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Her Majesty's Pleasure rethinks salon concept

You’ll be forgiven for not knowing quite what you’re passing when you pass Her Majesty’s Pleasure on King at Portland at the bottom of the just-occupied Freed Fashion House condo.

Technically, it’s a salon. But from the street, it looks like an especially well designed cafe, the sort we’ve tried to have around these parts, the sort the Marilyn Monroe Cafe tried briefly to be. And it’s that, too. It’s also a bar.

“We noticed, in the first week, it was interesting how people discovered the place,” says John Tong, the designer behind the project. “If it was just a beauty salon, people would just walk by. Because we put the cafe and bar up front, people saw that, came in, saw the display case, saw the croissants, walked a little bit farther back, saw some retail, and then you look through the glass screen between the bar and salon and you see: 'Oh my gosh you’re in a beauty salon.'”

The idea behind the place came from the owners, architecture student Sara Kardan and former investment banker Jeff Armstrong.

Tong, who designed Civello’s on Queen Street some years ago with a tea bar in the back, sees this as the logical extension of the concept.

“In the process of mapping out the customer engagement, it turned itself inside out. We fronted it with a cafe and bar, with reception midway through the journey through the place at a retail intersection before ever seeing any services,” he says. “We really brought people’s attention to the idea that these services are the backdrop to social interaction.”

Tong describes the aesthetic as a balance between masculine and feminine, the better to draw in a larger crowd than would generally find itself in a salon, and to cater to the male companion of she who is about to be primped.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: John Tong

Weekend planners walk scopes out West Queen West

This weekend, about 65 people walked around  bits of Ward 18 with their councillor, Ana Bailao, and a few of the city’s planning staff talking about Queen Street past and future.

“We discussed everything from public space to the heritage buildings,” Councillor Bailao says, “how the older buildings were in relation to some of the new condos. The Gladstone, what is now the Theatre Centre that used to be a Carnegie library. How people see all that integrating is really important.”

It’s an approach to the public meeting the city’s been using for a few years now, getting citizens out of the meeting rooms and away from the Powerpoint and into the streets.

“I think it’s extremely valuable,” Bailao says. “You experience the environment you’re talking about, the heights of the buildings, the light, the contrasts; you’re looking at what’s going to be the new park.”

The walk, and the report that will follow in February based on the participants comments, is the result of a November, 2013 city council decision to do a planning study of Queen between Bathurst and Roncesvalles, an area that could, given recent precedent, end up being known as West West Queen West, or Queen West West West.

According to the city, the study is looking at “heritage character and value of buildings in the area, built-form and height of new developments, existing policy context, transit capacity and parking in the area, public space improvements, understanding and defining the character of the street and developing a vision for future development along the street.”

A preliminary report was issued at a more traditional community consultation on July 10 of this year.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Ana Bailao

R.C. Harris, Village by High Park win masonry awards

Masonry may sound a little old fashioned, a description of the way buildings were built before we learned how to use steel and glass to such tepid effect.

But every four years, we are reminded of the fact that masonry didn’t disappear with the advent of the International Style, it just went underground, or beneath the surface, anyway.

“The component in most buildings that is load-bearing is masonry,” says Sandra Skivsky, the spokeswoman-of-few-words for the Ontario Masonry Contractor’s Association.

Getting her to speak about the quadrennial Ontario Masonry Design Awards, which took place Nov. 15, was like playing an especially unsuccessful game of Atari Breakout, ponging away brick by brick to try and get at the value of masonry in Toronto’s booming building market.

For the uninitiated, masonry is any sort of building material put together with mortar. In the past, this was largely bricks. Today, it’s mostly cinder block, which tend to form the infrastruture behind veneers of brick, stone or other, more attractive material.

A quick look through this year’s winners, which cover projects since 2010, offers a glimpse into the range of masonry work being done in the GTA.

The Village by High Park, built for Options for Homes by Burka Architects, with masonry done by the Gottardo Group, won for best use of masonry in the residential high-rise category, Ireland Park for commemorative design, and the R.C. Harris water treatment plant for restoration.

“What we look at is the aesthetics, the volume if masonry that’s in a project, and the workmanship,” Skivsky said, and then was silent.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Sandra Skivsky

Mega Six Points intersection takes shape

The first watershed for the reconstruction of the mega-intersection known as Six Points has been reached, with the grading of Dundas Street West.

