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Moneymaking Machines #6: King Toronto

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In February 2016 it was difficult to avoid the early proposal presented as Habitat 2.0. It maxxed the height to make mountainesque shapes that increased the number of upper level apartments with terraces. (The last thing you want is a building that goes from vertical to horizontal too quickly.) The image above shows how the development rises vertically from the site boundaries before doing the terrace thing. The technical term for this is “trying it on”. If you get “knocked back” you’ll at least be able to negotiate downwards from a higher position.

Apartments are pushed into four mounds called North Mountain, South Mountain, East Mountain and West Mountain. Doing this means perhaps three times as many terrace opportunities and apartments with higher prices. The number of problematic internal corners stays the same.

  1. A conventional perimeter block.
  2. A split perimeter block with twelve external corners instead of four.
  3. Elevator shafts and cores.
  4. The beginning of a new split between mountains.
  5. Four mountains instead of two, and five times the original number of external corners. Four vertical towers would have the same number of corners but would have balconies instead of terraces with open sky above.
  6. Mountain end edges represent the average distance between mountains (i.e. terraces). This distance goes from maximum at the top to zero at the bottom.

The original proposal would have been about fifteen or sixteen stories at its highest. As pictured below, the 45° geometry would have allowed the inner apartments to have long views along the yard rather than short ones across it but this doesn’t happen in the approved proposal, or even the one being marketed.

Last week’s post mentioned some of the decisions taken with respect to elevations deemed to have historic value but, parallel with these, were also deliberations regarding massing and height. Toronto City Council decisions of July 2018 recommended a revised proposal be accepted subject to the following matters being resolved.

  1. Shadow impacts from the proposed structure be reduced beyond the north curb of King Street West, past 12:00 p.m. (noon) on September 21st;
  2. Confirmation that a clear 5.0 metre step-back be provided above the majority of the new base-building height along the King Street West frontage;
  3. Confirmation of an agreement regarding the required easements and/or agreement(s) required on the adjacent property at 485 King Street West; and
  4. Replacement of 100 percent of the office space currently existing on-site, with a maximum of 20 percent of the total replacement office space that may be provided off-site. 

The first three must have hurt. When city councils imply they want the appearance of less building on the site they usually mean they want less building on the site. West King Street is on the north side of this development. 43.6532° N. This building is always going to cast shadows on King Street but, fortunately for the developers, the first item regarding shadows doesn’t state that there can’t be any, but only that they be reduced. This stipulation will act to limit the height of the building, or at least its average height. On the King Street West side, those mountains and valleys are about to average out and become less mountainey.

The second requirement for a five-meter setback above “a majority” of the new base building height along King Street West is intended to make the building less visible to people walking along the footpath on the other side of the street. This is another way of saying the same thing and will also function to reduce the maximum building volume.

There are two ways that “lost” building volume/profits can be clawed back. One is by making the hole in the middle narrower but this will reduce the value of that space as some kind of vibrant amenity/commercial/social/art space, and also reduce the number and value of any apartments for which it provides the only light, air and view. The other way is to fill in the gaps between the mountains. What happened was a combination of both. Height was reduced by leveling off mountaintops and filling in valleys, and the requested five meter setback above the historic elevations along King Street West was accommodated by slimming the courtyard from 22.5m to 16.0m–17.5m.

This next proposal was “current design” at one stage. It takes all the above considerations into account, and also has a total split across the site so the council must have also suggested that at one stage. Regular zig-zaggy mountaintops allocate the skyprint into the maximum number of terraces. This seems like some sort of knee-jerk reaction, perhaps generated to negotiate a compromise. It wasn’t implemented, and doesn’t reconcile with ether the approved or the marketing plans.

They describe the proposal for which final decisions were made July 2018.

There may be more external corners but a new problem arises. If you want to have multiple mountains then you’re going to have some valleys as well. The building is being marketed one mountain at a time so marketing and key plans do not provide the complete picture. “Residents will be able to see each other and say hello to each other,” Mr. Ingels says.” Many will also be able to shake hands.

In the plan above, the 45° geometry isn’t being used for long views along the yard and in fact works to reduce the views of the yard-end apartments. This next section through South Mountain is what I mean about the valleys. For reference, the grid line spacing is 9m.

