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An interview about homogeneous towers

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My friend Randy Gladman, who is Vice President of Development at Triovest Realty Advisors, recently sat down for an interview with Alex Josephson, who is a founding partner of the Toronto-based architecture practice PARTISANS. 

The topic of discussion was the book that PARTISANS published last year (Rise and Sprawl) and, more specifically, why Toronto’s condominiums all look the same.

Firstly, let me admit that I haven’t read Rise and Sprawl from cover to cover. So take what you would like from my comments. Still, the book was very successful at spurring a lot of discussion within the industry and so I’ve been getting hit with it since it was released. 

Generally speaking, I fully support and commend their call for better architecture in Toronto. Here is an excerpt from Alex:

“There’s a subtle but critical distinction I think some people are missing about the book: We are not criticizing condominiumization; we are criticizing condo architecture. We support density and we support condos. Toronto has become a much more vibrant city as a result of the condo boom. But the values that are driving the designs are suburban. The virulent spread of homogeneous design? That’s practically the definition of suburban. The radiator balconies I mentioned? They’re the result of a hard-wired fantasy that, as Canadians, we all have some kind of God-given right to an outdoor space, namely a back or front yard. And parking lots. Why do we still own and drive cars in the downtown core? This is a serious problem totally born out of a suburban driving mentality.”

Where I struggle with the book is that it has always felt a bit idealistic, fanciful and, in some cases, elitist (as Randy mentions in the interview). Idealism can be great for spurring discussion (and drawing attention to a practice), but what are the root economic causes for what we are seeing? Virtually every building is a “spreadsheet in the sky”, not just the condo towers in Toronto.

That said, the discussion does acknowledge that profit will always drive projects. And I do agree with this particular comment about building heights:

“Anything above twenty stories is inconsequential from street level. So whether it’s twenty or a hundred storeys, I’m mostly indifferent. We are so obsessed in Toronto with height. But height equals money. If we can figure out a way to allow for more height in exchange for better design, we’ll end up with better buildings. But that kind of logic is just not embraced by the city planning culture here.”

Click here for the full interview in ArchDaily.

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