Views / Halifax

Tristan Cleveland: Shout-outs to Halifax developments that don’t suck

It's important to highlight the buildings that actually make our city better if we want to see more of them.

The W Suites development, left, vs. the Hilton on Brunswick Street.

Contributed/Tristan Cleveland

The W Suites development, left, vs. the Hilton on Brunswick Street.

What incentive do developers have to build good buildings in Halifax?

Not enough. They don’t get any faster treatment by the planning department, and few in the public ever celebrate good work. An attractive building may sell units faster, but the developer doesn’t get paid for contributing to a better street.

Regulation can prevent some crimes of bad design, but it can’t ensure great design. To encourage the good stuff, it may help to point out what developers do right.

So I would like to give a thumbs-up to buildings that do more than meet the minimum required by the rules. A city is its buildings, and these ones make ours better.

Street life

St. Joseph’s Square is a new building by Dexel in the Hydrostone. Its ground-floor shopfronts are small enough that local business can afford them, and so local businesses are there. Effectively, it extends the mood and activity of the Hydrostone Market around the corner.

The Trillium, by W. M. Fares, has done the same thing for Spring Garden Road. I neither love nor hate its tower, but its shops and wide sidewalk fill the street with people on summer days. These developments take our best places and extend their energy outwards.

Continuity

In addition to shopfronts, the ground floor of St. Joseph's Square is lined with townhouses. Instead of feeling like one massive block hanging over the street, it creates the sense of a neighbourhood of individual homes.

The Alexander, by Killam accomplishes something impressive. It feels like a logical extension of a heritage building, the Historic Market, without pretending to be a heritage building. Thanks to little more than the right materials, shape, and size, the two buildings make sense next to each other. We could use more of that simple attention to place.

Articulation

This word sounds like jargon, but its impact is the difference between a fart and a fresh breeze.

To see what I mean, consider a paradox: the Hilton on Brunswick has a three-story streetwall, yet it somehow feels more massive than W Suites, home of Uncommon Grounds on Barrington - even though that building is actually taller. What gives?

The difference is that W Suites doesn’t strike the eye as one overwhelming wall, but many small ones. It is broken up with awnings, windows, step-backs and ornamentation. What matters is not the sheer size of a building, but the way the brain perceives it. Articulation is just a word for those things that divide a wall up into reasonably-sized pieces for the mind.

The right direction

I wish I had space to make other shout outs to great buildings, but happily, the city will soon do it for me. In May, they will take a step in the right direction by celebrating the best new architecture with the Urban Design Awards. Hopefully, that will help spark dialogue about what the public likes, so we can encourage more of it.

The city should also give the green light faster to developments that meet the Centre Plan’s design goals. It doesn’t make sense to treat a developer who is doing the cheapest bare minimum the same as one trying to do something great.

We need more great buildings. We’d better make sure people have reason to build them.

More on Metronews.ca