News / Canada

Designers pay homage to history behind its building sites

When Roland Rom Colthoff, director of Toronto-based architecture firm RAW Design, was asked to work on a midrise condo near Halifax’s port, his team noticed the neighbourhood was replete with shipping containers. So they incorporated the containers into the building’s design.

Shipping containers

The shipping containers (visible on the side of the building) celebrate, rather than conceal, the industrial heritage of the neighbourhood, he says.

“We didn’t want to say ‘Oh, don’t worry, it’s industrial, but you’ll have a lovely house,’” he adds. “We wanted to say, ‘It’s industrial and you’ll have a great place to live and show off your pride as a Haligonian.’ (Condo buyers) can say ‘I’m part of the port. I’m part of the community.’” The 142-unit building, expected March 2016, has sold out.

Southport is one of a number of new or recently built midrise buildings across Canada that pay homage in a unique way to the space on which they have been built, in a bid by architects and developers to create a sense of community among residents, and stand out in a crowded market.

Just look at Vancouver’s King Edward Green development, which incorporates the famed Hobbit House (a picturesque fairy-tale house built in 1942) into its two-building midrise. Developer David Mooney says when a site has so much character, builders simply “have to find a way to preserve it. It shows we care about history and our heritage.”

Glass shingles

That’s not to say a condo has to conform to its historical roots to be a contextual fit for a neighbourhood, says Sasa Radulovic, founding principal and architect at Winnipeg-based 5468796 Architecture. He points to the Stradbrook midrise in Winnipeg that he and his firm worked on. Surrounded by historic wood-shingled houses, Stradbrook is wrapped in glass shingles, paying homage to its neighbours in a modern way.

It creates a mirrored paneling, letting the building literally reflect its surroundings. Another 5468796 unit in Toronto features zig-zagged townhouses, meant to mirror the neighbouring suburb that, when viewed from above, looks staggered like a staircase. At the Tree House development (currently in pre-sales), all the units face the courtyard, which is meant to encourage neighbours to interact, he adds.

Condo buildings are not isolated, adds Tudor Radulescu, architect and principal at Montreal-based Kanva. Buildings (and their inhabitants) are part of neighbourhoods, and they have to be woven into the urban fabric, rather than work against it.

Perforated steel

He points to a project completed in 2012 in a former Montreal industrial neighbourhood, which used to specialize in steel manufacturing. To pay tribute to that heritage, and to the two-storey building’s recent life as a movie and TV studio, the architects wrapped the four-storey extension in perforated steel, to give the building the illusion of a curtain.

Effectively, it fits and it’s nice to live somewhere that fits, he says.

“People are realizing they can buy a condo and it doesn’t have to be an anonymous 40-storey tower where you (only meet neighbours) when taking the elevator,” says Rom Colthoff. “They don’t want to buy square footage. They want to buy into a community.”

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