This proposal takes place in the context of a vibrant and changing community along Queen Street West. Located just west of Ossington Avenue, it is surrounded by the old and new; neighbourhood institutions, restaurants, bars, art galleries and small boutiques. The community as a whole has become a space of transition: the vibrant streetscape ranges from older low-rise historical buildings to mid-rise institutional buildings and mixed use high-rise buildings. Queen Street itself acts as a dividing line between the high-rise condominiums to the south and the low-rise residential neighbourhood to the north. This diversity of building typology, its neighborhood’s rich character and the sense of community makes the area a quickly-developing and highly sought-after place to live.
This urban infill project will be built on a 233m2 lot, 87m2 of which is occupied by an existing building that underwent renovations in 2013, and which now comprises a successful restaurant/bar on the ground floor, a residential unit on the second story and an architecture studio on the top floor. The client has requested three programs for this rear addition. First, a flexible commercial unit that can accommodate retail or restaurant program and be leased either in conjunction with the current ground-floor establishment or on its own. Second, three residential units. And third, a two-car garage. An existing breezeway will provide pedestrian access to both the commercial and residential units. Ultimately, the project aims to balance a number of competing concerns: the neighbourhood context, the client’s desires, the design intent of the existing building, strict zoning by-laws, and the architect’s own ambition to create a building of architectural significance.
The new building will assert its object-like presence through a clear geometric form. Set on top of the commercial podium, the three residential units employ a staggered footprint. Their pitched roofs emerge from behind the adjacent buildings and invoke a familiar figure: the shape plays with the icon of the traditional house. This shape is a comfort, fitting naturally in the context of the residential neighbourhood. Yet, the austere envelope also sets it apart from its ornate neighbours, an alluring anomaly in the surrounding streetscape.
Access and Courtyard
While vehicle and commercial service access is provided through the rear lane-way, the main point of entry to the mixed-use development is through a breezeway: at one end, the busy public street, and at the other, a small but active semi-private courtyard. The courtyard is a space in which the patrons of the commercial unit and the residents of the building can interact with each other. Setting the tall volume of the addition away from the street enables light to enter this outdoor space. The courtyard also provides a main entry into the commercial unit, with stairs leading to the residential podium.
The Commercial Unit
With much of the ground floor occupied by a two-car garage, the design takes into account the need to maximize the amount of leasable area. As such, it capitalizes on the basement level and provides a mezzanine above the garage which can be connected to the existing main floor, thus creating three distinct spaces, each with its own spatial character. While this design can suit a variety of programs such as retail space or a commercial art gallery, its current form has been conceived in collaboration with a local chef, who envisions a private dining and bar area on the mezzanine, a grand occupiable staircase for congregating and informal dining, and a large kitchen on the basement level that is visible from the staircase, enabling diners to view the food preparation process.
The Residential Units
Three distinct volumes sit on top of the commercial podium, each a nearly identical 3-story residential unit. Main access is through a set of stairs leading from the courtyard. At the top of the stairs, an outdoor platform overlooks adjacent balconies, thus inviting interaction and further fostering a sense of community. There is direct entry into each unit, giving it a townhouse-like feel. The unit design runs counter to the conventional apartment layout due to its vertical orientation. Thus, careful attention has been paid to enabling natural light to penetrate deep into the unit. On each floor, there are windows on the north and south walls. Light also enters through a large cutout on the third floor, and then travels into the unit through cutouts on each floor plate.
The main living space is on the bottom floor, and includes a small kitchen and a brightly-lit bathroom. The second floor overlooks the main living area. It can fit a queen-sized bed and has a large closet space. The third floor has a balcony and enough space for a small study. In total, even though each unit is only 48m2, the loft-like design and abundance of natural light gives it a larger feel than its actual livable area.
Sustainability and Technical Requirements
The building’s monolithic character results from the lack of decorative features, such as cornices and rain gutters. Likewise, specific zoning bylaws restrict the use of openings on the east and west sides of the building, which in turn contributes to its volumetric character. Instead, openings are cut on the north and south walls. During warm summer months, these operable double glazed low-E fiberglass windows can be opened to allow for cross-ventilation. Vertical orientation helps to produce the “stack-effect”, which allows heat to escape through the balcony door. In contrast, low window-to-wall ratio and thick insulated concrete walls covered with lime plaster create a thermal mass, which encourages heat retention during cold winter months. Sustainability is thus a crucial component of the overall design.
As a whole, this project is an exercise in architectural massing and typology. It aims to create change in this sensitive historic context without falling into either extremes of aggressive development or low-rise domestic conformity. It also expresses a scenographic desire to use architecture as a stage for an urban drama, which unfolds in the building’s breezeway, communal courtyard and elevated balconies. As such, the building becomes a silent witness to fleeting moments and strange encounters in the depth of the urban block in this layered neighborhood.