First of all, please stop saying “very unique.” There are no varying degrees of uniqueness; something is either one of a kind or it isn’t. This is a pet peeve of mine, but not something I usually bring up. After hearing speaker after speaker utter this phrase at Thursday morning’s One Bloor press conference, however, I thought it was worth mentioning.
On the other hand, it means that the project’s developers, architects, etc. appreciate the intense specialness of the Yonge and Bloor intersection where they will be building a 65-storey condo. “This is the most important corner in the GTA, and possibly in all of Canada,” said Baker Real Estate president Barbara Lawlor. While one would expect a realtor to say that about any given location anywhere, in this case the hyperbole may very well be true. Which is why the project is so disappointing.
Certainly, it’s pretty decent as far as condos go, and in a whole other league than the edifices on the other three corners. But that doesn’t mean that this is what Yonge and Bloor needs or deserves.
Rosenberg’s fantasy vision at left, Brown + Storey’s at right. I assure you they were both much larger and prettier in print.
Last June, the Star‘s Christopher Hume commissioned respected landscape architects Janet Rosenberg and Brown + Storey to envision what the then-in-limbo site could look like as a public square. Their gorgeous renderings were published in the paper.
So I became curious when I found out that the very talented Rosenberg (known for, among other things, HtO Park) was involved with the new One Bloor project. It turns out, sadly, that her contribution is largely limited to the private terrace on the seventh floor, a dazzling space that will be restricted to the building’s residents, like a great painter’s masterpiece hidden away in a private collection.
What the seventh-floor terrace of the One Bloor condo will look like. Note the neato wide fireplace at the far end.
In that same article, Rosenberg told Hume, “Yonge and Bloor is a really important spot, and it’s completely uncelebrated. Putting up another condo there would make it invisible. We want people on the streets, not in their condos…This could be a great public space.”
I asked her yesterday if the design she created for Hume was still her ideal vision for the corner. She laughed a bit, and said, “Well, you’re asking a landscape architect.” She reiterated that the city could most certainly use more parks and an improved public realm but emphasized the streetscape improvements (wide, granite sidewalks, new trees) that One Bloor will bring. Even though they don’t display her characteristic flourishes, she got to work on the elements at grade, too.
I also asked if she finds it more fun to design spaces for the general public or for private residents. Diplomatically refraining from a direct answer, she explained that she’s become more of a pragmatist, at least with regard to this corner and the realistic possibilities for it. This, from her perspective, I understand. But it doesn’t make me less regretful. As I told her, the terrace looks like it will be a great space at that intersection, but I fear that I will never get to see it, except from the ground.
In a profile of Hume that I wrote for the Spring 2009 issue of POV Magazine, I observed, “A building should become part of its surroundings rather than wall them out; how a structure looks and feels to those on the outside is at least as important as what it does for people on the inside. When Hume reviews new condominium projects as the Star‘s architecture critic, he limits his observations to the exterior. Developers, planners, and architects should ask not what the city can do for them but what they can do for the city.”
Oh well. It’s not too late for Yonge and Eglinton.
Jonathan Goldsbie was involved with the Toronto Public Space Committee’s ultimately unsuccessful campaign to create a public square at Yonge and Bloor.