“We try to be informed by some of the qualities we perceive in the surroundings and take them one step further,” Mr. Ingels says. In this case, the important “quality” is the maze of laneways and courtyards on the site. The mountains will frame a central courtyard, which opens to the street to the north and towards a new park to the south. At ground level, the courtyard will run up against the facades of the heritage buildings, which will contain retail and office space; and the courtyard itself will feature a dramatic design by local landscape architects Public Work, including a graphic paving pattern that imitates 1950s terrazzo [?], and a misting device they call a cloudmaker [!]. It will have restaurant patios, and there will be performances; Mr. Gillespie, whose company and partners will retain ownership of the retail and office spaces, promises a consistent slate of events. “It will be lively,” Mr. Gillespie says.

Are ray-traced mirror balls the new cherry blossoms?

All good but, with proportions like these below, is “courtyard” really the right word? For reference, the residential F/F height is 3.0m so the width is from 16 metres (window–to-balcony) to 17.5m (window-to-window). The lower side is the north side so King Street West is not overly overshadowed at noon Sep. 21. The higher north (KSW) side in the East Courtyard section/elevation (on the right, below) makes up for the shadow not cast [i.e. development lost] where the “courtyard” “opens” to the street. In other words, the apartments removed to open up to King Street West were simply added to the adjacent mountain, maintaining the average shadow cast. Either Toronto City Council wanted this building very badly, or somebody is a very good negotiator.

The east courtyard (at right, above) is 16 metres wide and 50 metres high on the lower, north, side.

But who cares? The approved drawings aren’t the ones being currently being marketed and which, I guess, are the ones about to be built. I’ve used marketing plans to create these next partial typical floor plans for North Mountain floors 5–12. King Street West is to the top of the image and the yard to the bottom. Layouts begin to weird on the 10th and 11th floors as the building rounds off KSW-side. Some layouts are variations on the classic 1-bed flat. Many feature an “atelier”/windowless room. Living rooms often double as corridors, leaving little space for furniture and no hope for rearranging it.

‘Yard apartments are mostly stacks of types such as #702 and #701 for corner situations and the sides mostly types such as #707 and #708.

All marketing plans are oriented to show the entrance at either the top or the side and this doesn’t make it easy to see them in the context of the key plans that only show the mountain being marketed and not the entire floor.

For better or worse, the arrangements fall into place but with less success and more contrivance for the upper floors where the building becomes thinner. This links to some marketing plans for South Mountain.

I would love to see some typical floor plans and apartment plans for how this development is to be built. Putting bathrooms above one another has always been good practice and you can work out where the stacks are. I’m assuming the municipal plumbing inspector allowed air admittance valves to be installed on all soil vent pipes – not that I was expecting to see soil vent pipes in a render.

None of this matters. Clearing the site for construction began June 2020 and 50% has already been sold. Stupid me.

In this post I’ve managed so far to not say anything about China. As if China didn’t have enough mountains already, there’s also been a recent spate of mountain buildings. These two images are from last September’s Arboreal Angst post. Thomas Heatherwick on the left and Stefano Boeri on the right.

Not all of China is mountainous but they do seem to just pop up. Oh look – here’s one! It’s actually bigger than a building – though not from this angle, and it’s got that profile we recognize.

Maybe King Street West is pitched at homesick Chinese but let’s not jump to conclusions. The development’s didn’t need to be so irregular to achieve the same marketable floor areas – a collection of identically stepped pyramids would suffice (as we saw was once considered) but the conscious irregularity, the promise to give every balcony a tree [of all things!] and cladding the cladding with trellises and growies all attempt to convince us to this development has the brute inevitability of Geology ornamented, as ever, by Nature.

Hardly any of the apartments have the cross ventilation I championed so keenly last week so maybe King Toronto was intended for Chinese investors to just invest in and not necessarily occupy? Evidence? Well, apart from it being the way of the world, all the apartment layouts I’ve seen are for floors 5 and above. There is a level 4 of residences that appears in the planning submission but is absent from all marketing material. Moreover, the floors that are being marketed don’t have apartments #504, #604, #704, #804, #904, #1004 or #1104. This is because the number four (四) is considered unlucky in China because it’s pronounced the same way as the character for death (死).

This was the elevator in my Shanghai quarantine hotel. (Eight is a lucky number in China and, in this particular hotel, all rooms were prefixed with 8. My room on the sixth floor was 8606.)

Not all Chinese investors are superstitious but I can’t imagine any developer risking it. It costs nothing to not have apartments with a 4 in their number. Prices start from $650,000, which might be for this apartment unless there are others in corners where the sun doesn’t shine.

The key plan is correct – it’s just not showing the terrace.
Planters around the terrace edges prevent people directly overlooking terraces below.