buildings were announced in Toronto and Vancouver by Allied Properties and Westbank. Both are being designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). As you would expect, Alex Bozikovic of the Globe and Mail has done a proper writeup, here.

The building in Toronto (called Union Centre) is generally located at 171 Front Street West. It is a revision to a previous proposal for the site that was originally submitted back in 2014. That project got approved by Council, but the implementing by-laws were never enacted.

My favorite image from their rezoning resubmission is this one here:

It clearly shows the big idea behind the project, which is to push all of the building’s elevator shafts to its north elevation. This opens up its large floor plates to the south, but also allows for a kind of elevator equalizer show on the outside of the building. The cabs are intended to be lit and the shafts are intended to be built using clear glazing. That’s what you’re seeing above.

I don’t think we have enough fun with building lights here in Toronto. So I was pretty pumped to see this get proposed. What are your thoughts?

Rendering by Bjarke Ingels Group

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How impactful will the new First-Time Home Buyer Incentive be?

This week’s federal budget announced two measures that are intended to improve housing affordability.

The first is a modification to the Home Buyers’ Plan. This is a plan that gives first-time home buyers the ability to do a tax-free withdrawal from their RRSP (it does, however, have to be repaid within 15 years). The withdrawal limit was increased from $25,000 to $35,000.

The second measure, which is the one that got everyone’s attention, is the new First-Time Home Buyer Incentive. Through this program, CMHC will offer first-time home buyers (who have the minimum down payment required for an insured mortgage) the option of a “CMHC shared equity mortgage.”

What this effectively means is that CMHC will give first-time buyers an interest-free contribution for 10% of the purchase price of a new home (5% in the case of a resale). There’s no interest, but it does need to be paid back at the time of a sale. The higher percentage for new build homes is intended to stimulate housing supply.

It is still not clear whether CMHC will be expecting to participate in any increase (or decrease) in the value of the properties. But presumably, yes, since it’s called a “shared equity mortgage.” All of this is expected to come into force by the fall.

Here’s an example of how this program is intended to work.

If a first-time buyer purchases a new home for $400,000 with a 5% down payment, the insured mortgage amount would normally be $380,000. This is the highest loan-to-value you can get with CMHC mortgage loan insurance. With this new measure, the mortgage size would reduce to $340,000 and so the purchaser’s monthly debt service would drop accordingly, thereby helping with overall affordability.

The caveat to all of this is that this incentive will only be available to first-time home buyers with a household income under $120,000, and the insured mortgage and incentive amount cannot be greater than 4x the participants’ annual household income.

What this means is that this program really only touches the sub $500,000 market. And in highly desirable cities like Toronto and Vancouver, that market isn’t all that big.

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Marketing to Hong Kong

A reader of this blog, who is based in Hong Kong, recently emailed me these photos:

They are of a direct mailer that he received in his mailbox for a project here in Toronto.

He sent them to me because he thought it was an interesting example of how projects are marketed to residents of Hong Kong.

I don’t know what most of the text means, but it is clear that Canada is a brand and that the Toronto Reference Library is an important landmark.

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Tenji blocks

Today, Google’s daily Doodle celebrates the work of Japanese inventor Seiichi Miyake. See above screenshot. (I wonder who at Google is responsible for coming up with these. Imagine having to post something new every day.)

I am sure that most of you have come across these tactile paving blocks before in the subway or in some other public space. But I for one wasn’t familiar with their origin.

Invented by Seiichi Miyake on his own dime after a close friend started becoming visually impaired, they were first introduced in 1967 on a street in Okayama City (Japan) next to a school for the blind.

Since then, these tactile blocks — or Tenji blocks — have been adopted all around the world as a way to help the visually impaired navigate our cities and public spaces.

There are two main types of blocks: ones with bars and ones with dots (which are kind of like domes with their tops cut off). The bars indicate a safe path of travel. And the dots tell you when to stop (such as at the edge of a subway platform).

The idea is that these different kinds of blocks can be detected with either a cane or through your feet as you walk over them. It’s a pretty simple idea, but it clearly seems to work.

All of this reminds me of a recent community meeting I was at where I heard a lady — who was visually impaired — speak eloquently about the importance of thoughtful materiality in our public spaces. I think she may have been an architect or designer.

One of her comments was that echoey spaces can be overwhelming for people with limited vision. That makes perfect sense to me. Unfortunately, I think it can be hard to fully appreciate some of these design subtleties unless you’re living it.

But as Seiichi demonstrated, maybe all you need is a close friend who is living it.

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Tiny Tower in North Philadelphia

ISA Architects recently completed a project in North Philadelphia called Tiny Tower.

It is a 6-level, 1,250 square foot single family home built on a small 12′ x 29′ lot. That’s about the footprint of two parking spaces. It feels like a house you might find in Japan.

Its siting is on a secondary street, akin to a laneway here in Toronto. As you can tell from the above picture, the adjacent parcels are largely undeveloped and/or used for parking.

The height of the house is 38 feet and the section looks like this:

The kitchen is in the basement (along with a light well). The living room is on the main floor (entrance to the house shown below). The third level is a workspace. And the rest of the floors are bedrooms. There’s also a rooftop patio. All of the circulation happens on one side of the house.

I don’t consider 1,250 square feet to be a small house and so this post is not about that. “Tiny Tower” does, however, feel like an accurate name.

I like these kinds of projects because they are about taking something with little perceived value — in this case a small parcel of land — and creating something cool.

That’s how you create the most value. You have to discover and do things that most other people are overlooking.

Images: ISA Architects

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Hudson Yards opens in New York

Hudson Yards officially opened today on the west side of Manhattan. More specifically, the eastern half of Hudson Yards opened. There’s a second phase to come on the western yards. And the highly anticipated observation deck at 30 Hudson Yards — the highest outdoor observation deck in the Western Hemisphere — is also not quite ready. It is expected to open in early 2020.

Considered the largest mixed-use private real estate project in American history by square footage, Hudson Yards has been in the works for many decades and was previously part of New York’s (failed) bid for the 2012 Olympic Games. Dan Doctoroff, who is now the CEO of Sidewalk Labs, led the bid under the Bloomberg administration.

So today is a bit of a big deal.

To commemorate the opening, the architecture critic for the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, published this searing, but highly visual, piece about the project. I think it is fairly safe to assume that he isn’t a huge fan (he doesn’t seem to love developers either).

Here’s an excerpt talking about Thomas Heatherwick’s Vessel:

Purportedly inspired by ancient Indian stepwells (it’s about as much like them as Skull Mountain at Six Flags Great Adventure is like Chichen Itza) the object — I hesitate to call this a sculpture — is a 150-foot-high, $200 million, latticed, waste-basket-shaped stairway to nowhere, sheathed in a gaudy, copper-cladded steel.

It preens along the critical axis between the High Line and the newish No. 7 subway station at Hudson Yards, hoping to drum up Instagram views and foot traffic for the mall, casting egregious shadows over what passes for public open space, ruinously manspreading beside the Shed, the most novel work of architecture on site, and the only building the private developers didn’t build.

If any of you have formulated your own opinions about Hudson Yards, I would love to hear from you in the comments below. I’m looking forward to exploring the neighborhood in person sometime soon. If you’re interested in learning more about the project, Curbed also just published, The ultimate guide to Hudson Yards.

Photo by Sandy Ching on Unsplash