Posts Tagged 'residences'

Parkway West: A New Suburb of Fine Residences

Parkway 1

Buoyed by the success of their groundbreaking Don Mills garden city, in 1957 Don Mills Developments Limited launched its Parkway West community. Located southwest of York Mills Road and the Don Valley Parkway, just a tee shot across the Don River from the original development, Parkway West was a more traditional suburban residential enclave targeted at the middle to upper-middle professional and managerial classes.

The planning of Parkway West largely followed the principles established for Don Mills. The wide boulevards of Laurentide Drive and Three Valleys Drive gently wound down the sloping hillside, linking a network of curving crescents and cul-de-sacs that extended south and west to the edges of the Don River ravine. Lots were substantial, boasting wide frontages, generous setbacks and unbroken vistas of well-kept lawns. Amenities included the luxurious Donalda Club, whose golf greens blended with the naturalized parks and greenbelts of mature trees.

The development model also followed that of Don Mills: Don Mills Developments built the civil infrastructure and sold serviced lots, either to approved design-builders or to private owners who then directly commissioned their own residences. The Yarmon residence at 12 Spinney Court, designed by Henry Fliess, is a notable owner-commissioned example.

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Nisco Construction was one of the Don Mills builders also selected for Parkway West. In the spring of 1957 the firm brought to market 14 houses in five different styles, with prices ranging from a Crest semi-detached at $17,500 to an Executive on a prime ravine lot at $27,900.

The architecture of the Nisco offerings was a conservative, moderate Modernism, less advanced than some of the original Don Mills housing but in line with the rest of Parkway West and similar upscale Toronto-area developments. All but the Crest incorporated then-new split-level planning, combining the space efficiency of a two-level home with the convenience and low-slung roofline of a single-storey rancher. The fashionably low profiles were further enhanced by embedding the lower storeys partly below grade or into the slope of the lot.

Interior planning emphasized the primacy of family life, with the open-plan living / dining area and kitchen as the communal nucleus of the home. There were no private ensuite bathrooms, even in the top-of-the-line Executive, although Dad was given a den to escape to with his fly-fishing gear and Canadian Club. Attached carports or garages were a prominent feature of all models, a place to display the bejeweled tailfins of the latest Buick Roadmaster or Monarch Turnpike Cruiser.

Despite the emphasis placed upon the architects of the original Don Mills development, the authorship of the Nisco homes in Parkway West is unclear. Toronto architect Norman R. Stone is credited with the design of the Executive; the others are unattributed and may also be by Stone, although the Bancroft closely resembles earlier Don Mills houses by James Murray.

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James Murray’s model for modern living

James Murray house 1A LR

Modernism had a very slow start in Toronto’s residential neighbourhoods. In contrast to the rapid acceptance of new design in many North American centres after World War II, by the early 1950s Toronto could claim only a handful of truly Modernist houses.

One brave pioneer was architect James A. Murray, designer of his own residence at 6 Heathbridge Park in the Bennington Heights neighbourhood. Built in 1947 and still in largely original condition, the Murray house paralleled the leading design currents of the time and foreshadowed what would emerge several years later in Toronto-area developments such as Don Mills and Thorncrest Village.

Particularly innovative was Murray’s use of a split-level plan, a new hybrid that combined the convenience and low-slung profile of a single-storey house with the space efficiencies and spatial separation of a two-storey design. The main entrance to the Murray house is at ground level, as are the open-plan living and dining areas; all open onto the surrounding garden. A short flight of stairs leads to the bedrooms on the upper level. On the lower level, a half-storey below grade, are the utility areas and the former garage. Also originally on the lower level was Murray’s studio, which visitors could access directly from the street through a small sunken court with a reflective pool, flagstone steps and a wood sunscreen trellis.

James Murray house 2 LR

New thinking continued throughout the home. The flat roofs could be flooded with up to an inch-and-a-half of water to reflect sunlight and cool the house in summer, aided by the roof overhang shielding the south-facing living room windows. At the rear terrace a planting bed extended under floor-to-ceiling glass into the dining area, bringing nature indoors and blurring the distinction between inside and outside. Built-in seating and storage units promoted orderliness and maximized space efficiency. Radiant heating pipes under the short, steep driveway, now filled in, prevented accumulations of ice and snow. These and other ideas were continued in the numerous other residences Murray designed in Bennington Heights, including the neighbouring Lang house at 21 Evergreen Gardens, now demolished, the much-altered Markon house at 17 Evergreen Gardens and the Daly house at 1 Brendan Road.

