Tag Archives: marketing

“In which brand shall we build?”

Way back in 2010, the home page of one of the first iterations of this blog had the following mission statement.

Have you ever thought Rem Koolhaas might be just another person? Or Harvard GSD not the centre of the Universe? Are you unmoved by biennali and festivali, and neither like nor ‘like’ anything on ArchDaily? Do you sense something’s very wrong with architecture? 
We do too. Welcome. 
Food and shelter are both essential for human life but food is anything from a bowl of rice a day to some exquisite mouthful for a moment’s pleasure. Junk food is somewhere in-between but so too is just the right amount of nutrition our bodies need. 
It’s the same with shelter. We’ve got bread buildings that fill, cake buildings that thrill, and junk buildings that make us want more. 
All misfits wants is a nutritious architecture that does the shelter thing well, makes us feel good because it is good for us, and that doesn’t cost the earth or cost us the earth.

Qualitative virtue and quantitative virtue are often presented as opposites but this simply isn’t so. If food can be both delicious and nutritious at the same time, then surely buildings can be too. Our architectural diet may contain a high proportion of junk buildings that do little or nothing for our physiologies but that’s our choice and our problem. We know they’re no good. Shifting from the perception of one to the reality of the other – rebranding – is tricky. It runs the risk of destroying what it was people liked in the first place. 


Most brands attempts aim to create new markets without alienating existing ones. This is particularly true for the music industry but the same holds for any of the marketing and PR-creative industries. Including architecture. “Not as good as the last one” is something no marketing director wants to hear. Every “lost his/her touch” has to be countered by an over-excited “[name of architect or firm – but usually Bjarke Ingels] is back on form!”


That mission statement also contained a warning to watch out for the homeopathic buildings that make all sorts of claims impossible to prove. That certain building products may cause illness is beyond a doubt. Some people may even have a valid preference for natural and unprocessed materials. Some materials are feelgood materials because they actually feel good. Smooth and polished wood handrails and door handles are just more pleasant to touch than metal ones. The quality and quantity of daylighting and ventilation has obvious connections for physiological well being. The size and shape of spaces influence acoustic comfort just as much as the surfaces of those spaces. There shouldn’t be any question regarding whether any of these should be sacrificed for some unproven link between visual input and aesthetic comfort, whatever that is. But there is.


As with anything else, we have buildings misleadingly labelled and sold. One example of this is greenwashing. A building looks like a “green” building because it has one or more tropes such as a green roof or a living wall usually associated with green buildings despite that roof or wall adding little tangible benefit in terms of thermal performance or even providing meaningful food. It’s one of the recent incarnations of the postmodernist mantra of a representation being better than the real thing.

0 GRAMS TRANS FAT? Unlikely. The small TM mark (at the bottom of the check mark) means nobody can copy that graphic or create anything that looks misleadingly similar. It means you are looking at a graphic and not at text intended to convey (verified) information.

• • •

For most of last century, architects strove to create their own brands even though we all referred to the architectural component of this as a “signature style”. Like bow ties and big-rimmed spectacles, it all seems rather dated and quaint now. The oldest of this old school is perhaps Frank Gehry irrespective of who designs the actual buildings. A Richard Meier building is usually recognizable as a Richard Meier Building. The same can be said of High-tech architects Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, the structural expressionist Santiago Calatrava and less expressionist architects such as David Chipperfield.

It was only in the mid-1990s that I became aware of the shift from personal “signature style” branding to corporate branding but, for a while, there was the hybrid phenomena of architect personalities with their own recognizable styles or approaches attempting to keep them independent of businesses that had their own reputations to uphold. We can think of Tom Ford at GUCCI or many a famous chef at some separately famous restaurant. It doesn’t happen so often these days, but over 1995-2005, there was

Will Alsop at RMJM,

Shaun (“sheikh whisperer”) Killa at ATKINS,

and Andrew Bromberg at AEDAS,

The unbuilt works of Andrew Bromberg at AEDAS are an oeuvre in themselves.

