I’ve joked more than once that I travel thousands of miles to go visit apartment buildings… and my recent-ish trip to Toronto was no exception. There continues to be a condo boom in downtown, and it was encouraging to discover that – beyond the obvious example of BIG’s King project – many of them were willing to go beyond a banal box in the sky and reach for some design goodness. Including this one here, which I think would feel quite at home among the apartment buildings I saw while in Denmark.
On the whole it’s all pretty self-explanatory/evident, with shifting and interlocking cubic volumes to create engaging geometries that further define themselves in a distinctive base, mid, and, of course, the giant “bridges” that span from building to building. All aligned to create framed vistas towards the water and the Toronto Islands.
While it may not be as bold as some others (again, the obvious examples of BIG’s projects) it’s definitively solid work. Inviting, interesting, enlivening, and again great to see as a step forward for design in Toronto.
Pier 27 Condos by architects-Alliance
The interesting thing about a lot of infrastructure is that what it supports is often very heavy compared to more ‘typical’ commercial or residential uses. Which is why adaptive reuse of them is often easy from a structural perspective, since almost always the load is lightened compared to what they were used for in the past.
In this case, this isn’t so much a full adaptive reuse as a re-adaptive-reuse, for this water tower already sported several uses in between its support columns (water being so heavy, any extra weight by these floors and uses was negligible). But what had been only archives has been converted into student housing in a rather neat way, by having the apartments bust out from between the beefy columns. These extendy bits not only add floor space but, more importantly, catch light and views, making the small apartments feel expansive and cool. A trio of communal spaces spiral up the tower, complete with three balconies that catch the morning, noon, and evening sun.
Very slick idea, creating interesting and enlivening spaces for living out of an existing robust icon. Brilliant idea.
Jaegersborg Water Tower revamped by Dorte Mandrup
Habitat 67 always looks like a bit of a lark, like someone having fun with a 3D modelling program or concept art to create this replicating and interlocking set of cubes set in between two bodies of water. And, in some ways, it is… though not quite a lark, but instead a master’s thesis project in Architecture. A thesis project that, by a stroke of fortune, was built and today still stands as something quite unique.
Funnily, as I’ve been posting so much of the work of BIG architects, you can see their precedent (and likely inspiration) in Habitat 67 with their repeating forms and using the units around and below as landscaped garden terraces (though here, in the strong Montreal winters, many are covered in solariums).
Besides the crazy assemblage, it’s the cantilevered parts of the building that never ceases to catch the eye, the cubes seeming to be suspended in mid-air, again giving that impression of a 3D conceptual model stuck in mid-simulation, or one where the laws of physics has not yet been implemented.
Despite having some wear and tear, the complex is still going strong.
Delightfully I was leaving through some older architecture and design magazines and came across this cool article by the architect’s son, who lived in the complex in his youth. It’s a nifty little bit of insight into something so iconic. Worth a read!
Habitat 67 by Moshe Safdie
Alright, after our look at the exterior it’s time to head inside!
What’s immediately cool is that the inside speaks the same language as the outside, both in brick and in the sculptural concrete, with the addition of wood, and all embellished with the restrained but lovely arts & crafts-like detailing.
Plus some art on the windows…
…and this very cool light fixture that’s fully incorporated into the equally nice ceiling.
While basement multifaith chapel was redone more recently, its intimate wood vaults continue the tradition. Check out the ribs as well as the base of the vaults, with sculptural layers, joints, and more to subtly ornament the structure and the space. Plus the integrated light fixtures along the base that allow the vaults to glow and separate themselves from the walls all around.
Though now used less often for this purpose, this thesis defense room might be a bit intimidating… fortunately that glowing inverted dome of spiral pattern goodness might provide some levity.
The pièce de resistance is the dining hall. Even coming up the stairs you know something cool is happening. The space expands dramatically above you with the hall awaiting through a sculptural portal.
Once inside you’re treated to all its expansive and illuminated glory where all we’ve seen so far comes together in brick, concrete, and wood all within a multitude of sculptural forms and carved detailing. Inspiring enough that it was featured in Star Trek: Discovery season 4 episode 4!
Such a gem of a building. Engaging and welcoming, warmly crafted and articulated, and has a great spatial sense throughout. A definite boon for those in residence… I know I would’ve loved living there while I was in university. Great stuff!
Massey College by Ronald Thom
When I visited home a few months ago, I had the fortune of being able to tour Massey College, a graduate residence at the University of Toronto. Though built in 1962 I embarrassingly only learned about it a few years ago and had been wanting to visit ever since.
Right away you can see what captured my interest – it’s a lovely modern interpretation of an arts and crafts expression that also has a touch of Wright in it.