Peter Milczyn, former councillor for the area, now the riding’s representative at Queen’s Park, and well known city-planning and design geek, tweeted out a picture on Friday of the site, which looks like a bit of a wasteland at the moment, but will soon be a key element in the large-scale reconfiguration of the area.

The project, officially known as the Six Points Interchange, has been years in the planning, and is meant to support the development of the central Etobicoke area around the intersections of Dundas, Kipling and Bloor as a residential, commercial and transportation hub.

Much of the residential development is already underway, with Kipling station already engulfed by towers trading on the site’s current subway and highway access, and future Metrolinx hub status.

In addition to re-organizing the roads, the project includes upgrading and re-arranging major infrastructural elements such as watermains, sanitary and storm sewers, as well as telecom and hydro. The project also includes plans to incorporate what’s known as “district energy” into the area, generating and sharing heat from central hubs, obviating the need for individual heating plants for each building.

"This work is the implementation of the vision for the Etobicoke City Centre to create a pedestrian friendly urban community," Milczyn says. "The City Centre Streetscape Plan will be implemented with wide sidewalks, street trees, bike lanes, public parks. The City of Toronto will then be able to release a portion of its 20 acre land holdings for redevelopment. The first project will be a YMCA Community Recreation Centre, followed by retail, office, and mixed use development."

Workers will be on the site from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday until it’s completed in roughly four years.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Peter Milczyn

BMO renovations finally ready for their big reveal

Branch No. 1 of the Bank of Montreal, at the bottom of First Canadian Place, is nearing completion of its first renovation since 1979.

“The whole branch was renovated to showcase our new retail design standards and reflect the bank's new branding strategy,” says BMO spokesman Ralph Marranca. 

Designed by Figure 3 and Kearns Mancini Architects, the renovation will set the standard for a roll-out of similar renovations across the country when it’s completed in December.

The re-design follows the years-long re-cladding of the entire tower, Toronto’s tallest commercial building, replacing its eroding (and occasionally falling) exterior marble panels with fritted glass at a cost of $100 million.That project was led by Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects and Bregman and Hamann Architects in 1975, on the site of the Old Toronto Star building and Old Globe and Mail building.

At the time of its construction, the tower was the sixth tallest building in the world. While it's fallen considerably from those ranks (recent estimates put it around 95th place, though that might be generous), this renovation aims to bring the tower up to snuff in terms of modern design. As someone wise probably once said, size isn't everything. 

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Ralph Marranca


Airport tunnel enters final phase

It's hard to tell which is more impressive: That the Billy Bishop Airport tunnel just won project of the year from the Tunnelling Association of Canada, or that there’s such a thing as the Tunnelling Association of Canada.

Last week, the concrete was poured to create the floor of the tunnel’s mainland pavilion, and this week, the first of two water mains that have been built into the tunnel will be hooked up.

It’s the final stage of the project begun in 2012, to create a six-minute pedestrian connection to Billy Bishop Airport, Canada’s ninth busiest. Beginning in a few months, passengers and employees will be able to use an elevator to descend 30 metres to subterranean moving sidewalks that will take them under the bit of water known as the Western Gap at a speed of 2.3km an hour so they no longer have to wait for the ironically named Marilyn Bell ferry to transport them across one of Lake Ontario’s shortest spans.

“Right from the start, the Toronto Port Authority has worked to ensure that this tunnel was designed and constructed in a manner that puts the traveller experience first,” said Ken Lundy, the city’s director of infrastructure, planning and environment in a prepared statement. “Building a tunnel of this scale and complexity while maintaining efficient operation of a busy airport is no easy feat, but we were up to the challenge and are proud to have the project recognized by the Tunnelling Association of Canada.”

The tunnel will open as soon as those moving sidewalks and elevators are installed, and the final landscaping is completed.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Ken Lundy

Gay Village laneway named for Sky Gilbert

The city now has a street named for a living, gay man.

It may be a global first. But we don’t actually know if it’s even a Toronto first, because the city doesn’t keep track of such things.

But whether it’s a first or not (according to city officials, Toronto has permitted street namings for living people since 2013), it’s certainly a cause for celebration.