James A. Murray (1919-2008) was a significant figure in Canada’s postwar architectural scene. He influenced architectural design, practice and education across Canada for decades as the founding editor of Canadian Architect magazine, a frequent juror of awards and competitions and a professor of architecture at the University of Toronto. In addition to his writing, teaching and public advocacy, Murray also maintained an accomplished architectural and planning practice. Notable projects include the Anglo Canadian Insurance Building at 76 St. Clair Avenue West (demolished), the Spaulding house at 111 Park Road, Rosedale (demolished), the Shoichet house at 21 Park Lane Circle and The Donway United Church at 230 The Donway West. Murray also collaborated with architect Henry Fliess on the innovative rowhouse developments South Hills Village and The Cloisters of the Don, both in Don Mills, and The Towne mixed-use complex at 77-79 St. Clair Avenue East.

Brentwood Towers in the park

Designed by Harry Kohl and constructed between 1958 and 1961, Brentwood Towers at 17-25 Lascelles Boulevard is one of Toronto’s earliest high-rise residential clusters. It’s also one of the few of its time to come close to fulfilling Le Corbusier’s urban-planning ideal of towers in the park surrounded by sunlight, space and greenery.

At Brentwood Towers, much of the espace et verdure, if not the soleil, is provided by the dramatic modernist garden in the postcard above. Created by the husband-and-wife architectural team of Pamela and Bill Cluff with landscape architect Bill Huber, the garden mixes natural elements, free-form shapes and fanciful whimsy. Large reflecting pools dominate the composition, the placid surfaces punctuated by rock outcroppings and water jetting from mushroom-shaped fountains. Elevated platforms provide views over the grounds and are prime spots for sunbathing, while flagstone walkways wind through grassy lawns, specimen trees, ornamental shrubs and beds of flowers. All is comfortably enclosed by a row of mature trees and three of the complex’s five towers.

After fifty years the garden is a picturesque ruin, the pools empty, fountains crumbling and pathways reclaimed by overgrown foliage, but it is alive with the extroverted squirrels and twittering songbirds that live in its now-tall trees.

As well as Brentwood Towers, the Cluffs and Huber also designed Modernist gardens for Kensington Gardens (21 Dale Avenue, Crang & Boake, 1957) and The Four Thousand (4000 Yonge Street, John Daniels and Wilfred Shulman, 1962). Expanded surface parking and other alterations have removed much of the Kensington Gardens gardens, although many fine specimen trees remain, including some from the previous 1874 estate. The Four Thousand’s gardens, by contrast, are largely original, with functioning fountains and well-maintained plantings.

Ron Thom’s free-form Fraser residence

Deeply influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra and Japanese design, Ron Thom was one of the most significant talents to emerge from the postwar Vancouver architecture scene. Thom’s 1968 Fraser residence at 4 Old George Place, Rosedale, co-designed with associate Paul Merrick, exemplifies his fusion of West Coast sensibilities with the Ontario landscape and building traditions.

From Old George Place, the Fraser residence is almost invisible; only the garage and covered walkway are visible behind dense foliage. The house itself wraps around the crest of a heavily wooded ravine, a striking free-form collision of sloping roof planes clad in rough cedar shingles, pinned by massive vertical slabs of reddish-brown brick and penetrated by skylights and slit windows. Inside, Thom pinwheeled three levels around a winding open staircase, softly illuminated by skylights in the ceiling peak. Spaces interlock vertically and horizontally with few right angles, and are demarcated largely by low partitions or changes in floor height. A polygonal-shaped cantilevered deck extends the dining area into the surrounding trees. Walls and ceilings are of brick and waxed cedar boards, the subdued, introverted ambiance countered by natural light from clerestory windows and the floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking the ravine. The effect is of a warm, enveloping shelter with an ever-changing play of light throughout the day.

Widely published over the years, the Fraser residence was designated a City of Toronto heritage property in 1991. A comprehensive restoration by Altius Architecture, completed in 2003, reconfigured some interior spaces and added a secluded front garden terrace with reflecting pools, earthen berms and lush native plantings. (Click here for a review by John Bentley Mays of The Globe and Mail.)