This variation upgrades the role of design director to a brand within a brand. The occasional project impossible to execute only reinforces the impression of visionary creatives but still grounded in reality. In the end, corporations are greater than their founders. Despite the stylistic tropes, the Richard Rogers Partnership and Foster + Partners became known for consistently producing buildings of a style and quality suited to either airports or large commercial or cultural buildings for a certain type of monied client. In the mid-1990s however, came the company machines of Jean Nouvel, Herzog de Meuron and Rem Koolhaas/OMA. Signature styles came to be seen as hidebound and uncreative and the goal was now to produce successive buildings that were not the same. The nature of branding was forcibly changed and buildings contrivedly different or novel from anything before were promoted as creative and innovative even though it was often creativity and innovation for the sake of creativity and innovation.

In the light of the death of Zaha Hadid 2016, Rem Kookhaas suggested Zaha Hadid Architects learn from fashion house Chanel and fashion house Alexander McQueen that successfully continued the brand without their founders. His choice of brand examples is telling. What about SOM? Or Palmer and Turner – a company that began in Hong Kong in 1868 and, since 1891, has been known as Palmer and Turner and, more recently, P&T Group, after Clement Palmer and William Turner. Clement Palmer designed the first Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building in Shanghai. That’s it on the left of Customs House.

Mr. Palmer was 23 in 1883 when it opened. Since the passing of Messrs. Palmer and Turner, the P&T group has managed to cope with 1,600 architects spread across 70 countries. The difference is that Chanel and Alexander McQueen fashion houses are brands producing goods known as designer goods because they have a designer’s name attached to them. It’s still early days for Zaha Hadid Architects.

OMA sources tell me OMA designers are not allowed to develop ideas from any project more than two years old.

Once a company becomes a brand in this way, the name behind the brand becomes irrelevant. In 2007, the Richard Rogers Partnership became Rogers, Stirk, Harbour & Partners in order to signal an awareness of the inevitable. Foster + Partners is keeping the line of succession veiled. What will OMA be without Rem Koolhaas? This is already being imagined, for Rem Koolhaas has said We are a partnership with nine partners each with their own individuality and talents, and that is increasingly recognized and also promoted by the company in terms of crediting partners individually for the work they are doing.” (Joshua Prince Ramus might not be convinced.) It doesn’t really matter with MVRDV or BIG as both acronyms are by now known more as names than for the people behind them. Or fronting them.

What to do? The idea of a company projecting an image of its perceived value to potential clients (or opinion makers) isn’t going to go away. That value can be tangible or intangible or a combination of both, and is subject to change and not necessarily driven by either producer or market. Architects will follow the money and the larger the practice the more money they need to follow. One could be mistaken for thinking that architecture doesn’t exist outside of harbour or waterfront masterplanning, airports and railway stations.

The job for any production facility then, whether factory, artist, fashion house or architecture firm, is to gain a reputation for delivering what the client market demands. If the market demands unceasing novelty, then what we get is an array of producers whose output may appear different but at the same time is somewhat samey. This was what I concluded from after this years Misfits’ Trienalle. It’s to be expected when the same firms compete with each other for the same commissions. The global architectural practice is a creature of its times. I look forward to a time when they are no more and there is space for smaller and more nimble practices not to take their place, but to do more nuanced local work for their local users. We don’t need a global architecture any more than we needed an international one.

• • • 

The Emotional Layer

This first image is courtesy of Moon World Resorts, Ltd., a Canadian consortium proposing to build a moon-shaped hotel in Dubai. The image says just that. Moon-shape, Dubai. It could only say Dubai more if Burj Khalifa was also in the image but that’s impossible because moon building is exactly where Burj Khalifa was last time I saw it.

Don’t take my word for it. You can deduce this from this next photo which actually is the last time I saw Burj Khalifa

Now, moonworld is either a shameless attempt to deceive, or some photoreal depiction of an idea that was never going to happen in the manner it was depicted. I hope the future owners of the planned 300 boutique apartments will be given more accurate information. But this emphasis on resolution or a certain kind of fidelity seems to be diverting attention away from other qualities architectural renderings ought to have – an honest attempt to depict some future reality being an important one. This lowering of standards for representational honesty has been going on for some time now. Here are three examples that all happen to have the name Zaha Hadid Architects associated with them. Two of the three are for projects in the UAE – which could also be circumstantial.

