Architects and building designers beware, renowned architecture critic and veteran journalist, Christopher Hume, has revived his condo critiques, exclusively for TorontoStoreys.com.
If there’s one street that reveals the full failure of city planning in Toronto, it’s Sherbourne, especially the blocks south of Bloor. While some impressive late 19th- and early 20th-century houses on the east side are boarded up in advance of demolition, on the west side two residences from the 1800s have been restored, one tarted up with some of the most outlandish public art seen in these parts. Looming over everything is a pair of extruded residential towers so ridiculously oversized they make everything else look puny and ridiculous. The result is a mess.
No, the highrise architecture is nothing special, but the deeper problem here is one of planning. Do Toronto’s planners ever actually leave the office to go and see the effects of their decisions? Judging from what’s unfolded here, the answer is no. This is city building at its worst. What happens is that a developer offers to save and even restore a heritage structure and is rewarded with extra height. Who cares if what follows is urbanism at its least convincing?
The Selby, a minimalist 50-storey apartment tower, is particularly ungainly because of a cut-away notch on its southeast corner. The building doesn’t become a proper rectangle until the 38th floor, which is why it feels uncertain, awkward and top-heavy. On the other hand, the facades, simple and orthogonal, help keep things under control. The masonry cladding enables the building to stand out from the steel-and-glass highrises that proliferate in Toronto. And needless to say, the restored 1882 Gooderham mansion is magnificent.
Though sadly out of place now, if you block out the surroundings, you get a glimpse of what Sherbourne Street was before modern planners got their hands on it.