The Banality that is Toronto's Skyline

Condominiums keep popping up in downtown Toronto faster than you can say Jiminy Cricket. One wonders when the downtown core will have reached saturation point?

What is rather curious and disturbing is that most of the recent condos that dot the skyline have a proliferation of glass and spandrel panels as the key exterior cladding materials. They all, with rare exceptions have a distinctly similar appearance. Certainly one has to assume that construction costs would be the key driver that has pushed developers to all adopt the same material palette. Although it is a good thing that many more people can live and work in the core it is unfortunate that visual blight is the ultimate outcome of this condo boom in the core.

It is unlikely that the concept of stacking residential units on top of one another is going to change any time soon given that this model is assumed to be the most cost effective means of housing people. Certainly what can change is the form, volume and cladding of these buildings. Condo developers would probably argue that their particular project has a distinct identity within the field because they have...say...lime green spandrel panels strategically placed on the skin of the building. As a quick diversion I would say that the most delightful single family neighbourhoods in North America are successful because there is a combination of diversity and quality in the housing stock. Oak Park in Chicago comes to mind. There is also a combination of old and new.

The problem with the downtown condo supply is that the lack of variety makes it incredibly boring. Why for example can’t an entire floor be eliminated say at the 10th floor so you could see through the building except for the elevator shafts, stairs, etc. Perhaps one could figure out a way to have a few ‘stretched’ floors that would change the typical floor to floor monotony. How about introducing brick or precast all the way up instead of just on the lower levels? These ‘modifications’ would not come without costs, but maybe it is time that developers and city planners start taking responsibility for the long term aesthetics and enjoyment of the city. Too often it is forgotten that the whole is the sum of the parts and if the parts are not all that exciting then the whole will suffer. Cities must inspire not only the people that live in them but also if they are smart to the people who will be visiting them. If the city is dull architecturally that does not bode well for people wanting to visit. They will simply visit elsewhere like Chicago, New York, Paris or London where the framework is more dynamic and interesting. We live in a global village where the world is watching our every move. It is time to exercise some creative intelligence in how we execute condominium projects in the core of the city.

- Bruce

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