Sky Gilbert is the 61-year-old writer of more than two dozen plays and five novels and co-founder of Buddies in Bad Times theatre, a mainstay of LGBTQ theatre in the city for 36 years.

The lane named for him runs beside the theatre.

Gilbert was born in Connecticut and now lives in Hamilton and teaches at the University of Guelph. He has been known for decades for expressing strong and often unpopular opinions related to sex, sexuality and theatre. A recent post on his blog, for instance, lists 10 things wrong with audiences at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, including “They are fat,” “They are ugly,” “They don’t know how to raise their children,” and “They have no idea what David Mirvish has done for them.”

Gilbert’s forthrightness has often been mistaken for egoism. It’s worth noting that there’s no mention on his blog of the street now named after him.

According to Bruce McPherson, the city’s manager of surveys, Gilbert’s name was put forwad by the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Bruce McPherson, Lyne Kyle

If anyone knows of any other streets or laneways in the city named for LGBTQ people, please let us know, and we'll amend the above story to record and reflect.

Waterfront now has the city's fastest Internet

The city's Waterfront now officially has the fastest Internet service in the city.

Waterfront Toronto and Beanfield jointly announced that the infrastructure is now in place for buildings both residential and commercial to take advantage of speeds of up to 500 megabits per second, more than 40 per cent faster than the top speeds currently offered by Rogers and Bell.

“It’s partly an economic development tool that we use,” says Andrew Hilton, who heads communications for Waterfront Toronto. “One of the roles that we have at Waterfront Toronto is to help strengthen the economy of the city of Toronto. The communities we’re building and will build will be far more appealing to people, whether it’s for personal use, or people who work from home. And for commercial use, we’re looking at trying to find ways to attract growth-oriented business on the waterfront.”

These speeds will not be automatic, however. Developers and landlords will have to subscribe to the service for it to be offered in buildings. Some businesses — such as cafes — may offer these speeds to the public, others may not.

The price, to be included in condo fees for condo owners, will be $60 a month. For 350 megabits per second, Rogers is currently charging $226 a month; Bell charges $90 for 175 megabits per second.

In practical terms, 500 megabits per second is roughly equivalent to 60 megabytes per second. Beanfield's service is symmetrical, meaning the speed applies to both downloads and uploads.

For some perspective, however, two Internet service providers in Vancouver are offering double that speed, 1 gigabit per second, as is Google in certain parts of the U.S.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Andrew Hilton

Tom Ryaboi's view from on high

This is what Tom Ryaboi thinks: “One area I think all cities can improve on is how they use the tops of their buildings. Toronto has recently implemented a green roof bylaw, I think this is a good start. Most buildings that I have been to still don't do anything productive with their roof.”

He’s not an urban planner, or an eco-activist or architect. But he’s got a perspective few can boast, and one he’s spent his short career trying to share.

He’s a high-rise photographer.

This doesn’t mean he takes pictures of high-rises, though with all the developer bucks being made in this city over the past decade and more, there’s a possibility that might be more profitable. Tom -- who was born in Vaughan, spent his 20s in the Annex and has never lived in a high-rise -- takes pictures from high-rises, looking out, and down.

“While I was filming City Rising,” he says, referring to his four-minute and 14-second 2012 film, “I would often sit on a roof for many hours while the camera was time-lapsing and I would ponder things.”

His point of view is reflected in his photography, which was recently on display as part of a promotion for the Canary District development, and much of which is readiy viewable on his website.

Perspective is often hard to come by in a city changing as profoundly and as rapidly as this one has been recently. It’s often difficult to do it justice in words. But Ryaboi’s images - contemplative, vertiginous, triumphal, beautiful — offer just that: views from a city that didn’t exist a decade ago, and glimpses of the city that will exist a century from now.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Tom Ryaboi

Mural unveiled for Scarborough's Cultural Hotspot

The city has three new murals thanks to Mural Routes, a little-known non-profit that uses the creation of outdoor art to mentor and engage communities.

Two of them are the physical manifestations of a new city project, which they’ve called Cultural Hot Spot, according to which they’ll be naming a succession of under-appreciated parts of town as hot spots to draw attention to what’s already happening there, as well as encourage and in some cases under-write new initiatives.