First is ZHA’s Opus which had a prolonged opening after a prolonged gestation. Despite being a stone’s throw from Dubai Water Canal, the proposed view from the window of one of its hotel rooms was of Dubai Marina some 16km down the road. Design Boom places these images at May 2014.

Laurian Ghinitoiu’s photographs from the building’s eventual publication in ArchDaily etc in 2019 were far more evocative than my construction snaps.

This next image I’ve had in my downloads folder for some time now. It’s of a building in some leafy place with a tropical sky that turns out to be Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Here’s two views of the site from 2003 and 2021. While pleasant enough and possibly within the bounds of artistic license, a person not knowing the context would believe this representation of the site is typical of what surrounds it.

My third example is the relatively recently completed Bee’ah Headquaters in Sharjah, UAE. I’ve mentioned this before.

Notwithstanding, the April 2022 announcement of the building’s completion was accompanied by photographs by Hufton+Crow (link) that are simply unbelievable – at least to anyone who’s ever driven along Al Dhaid Road. It’s the most render-like building I’ve never seen.

Previously, this project had broken new ground with a cartoony animation silhouetted against the sun setting in the south (not the MIR animation with the sandstorm we saw earlier) although, to be fair, that could have been before the building was flipped onto a site the other side of the road where the building wouldn’t be seen against a mountain of car tires [since removed, it looks like]. Now the thing is there, it’s amazing how out of place the building looks, even from orbit. And what’s with the green?

• • • 

This caught my eye in the recent 2’nd Misfits Trienalle. It’s sponsored content but that doesn’t make it any different from non-sponsored content that does the same cheerleading. The premise is that photorenders are now too realistic and, as a result, cold and unmoving apart from being a bit unnerving. A later episode in this sponsored story arc told us how children watching a preview of some animated movie were upset because the animated heroine appeared too realistic despite the children knowing they were watching a movie. This led to the mind-bending conclusion that something so obviously unreal can suffer if it looks too real. I understand this work “suffer” to mean it can’t produce the desired suspension of reality. One suggested solution was to make photorealistic renders look less real by incorporating various graphic stylizations to reassure people they weren’t looking at a photo of something that actually exists.

I’ll have a stab at unpicking this. First, we’re being asked to recalibrate on the basis of a false premise. Photorenders were never that perfect. Just thinking back from examples I’ve seen, there was always an overabundance of supercars, of children with balloons, of birds in formation, of multiple trees with all identical branches, of the Sun or/and Moon in the wrong positions, of shadows not agreeing with latitude/orientation/time of day …. Simply having the same amount of pixels doesn’t make a photo rendering a photo. Photographs can and are used to mislead, but the scope for manipulation is less. We still accept them as a reliable source of information and this, I think, is why the word photorender is used as if it were an indicator of quality.

We have to accept that photorenders are no more or less a fiction than the old watercolor “artist’s impressions” of yesteryear. If we don’t accept this, then we have to accept that what the built building will actually look like isn’t what’s wanted. The photorender is the result of architects and clients suspending reality for a while to move the project forward. I can imagine different styles of renders being produced accordingto target different types of stakeholder, including the media-consuming public.

The sponsored content said that adding an emotional layer will create a sense of place and provide even more value to a project, firm, client and community. I’m not sure how this can add value to a project, client or community or, now I think about it, how it can even add value to a firm. Will clients notice if this metaphorical emotional “layer” is switched on or off as its name implies? And if they do, is it worth them paying a premium when it’s really just visualizers doing their job in accordance with the latest fashion?

It’s not so much a fashion but a new name for something that’s been around a long time. As far as my technical quibble layer is concerned, too many renderers fail to notice the sizable hill behind Fallingwater and it’s actually quite difficult to get some sky in the frame unless you go for the dramatic, now dated, view from below the first ledge. These next three images all have the same emotional layer of interior warmth but the render ups the emotion by adding a solitary bird. This render may even have the same dpi and degree of detail as the two photographs below it but the context has gone all moon hotel.