A major figure in the development of the West Coast style, Ron Thom initially trained as a concert pianist and then as a painter at the Vancouver School of Art. Entranced by the possibilities of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architecture, Thom joined the Vancouver firm Sharp and Thompson, Berwick, Pratt in 1949 as an apprentice and quickly demonstrated an almost poetic design ability. His residences of the 1950s and early 60s received great acclaim for their sensitive design and integration into the site, earning him a Massey Silver Medal in 1952 and a pair of Massey Medals in 1964 for his Copp, Forrest and Grinnell houses. He also received a Silver Medal in 1958 for his CKWX Radio studio building and was a key contributor to the firm’s landmark B.C. Electric head office. Seeking broader horizons, Thom moved to Toronto in 1963 upon completion of his celebrated Massey College at the University of Toronto. He subsequently enjoyed further success as the designer of Trent University and Sir Sandford Fleming College in Peterborough, the Shaw Festival Theatre at Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Arts and Social Sciences Centre at Queen’s University in Kingston and numerous West Coast-influenced houses. In Toronto, his major works include the Metro Toronto Zoo, the Prince Hotel, the Atria North office complex and a house for Murray and Barbara Frum. Unfortunately, due to personal and professional troubles, Thom’s career sharply tapered off in the 1980s. He died in 1986.

Echoes of Aalto on The Bridle Path

One of the major influences upon the development of Modernist architecture in Canada is the famed Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). Aalto’s warm, tactile, and often idiosyncratic work, created for an environment similarly cold and dark for much of the year, offered postwar Canadian architects a more humanistic alternative to the sometimes austere International Style.

In Toronto, one of the more prominent champions of the Nordic great has been architect Jerome Markson. At 63 The Bridle Path, completed in 1967, Markson integrated Aalto’s principles into a sculptural and expressionistic residence for Wilfred Posluns, co-founder of onetime apparel giant Dylex Diversified and a prominent philanthropist.

The visual drama of the Posluns house begins with its radical geometry. Markson rotated the living and dining areas 45 degrees off axis, opening the house to the southern sun and introducing a spatial dynamic echoed by the angled master bedroom, main entrance and triple garage. Horizontal bands of brick and wood fascia boards elongate the wall planes, countered by vertical slit windows, a pillar-like chimney and twin peaked roofs in irregular hexagonal shapes.

Inside, strategically-placed skylights and smooth white plaster walls and ceilings help to spread natural light throughout the interior, the luminosity offset by purplish-red brick and dark-stained oak millwork. The sunken living room, open to the dining room and entry hall, is visually expanded by a peaked ceiling and glass walls overlooking the gentle contours of the rear lawn.

A 1953 graduate of the University of Toronto, Jerome Markson is best known for his innovative yet humanistic residences, multi-unit housing complexes and community facilities. Much of his early work is in Hamilton, and includes a trio of houses on Hamilton Mountain (45, 79 and 125 Amelia Street, 1957-60) and the startling steel-and-glass Moses residence (8 Mayfair Place, 1960). In Toronto, Markson’s residential commissions include the nearby Jack Posluns residence (23 Park Lane Circle, 1962, demolished) and Kofman residence (32 Saintfield Avenue, 1961), and a renovation for future Barrick Gold baron Peter Munk (63 Woodlawn Avenue West, 1961). Notable multi-unit housing and community facilities are Stanrock Terrace housing (Elliot Lake, 1957; Honourable Mention, Massey Medals for Architecture, 1958); Group Health Centre (240 McNabb Street, Sault Ste. Marie, 1963; Massey Medal, 1964); Alexandra Park Public Housing (with Webb Zerafa Menkes and Klein and Sears, Bathurst Street and Dundas Street West, 1967 and 1969); True Davidson Acres Home for the Aged (200 Dawes Road, 1973); an expansion of the Jewish Community Centre and the new Lipa Green Building (4588 Bathurst Street, 1977 and 1981); an expansion of the Civic Garden Centre at Edwards Gardens (777 Lawrence Avenue East, 1975); David B. Archer Co-Operative Housing (160 The Esplanade, 1980); and the Market Square condominiums (80 Front Street and 35 Church Street, 1984). Awarded the prestigious Order of Da Vinci by the Ontario Association of Architects in 2009, Markson is currently practicing as Jerome Markson Architect.