The first was east and south Scarborough, and the murals shepherded by Mural Routes,  are as close to the gateways of this area as they could manage. One is at the junction of Kingston Road and the Danforth, the other on Old Kingston Road facing east, just west of the village strip.

“When the organization started, initially the intention was to take the art our of the galleries and put them onto the street for those people who are not comfortable going into galleries or are not familiar or comfortable with different forms of art,” says Karin Eaton, spokeswoman for Mural Routes. “In the beginning, it was filling the blank walls with art, and it became more of a sharing program so we actually like to share all the information we’ve learned so we’ve become a hub for information and resource gathering about murals.”

The mural at Kingston Road and Danforth, unveiled two weeks ago, is the result of a competition won by established mural artist Bill Wrigley (responsible for well-known murals across the city, including at By the Way Cafe and The Senator). The easternmost one was a more communal effort, created in conjunction with the Morningside Library’s introduction to mural art program.

In addition to these, the most recent one, just unveiled, is by the artist known as Media, at Woodbine and Gerard.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Karin Eaton

Public meeting debates Centennial Park's coming BMX track

There was a priest at my college, Fr. Findlay, who once told me, a wry grin on his face: “All change is from the devil.”

It’s not an unpopular sentiment in Toronto, it seems.

The latest instance of it came at a recent public meeting on the subject of the new BMX tracks already being put up in Etobicoke’s Centennial Park. Part of the PanAm/Parapan Games, the tracks will be available for use by the public once the games are done.

The public meeting was meant to be informational rather than consultational; construction on the project is already under way. But the 15 to 20 people who showed up were still grumpy.

“It was largely attended by those folks who were never so supportive of the project from the outset, including the former councillor Doug Holyday,” says Catherine Meade, director of the PanAm/Parapan Games capital project.

In addition to concerns about the park’s environmental impact (though the project passed the usual environmental assessment process and got approval from the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority), and the difference between the initial cost estimates and the final budget (the initial budget was for a temporary track built in a parking lot; the final project is for one that will last for several decades), people at the meeting were also worried about the increase in the use of the park that the tracks might inspire.

Others, perhaps among those who did not attend, may think more people using the city’s parks could be a good thing.

The presentation of the work that’s been done — work started at the end of August — and what’s yet to happen was made by architect Roman Mychajlowycz, principal at KMA Architects. Brendan Arnold, the Ontario Cycling Association’s BMX development coach, spoke about the impact of building tracks like this on the sport in the province, including the OCA’s plans to use it themselves for training.

The facility, which will include two tracks, one with a 5-metre ramp open to the public, and one with an 8-metre ramp meant for training and professional use, will be finished by spring.

The PanAm/ParaPan Games are being held in the GTA July 10-26 and Aug. 7-15, 2015.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Catherine Meade

There's an appetite for urban living in Burlington

There may be something to this urban design and density trend.

As Toronto’s core intensifies by the day and condos, rather than single family dwellings, become the norm, it seems the thinking behind it is leaking outwards.

Like Markham and Vaughan before them, Burlington is now showing signs of urbanization.

Link, a four-building, two-phase development by the young Adi Development Group, has just launched its second two buildings, set for construction next spring on the edge of Bronte Creek on Dundas Street.

“We took that urban movement that was happening in Toronto and plopped it down in Burlington,” says Tariq Adi, who runs Adi Development with his brother, Saud. “It was a huge success," he says, referring to their first such project, Mod'rn. "Link was a little bit more of a departure, we used RAW Design and Roland Rom Colthoff. We instructed him to do something different.”

When completed in early 2017, the four buildings will be linked by lit bridges made of glass and structural steel. The informing metaphor for the project, according to Adi, is connection: buildings to nature, people to their homes, and people to other people.

“There’s a paradigm shift happening in Burlington,” Adi says, referring to things like Money Sense magazine finding Burlington the most livable mid-sized city in the country in 2013, and stats that put Burlington’s per capita income among the highest in Canada. “It’s a very educated, well informed crowd.”

Link 2, as it’s being called, will feature two-storey lofts with 18-foot ceilings, ranging from 852 to 1,650 square feet, with prices starting at $352,000. Smaller, single-storey, one-bedroom units will start at $190,000, with other units featuring family-friendly three and even four bedrooms starting at under half a million.