The cover photograph of the booklet on the right above seems to have its blues and yellows pushed and, though this is prettification rather than emotion, it does draw our attention to how the massing of the house from this angle is rotationally symmetrical with that of the stream and rocks. If you know your colour wheel, then the horizontal and vertical blue lines of the water satisfyingly balance the horizontal and vertical orange lines of light.

It’s time to remember that the hand-drawn render on the right below was the only visual in a package that at one time sufficiently impressed a client to build America’s most famous house ever. The rocks are incorrect and the waterfall too linear but it was enough for Mr. Kauffman to imagine this house on his land. There’s an emotional layer with a cosy domesticity implied by the plants and somebody beating a rug from the living room window. I only just noticed another rug on the upper terrace. A red one. This render isn’t attributed to anyone so it’s probably not by Wright although I remember reading that Wright added a few flourishes of colour to the finished drawing. so the rugs and hanging plants are probably his suggestions. Who else would dare?

Fallingwater didn’t need photorendering once it was completed because photographs such as the one above left shot around the world almost immediately as it had only just become possible for photographs to be internationally transmitted by wireless. Perhaps Fallingwater wouldn’t have been so sensational if renders, updated renders and final renders had been drip-fed to the international architectural press for months and years prior.

We’ve been here before. Post modernism encouraged us to relate to products and our architecture emotionally in order to shift more units. Now we’re being told to relate to images of buildings in much the same way. It’s the same coldhearted value-adding economic imperative. I’d like to dismiss all this talk of an emotional layer as some harmless way of generating a new type of kitsch but, since we live in a world where numbers of likes (or citations) is taken to indicate value, the more lasting damage will be caused by these very shallow definitions of emotion becoming the yardstick for quantifying the real thing felt by real persons in real buildings. “It’s just like the photorender!” will become the ultimate praise.

Reading The City

This is the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo. Some years ago now, I read that the city’s mayor had banned signage on buildings because he knew his city wasn’t the prettiest city in the world but thought people weren’t looking at the city enough because they were too busy reading it. Removing signage didn’t make Sao Paulo any prettier but the absence of things to read did make it strange. It became visually quiet, and people suddenly noticed it and looked at it anew. The mayor was right.

This particular corner of Dubai has changed slightly since I took this next photo but it’s also strange for the same reason. The property development company DAMAC began putting their name on all its developments and, not to be outdone, the much larger property development company EMAAR began doing the same. A signage race followed.

Dubai’s Downtown area is almost fully developed by EMAAR so it’s slightly bizarre seeing almost every tall building with an EMAAR sign. In this next image, the one on the left has a sign on its roof for the benefit of observers in Burj Khalifa which would be the only EMAAR building in Dubai without signage if at night-time the entire south side of Burj Khalifa didn’t become a huge LED display.

There’s a lot of visual information in east/south-east Asian cities in general and Chinese ones in particular. One of the most common forms is signage silhouetted against the daytime sky and illuminated at night but, unless you can read Chinese, it’s just colorful graphics and not information. It only becomes noise if you can read it.

But all of us understand numerals and, when you see them on buildings, they’re probably telephone numbers in easily remembered sequences of eight and, if you’re in China, with many of the lucky number eight. Graphically speaking though, one telephone number looks much like another. Unlike language signs that convey meanings such as identifiers and other information, telephone numbers are pure information and old-fashioned hyperlinks to more information. These ones below are one and a half storeys tall and fairly awesome.

The Chinese language can be written and read vertically as well as horizontally so it’s suited to reading text scrolling up buildings kitted out with LED. The text on the building to the left in this next photo is saying Celebrate Joyously National Day but others in the genre might ask us to celebrate other things such as low-interest bank loans.

Some spectacular moments in cities have been propelled by the synergy of high property values and advertising. New York’s Times Square was probably one of the first. Neon signage took it to another level.

Daylight readable LED took it to another.


It’s a similar story for London’s Picadilly Circus.

I can’t help feeling something’s been lost but I’m not going to upset myself about it. Asian cities have their signage hotspots too. This next is Tokyo’s Ginza san-chome intersection. It’s held up quite well, probably because there are few large signs and the top of the round San-ai Building has always been the dominant position, its sponsor changing once only every few decades. Most of what we see here is not general applied signage but specifically intended to indicate places of business.