The Colonnade: mixed use on the Mink Mile

A landmark on Toronto’s Mink Mile, The Colonnade at 131 Bloor Street West became the city’s first modern mixed-use building upon completion in 1964. Architect Gerald Robinson (with Tampold & Wells) deftly combined residential, commercial and retail space to create a vibrant hub for urban living.

The Colonnade’s layering of functions begins at sidewalk level. The two- and three-storey podium showcases a long row of storefronts, which curve inward to form an elegant oval forecourt. Punctuating the forecourt is a freestanding concrete spiral staircase to the restaurant terrace; at the time, the staircase was claimed to be the only one of its type without a central support. From the main lobby, an escalator ride to the second level reveals a high-ceilinged pedestrian street, naturally lit by arched clerestory windows and lined with shops, offices and restaurants. Giant oval portholes—a very Sixties design motif—offer views of the Victoria College grounds to the south. Rising above the retail podium is an 11-storey slab tower housing 160 luxury apartments and two floors of offices. Bi-level penthouse suites feature private garden terraces and swimming pools as well as panoramic views of the city and Lake Ontario.

Externally, The Colonnade is defined by its exposed concrete frame, bush-hammered in places for surface texture, and precast spandrel panels. The tower’s waffle-pattern façade is based on a five-foot structural grid; perimeter loads are distributed to the arched lower columns by massive concrete transfer girders. The flexibility of the grid dimensions allows suites to be reconfigured to suit resident requirements and market demands. The image below illustrates the thoughtful integration of The Colonnade’s podium with that of the earlier Britannica Building next door. Also note the TTC streetcars on Bloor Street, soon to be phased out with the opening of the Bloor-Danforth subway in February 1966.

An immediate critical and financial success, The Colonnade inspired a generation of mixed-use buildings in neighbouring Yorkville and other parts of Toronto. A glittery 1980s renovation has since been scaled back, allowing the building’s inherent qualities to once again shine through, and the streetfront is lined with Prada, Chanel and Cartier. Life is good.

Irving Grossman’s sculptural Betel residence

The Betel residence at 33 York Downs Drive, completed in 1957, is one of the best-preserved of the relatively few houses by Toronto architect Irving Grossman. Set back from the road on a broad expanse of lawn, the Betel house resembles a piece of sculpture: the narrow, wedge-shaped second storey thrusts forward and upward over its broad rectangular base, seeming to defy gravity in a daring cantilever. The house’s sculptural appearance is further emphasized by its stark glazed-brick whiteness, relieved only by the flash of yellow between the upper bedroom windows. An extension to the master bedroom wing at the left of the photograph, added in 1980 by longtime Grossman associate Bernard Gillespie, successfully rebalanced the composition into its current configuration.

The Betel residence’s dramatic exterior appearance is matched by its interior environment. Visitors cross a walled courtyard to the front door, passing through the low entrance hall before emerging into a soaring multi-level living and dining area overlooked by a second-floor gallery. The 16-foot ceiling, lined in dark tropical wood, gently slopes downward to a wall of glass that frames views over a ravine at the rear of the property. Natural light on three sides allows a soft, even illumination; inset courtyards balance close-up views of nature with those of the distant ravine.

After graduating in 1950 from the University of Toronto’s school of architecture, Irving Grossman traveled abroad on a prestigious Pilkington Scholarship, practicing with the MARS Group in London and R.M. Schindler in Los Angeles before returning to Toronto and establishing his own firm. His jazz-filled studio, located in a Victorian house at 7 Sultan Street, was for many years a gathering place for the city’s artists, architects and musicians. Architecturally, Grossman is best remembered for his inventive multi-unit housing developments, such as the internationally-acclaimed Flemingdon Park neighbourhood, the Somerset Apartments at 605 Finch Avenue West and the Edgeley in the Village complex at 4645 Jane Street. Other key projects are the Berman residence at 58 Plymbridge Road, the Fogel residence, a 1961 Massey Medals finalist, at 100 Sandringham Drive (demolished), B’nai Israel Beth David Synagogue at 55 Yeomans Road, Temple Emanu-El at 120 Old Colony Road, Shaarei Tefillah at 3600 Bathurst Street, Cedarbrae Library at 545 Markham Road (altered), a series of park pavilions on the Toronto Islands and the Expo 67 News and Administration Building, winner of a 1967 Massey Medal, at 2100 Avenue Pierre Dupuy, Montreal.


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