In addition to its urban-style density and aesthetic, Link will be close to public transportation. There’s a bus stop in front of the site now, with a new Metrolinx Bus Rapid Transit station slated for 20 metres from the site, and a GO station about 10 minutes away. It’s also about 300 metres from highway 407.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Tariq Adi

Who's Hiring in Toronto? SickKids Foundation, Canada's National Ballet School and more

Some of the more interesting employment opportunities we've spotted this week include:

Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, a non-profit devoted to preserving Ontario's Greenbelt, an area surrounding the Golden Horseshoe, is hiring a research and policy analyst. As the title suggests, the role involves significant amounts of research, though there's a major outreach component as well. Specific requirements include presenting one's finding to interested parties and engaging with a variety of government and non-government organizations.

The SickKids Foundation has two new openings this week.

First, they're seeking an associate graphic designer. The position requires three to five years of experience in digital marketing or communications, and will see that the person that takes on this position help the non-profit with its fundraising initiatives on behalf of Sick Kids Hospital.

Second, the foundation is seeking to hire an associate events director. The role has a significant emphasis on building and mentoring a team, as well as building new and existing events. This position requires five to seven years in a related leadership role.

On the culture side, Canada's National Ballet School is hiring a digital media co-ordinator. The role involves creating audiovisual material that will help with the school's promotional, marketing and educational needs. Three-plus years of related media experience is a requirement for this position, as well as expertise with programs such as Sony Vegas and DVD Architect.

Finally, the National Reading Campaign is looking for someone to join its board of directors as an executive director. Much of the role involves working with a volunteer board (though this position is paid), and managing the campaign's initiatives. Candidates living in Toronto are preferred, though those living outside of the city with an exceptional skill set will also be considered.

Do you know of a job opportunity with an innovative company or organization? Let us know!  

New venture capital firm launches in Toronto

The city has a new venture capital firm to call its own.

On Monday morning, news came out that Information Venture Partners had been formed in Toronto.

The firm was created in early October when co-founders Robert Antoniades and David Unsworth completed a management buyout of their former firm, RBC Venture Partners.

Several co-investors, both inside and outside of Canada, assisted in the buyout, and those same investors are helping the firm set up a new $100-million fund. Antoniades and Unsworth say they hope to have the fund up and running by mid-2015. Once it is ready, the firm will invest in early stage startups that are seeking funds at the Series A and B levels. That is, they plan to fund startups that at the stage where they've successfully gotten off the ground and have found a potential market fit for their product or idea.

The firm revealed that it will specialize on funding startups that create enterprise software.

In an interview with Reuters, Antoniades told the publication's Kirk Falconer, “Whether it is enterprise software or fintech, we are interested in North American companies that can sell into SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) or large corporate buyers.”

Given that statement, it remains to be seen what kind of effect the firm will have on Toronto ecosystem.

The financial details of the transaction were not disclosed. 

Source: Reuters

Moving on up: Community college gets a residence

Ground broke last week on a new residence that will form the gateway to Centennial College's Scarborough campus.

Designed by Donald Schmitt, principal with Diamond Schmitt Architects, the new building will house 740 beds, a rooftop conference centre, and a glass-walled culinary school and restaurant on the ground floor. It will double the height of the current tallest building on campus, a library also designed by Diamond Schmitt.

"It will be the first building you see as you approach the campus," Schmitt says, "and it's designed specifically to be the landmark that defines the entry. It will be eight storeys in height, so it will be seen from the 401, and it will give the college quite a bit of presence."

Though the facade and materials will not match the library, Schmitt says the massing and configuration will complement the earlier building.

"We're trying to articulate each of the parts of the building," he says, "with a high level of transparency in the culinary areas, and on every floor of the residences there are these enormous lounges that are all clad in glass, so there will be huge bay windows that project on every level on all four facades."

One of the more novel aspects of the building has less to do with how it was designed than how came together. It's a partnership between Centennial and Knightstone Capital Management, who are the developers and will be managing the building once it's complete. (As Schmitt points out, though government funding is available for academic buildings, academic institutions have to come up with their own schemes for residences.)

Schmitt estimates the 353,500 square foot building, for which Knightstone will be seeking LEED Silver certification, will be ready for students by September, 2016.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Donald Schmitt
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