This characteristic is shared by bar and restaurant signage in the less nodal streets of Ginza or Shinjuku or, for that matter, even the nodal parts of Shibuya, Ikebukuro or Roppongi. It’s all just haptic stimulation if you can’t read it and, even if you can, you need to know where you’re going before you can even begin to look for that place you were told about.

Hong Kong has a rich history of neon signage that’s steadily being dismantled. There’s much to read though, and some of it in English. Hong Kong’s signage is distinctive for being mostly independent of buildings and establishments. What’s interesting is not how the buildings of the city have been disguised but how they’ve become irrelevant. We’re too busy reading to notice or care.

Hong Kong signage is like Las Vegas signage in being physically independent of buildings even though it denotes places and conveys messages about them. The famous EAT sign tells us architecture is irrelevant. It’s now clear the I AM A MONUMENT sign is a sad cry of denial.

If architecture was once a sign, then it was only one during the day before LED came along. Suddenly, illuminated buildings had a new type of surface pattern that made buildings strange but only at night. (Surface was already the new shape even before the 2008 economic crisis made the decadent display of structural excess expensive as well as stupid.) First came colour, initially with blue point lights that were the most legible at night.

Buildings that were in too much of a rush to appear modern had early LED prone to failure. In Dubai, you could always rely upon The Address Hotel to have at least three strips either misfiring or that needed fixing or replacing. The hot humid climates aren’t kind to external electrics.

Here’s a night view of Shanghai showing buildings lit mostly in monocolour.

It soon became possible to have buildings that change colour and, thanks to devices such as these below, change colour quickly. It was now possible for the surface of any building to be a giant LED screen.

Across Shanghai’s Bund, buildings lit evenly, stably and warmly let you know you’re in an historic area.

This message is reinforced by the absence of any but the subtlest advertising. These tunable LED are an example of connected lighting – which means lighting for the entire street can be controlled as a single array.

Connected lightning has been a thing since at least 2016 and is about much more then using your smartphone to set and adjust domestic lighting levels. On scales such as historic quarters, it brings a coherency that architecture and urban planning either didn’t or couldn’t. Historic quarters don’t want or need the vibrancy and dynamism that over-fast cycles of lurid colours and novel motion graphics have come to represent.

These next three examples are of urban-scale connected lighting. The middle one is in Suzhou, framing an RMJM building of typology globally known as pants. The image on the right is the city of Hungdao and this blog [from where the photo comes] has a fairly long video showing these and other buildings in action.

Once buildings are connected and connected in arrays, they can be used for disseminating single messages for whatever purpose, as strikingly used in the 2018 Farhenheit 451 remake.

Whether connected or not, LED building wraps exist not so much to prettify buildings or cityscapes but to monetize building facades by turning them into advertising space. To date, there’s been very little attempt to monetize the skies. Skywriting wasn’t uncommon in the 1960s but it was more to advertise some beach event or soft drink than it ever was for for personal messages. It was compelling but half the fun was trying to guess what the message was going to be.

Digital skywriting or “skytyping” uses a row of light aircraft flying inline as a lo-res dot matrix printer. It requires optimum weather conditions but it’s daylight readable.

Anything to do with the sky is going to be affected by weather conditions to some extent. Not much progress has been made with projections onto clouds or advertising on blimps. Blimps with point lights advertising Asahi beer I think it was, were a feature of Tokyo evening skies circa 1990. We all looked up amazed at this things we never saw wherever we were from.

For decades we were all happy with fireworks making events out of the nighttime sky. Fireworks have their own rules and are resistant to being shaped into messages. Their appeal remains a haptic one amplified by music. The event itself can only be used for that lesser form of advertising known as sponsorship and so we’re never allowed to forget who’s paying for them and why.

For a people who invented fireworks, the Chinese have quickly embraced the drone shows that have made fireworks appear lame. Drone shows don’t generate noise or smoke and the positions of their light sources aren’t determined by chemical reactions and gravity over time. They therefore have greater expressive potential and, when the sky can become a huge LED screen, are compelling. So far, the 2020 Shanghai New Year drone show remains the benchmark for what these things can do, “these things” being some 3,500 drones programmed to position and illuminate as a single display. There’s videos all over the internet. We’ve not seen the sky do things like this before.