This all starts with the highly articulated brick walls, shaped into strong geometric forms that are further punctuated by openings or careful detailing, such as the copper caps or window sills, or even more intricate details such as the amazing metal work at the corners and the entry gate that could double as its own piece of artwork. (The cone does, admittedly, detract a bit…)
Crowning the clean lines of this base is the concrete and glass latticework that features sculptural flourishes and flair. (These give me vibes of the kind of sculptural work Wright did at the Hollyhock house.)
The whole thing is built to enclose a large central courtyard punctuated by a clocktower that reaches its sculptural fingers to the sky.
The whole affair has a great rhythm, with mass and bold slabs that never feel over scaled that all play nicely off the intricate and highly carved insets, all with a strong vertical emphasis. Very sweet piece of work, that only gets better on the inside… I’ll post that part next week!
Massey College by Ronald Thom
(Who, interestingly, also did many of the most famous buildings at Trent University.)
(The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University)
Perhaps one of the most famous architectural photos of all time. Certainly it is one of the most famous of modern architecture, and likely introduced many to this new mode of design and its new architectural ways, forms, and materials. It was built in 1957 as a Case Study House, which themselves are an interesting thing, some 36 home designs sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine as experiments in American residential architecture. This one, the Case Study House #22, overlooks Los Angeles by dramatically cantilevering the glassed-in and nearly transparent living room over the edge of the cliff, something this photo by Julius Shulman does wonders to highlight. To the eyes of the day it must have appeared completely otherworldly.
The Stahl House (Case Study House #22) by Pierre Koenig.
Is it gauche of me to post two BIG designs in a row? Feh, no matter, for I will use this to illustrate the ways they employ similar forms and ideas in responsive and different ways, and with a different language of materials. Behold, the appropriately named 79&Park (it’s next to a park, you see…)
Another of their “landform courtyard” style buildings, this one places the emphasis on wood and windows, with large vertical forms stacked upwards, each unit distinguishing itself with its own arrangement of fenestration. The result delivers order without rigidity, and variety without becoming a jumble.
Of course, the big moves still ring true here, with the stepped sections of the building responding to the aforementioned park while providing for both the courtyard as well as the sweet green rooftop gardens (complete with trees!). This arrangement also allows the units the most out of those giant windows, with plenty of avenue for light and views outward.
The killer is that this isn’t likely considered highly unusual or “grand luxury.” If my impression of the country when I visited was correct, this level of design is not that uncommon nor reserved for the hyper-well to do. It’s a recognition that quality of life affects us all, and why shouldn’t we strive for areas that shout, “this is a spot for living and living well!”
79&Park by BIG Architects.
If you looked at this and thought, “That looks like a BIG building,” well, you wouldn’t be wrong. One part 8 House, one part Mountain House, with the addition of a striking gesture towards the water.
Starting with a simple courtyard square shape, the building angles itself down on one end while angling upward on the other, allowing it to open itself towards the city while also embracing the water on the other. Really embracing, as the water flows into the courtyard for easy access. And really open, as a public path from the city rises up and circles the whole building along a green roof.
Unfortunately, there’s no interior shots I can find yet, so no idea what it’s like in those units with the giant angled windows that overhang the water…
Though I joked at the start about being able to recognize it, really there’s no knock against them to engage their well-tested features in new ways to create another neat and enlivening place to live.
Sluishuis by BIG and Barcode Architects.
Oh I dig this apartment building in Winnipeg. Looking much like something that would be at home in the Nordic countries, it takes a roughish site and elevates (pun intended) itself to create some nifty living spaces.
A floating donut of weathered steel and glass would not be a pretty fair description of the building. Supported by slender concrete pilotis, the hovering drum also sports a central aerial courtyard that gives access to the units. Impaled by the stair and elevator access, it’s a neat sculptural entry to one’s house.
The units themselves are interesting. No surprise, they are wedge shaped, and they place the more utility functions near the entrance, allowing the rest of the space to expand outward towards the fully glazed exterior wall. Unit type A is seriously… interesting, with the free-standing tub you have to pass by whenever you enter or leave. It can be enclosed by movable partitions, so it can still become a private bathing area, but it is certainly genre-breaking and subverts what we would consider “normal”!
As a final crown, the building takes advantage of the stair/elevator core to perch a glass box of a penthouse with a full 360 degrees of view.
I dig it. Something out of the ordinary, creating great living conditions on a marginal site, enlivening the city as well as those who inhabit it. Sweet design!
62M Apartments by 5468796 Architects (who also worked on this storage/gateway I posted about a while back, also in weathered steel)