Two years ago, Urban Capital’s director of development Taya Cook was incensed when she saw a magazine article that celebrated 17 of Toronto’s top city builders and listed only men. She reached out to Sherry Larjani, managing partner at Spotlight Developments and together, they assembled an all-female ‘dream team’ to create Reina, a mid-rise boutique condo in Etobicoke that takes its name from the Spanish word for ‘queen.’
The development on The Queensway on the former site of the infamous strip club, House of Lancaster Gentlemen’s Club, was conceived as a project that would raise awareness of gender inequality and the roles females can play in the building industry.
Women of Reina, take a bow. Your game-changing development is deservedly Toronto Storeys’ Project of the Year.
The final design for the nine-storey, 197-unit building was unveiled this summer, after a year of in-depth consultation and collaboration with colleagues, potential purchasers and community members of all ages. Sales launched in September, with construction anticipated to start next year.
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Reina’s final design is a modern and minimalist building that treads lightly on the street, with a ‘quilted’ effect white brick exterior, soft curves, rounded corners and picketed wraparound balconies, designed by Heather Rolleston, principal, BDP Quadrangle. The flowing design continues inside to a crisp white lobby with wood finishes, textured wall coverings and bathed in natural light with views to extensive greenery in the courtyard.
Cook and Larjani were shocked when their kick-off design charette that they expected 60 people would attend ended up attracting 170.
“It was amazing,” said Larjani. “Everyone was participating and drawing and writing down points.” They followed that up with a questionnaire on their website, held design contests for university and college students and younger kids, and even collaborated with the Girl Guides.
“One thing we heard that is most condos are designed for the young and chic and look like modern hotels, so we had to consider how design can be extended to include families with young children or seniors,” says Cook. What they heard was that people wanted a place that was warm and inviting, and that felt like home.
The need for adequate storage was an issue the women heard over and over again. That resulted in a building that maximizes storage, including stroller parking on almost every floor to accommodate parents with young children. The Queensway Village neighbourhood is becoming increasingly popular with families, so Reina includes two and three-bedroom plans at a larger size than required by the City of Toronto’s ‘Growing Up Urban’ guidelines. And as multi-generational living is a growing trend, Reina also includes plans with in-law suites.
They also heard that people wanted a sense of community, so Reina’s 6,500-square-foot exterior multi-use courtyard will have barbecues, dining harvest tables, shared outdoor workstations and a children’s play area. Cook and Larjani noticed that parents and their children were walking through the Reina site to get to nearby schools. To give back to the neighbourhood, the building was stepped back and a linear walkway incorporated to allow for safe passage for kids heading to and from school.
The interior amenities – encompassing more than 5,000 square feet and 25% higher than the city requires – accommodate varied ages and interests, including a gym designed for all ages, with resistance training, weights and cardio machine. Other amenities include a yoga studio with a view into the kids’ playroom so moms can see their kids while they work out; a soundproof room for music practice, movie watching or meditation; a hobby room with industrial sink, work table and work bench; library; games room; community room with kitchen; pet wash and car-charging stations. One idea that became reality after the Reina’s team collaboration with the Girl Guides is the Snack Shack, a 24-7 room outfitted with seating, a coffee maker, vending machines and essentials such as toilet paper. Another innovative idea is the Sharing Room to be stocked with items that residents need only occasionally and don’t want to own or store, such as ladder, drill, pop-up crib and blender.
Suites will have 9-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling rolling doors and wide-plank laminate flooring. Kitchens are open-concept with built-in pantry and integrated bookshelf to the living room, while bathrooms have undermount sinks, stone countertops and mirror-medicine cabinet hybrids. The south side of the building will have expansive terraces and 8th and 9th floor double-storey penthouses will overlook the courtyard and Etobicoke’s Lake Ontario waterfront.
As well as Cook, Larjani and Rolleston, the Reina team included Lisa Spensieri of BDP Quadrangle Jane Almey, managing partner at Bluescape Construction Management; Emily Reisman, partner at Urban Strategies; hydrogeological engineer Nataliya Tkach and environmental engineer Stacy Meek of EXP; structural engineer Fatima Shakil, principal at Adjeleian Allen Rubeli; Tara Chisholm, senior project manager at WSP Group, a top global consultancy firm; Fung Lee, principal at PMA Landscape Architects; and ManLing Lau, vice-president of sales at MarketVision Research. The majority of the team members have extensive experience in the building industry.
According to Demographics & Diversity: A Portrait of Ontario’s Unionized Construction Industry (December 2019), women account for only 12% of Ontario’s construction industry workforce, including off‐site occupations such as business administration, management and sales. Female representation in on‐site occupations and skilled trades is significantly lower at 3% and they account for 2% of the unionized workforce, half the rate (4%) of the non‐unionized sector.
Cook and Larjani have been overwhelmed with the positive response to their all-female project, including from male colleagues in the industry who have thanked them for serving as an inspiration for their daughters. So, are Cook and Larjani already planning their next women-led development?
“Reina is our baby and right now, we want to focus on getting it built,” says Cook.
Larjani points out that the main objective of Reina was to bring awareness about women’s roles in the industry: “We’ve proved our point and can move on to other projects now.”