It’s evolving quickly. On April 15 this year about 1,500 drones were used to advertise the launch of some video game. The drone show recreated some characters from the game before ending with that now ubiquitous hyperlink, the scannable QR code. It’s probably a first glimpse of some future hell but, for now, it’s audacious, impressive and every bit as compelling as we’d expect any huge sign suddenly appearing across the sky commanding us to do something to be. I don’t know what it means but, compared to the communication range and power of architecture as signs, it’s awesome. True, it’s bigger, but the buildings have also became small.

Other than that, I don’t know what to say about all this other than note a progression from small to large, as well as a constant drive to identify and monetize any space left to be monetized. Buildings as branding and buildings as carriers of defined or even arbitrary messages are all beginning to feel like dinosaur concepts from the past. It’s high time anyway we stopped trying to load buildings with characteristics neither novel nor intrinsic and instead focus on making them better at the things they do best and that already make them unique.



Moneymaking Machines #6: King Toronto

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.


The Terrace

Stacking dwellings will create a high-rise building with only one rooftop but only partially stacking them will create many partial rooftops known as terraces. The people of town of Masouleh probably think of theirs more as paths or roads.

The ground floor can also have a terrace and many of Edwin Lutyens’ houses have paved ones immediately outside the living room. This is why the terrace is associated with the outdoors, gardens and their enjoyment.

Robert Mallet-Stevens was a master of terraces whatever level they were. These next photographs are of his Villa Cavrois constructed 1929-1932.

The rooftop terrace is also known as a rooftop and part of the pleasure of being on one comes from appreciating being distanced from the spaces below. This relationship of sorts doesn’t exist when there’s no reason to think about what’s below. The terrace loses its identity as a rooftop and takes on the nature and feel of one’s own piece of property or land just outside the door – a notion amplified by this next project that’s a freeform inclined mat building.

BIG’s Mountain Building and Kiyonori Kikutake’s Pasadena Heights are inclined mat buildings having more rigid geometries.

The configuration of Moshe Safdie’s Habitat ’67 in Montreal isn’t as freeform as it looks or is believed to be, but that hardly matters now half a century on. It must have been fiendishly difficult devising just one sixth of it so I’m not surprised the one agglomeration of apartments was mirrored and and repeated three and a bit times.

Having a terrace overlooking those of others or, rather, being overlooked by those of others is the main disadvantage of partial stacking whether freeform or not. Overlooking can be ameliorated by fine-tuning window positions but any supposed economies of prefabrication will suffer. In the end, one simply has to not be too sensitive over it.

In any case, overlooking at Habitat ’67 is mainly a problem May to October. For the rest of the time, less hardy people can still appreciate the open space of the terrace through a door or window because the original virtue and fundamental property of the terrace is proximity to space open to the sky. It’s the joy of property possession, downscaled.

Jean Renaudie can’t not have known of Habitat ’67 when he was designing his Ivry-sur-Seine apartments completed 1970. They’re also not be as freeform as they appear but the underlying geometry is more inscrutable.

It’s like Habitat ’67 in being difficult to comprehend but unlike it in being difficult to photograph. There are no long shots across water.

Time and Nature have been kind to it. It’s many terraces have been cultivated to enhance their identity and enjoyment as a certain kind of property known as a garden. The same problems of overlooking and of being overlooked remain, but the plants diminish the perception of both. Decreased daylighting is now the price to pay.

The problem then, is how to

  1. Provide the space of terraces open to the sky, to the maximum number of apartments,
  2. Minimize the number of terraces that overlook or are overlooked, and
  3. Not compromise daylight in and views out.

These are almost certainly mutually contradictory because solutions aren’t forthcoming. We can’t say Habitat ’67 or Ivry-sur-Seine cracked it, but Moshe Safdie was one of the first to have another go. This next is a photograph of his forgotten Habitat 2.0 begun in Puerto Rico in 1968 and not completed soon after. There’s no prefabrication on show and not many terraces either. Habitat 2.0 seems to have been more branding than typology.