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Brooklyn firm designs planned community in China to welcome a diverse population travelling through life and learning

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An hour’s drive west of Shanghai, China stands Sangha — a 46-acre community built as a global model for diverse, holistic neighbourhoods.

Sangha includes everything from single-family homes and apartments, to hotels and wellness facilities. It was designed by Brooklyn-based architects Tsao McCown, in collaboration with the Shanghai-based developer Octave.

Located on Yangcheng Lake, on the edge of UNESCO world heritage site Suzhou, the 109-single-family homes include three- to four-bedroom residences and two-bedroom townhomes. Eighty-seven village apartments (one, 1-1/2, two-bedroom), can be purchased or rented, and many are created to accommodate disabled residents

As well, Sangha has two hotels: the One Hotel, a 72-room wellness retreat offering body treatments, Japanese-style hot springs, nutritionists, yoga teachers and fitness coaches. The Fellow Traveler Hotel is for those who wish to participate in the Life Learning Centre’s programs, located below in a 40,000-square-ft. facility.

Sangha also boasts an Early Childhood Learning Centre in a sunken quadrangle and surrounded by a food hall, markets, the hotels and town hall which acts as the heart of Sangha’s village activities. The Sanctuary is used for weddings, concerts and meditative assemblies.

Architects strived to “deflect attention away from design and back to nature,” with buildings, streets and pathways scaled to human needs and pedestrians’ strides.

Buildings have been situated to maximize air flow, passive solar heating and sun angles. Architects have integrated natural shading and ventilation into all buildings. Recycled building materials, wood, recycled stones and concrete have been used throughout the project.

Sangha, completed in 2017 for $300 million, took 10 years to design and build in collaboration with the Chinese government, non-profit and for-profit organizations in China, the U.S. and Singapore.

Calvin Tsao, of Tsao & McKown Architects, in Brooklyn, N.Y., answers a few questions about the community:

How did Sangha come about?

My partner, Zach, and I believe the most important thing about any design is to create a holistic environment for whomever is there. We did an urban mass plan for Singapore and later one for Berlin — both with a private and public component to them. That’s when we realized the private sector and the government have to blend their agenda to make a proper society.

Being a Chinese-American I’ve been observing China for a long time. It’s evolved from a very backward place to a superior country both politically and economically. We started investigating how to create a sustainable, vibrant, culturally rich, socially healthy community in the rapidly growing, rapidly urbanizing, economically turbulent, politically complex culture that is China.

Why does it have so many purposes?

We believe a properly built environment housing and serving the population is one of the important steps to a healthy environment. We wanted a diversity of economic class and age groups in this community. We mostly want to show there are transient populations in the form of retreats and hotels, to rental apartments to service apartments.

Explain the health and wellness aspects.

We wanted to find a sustainable cultural and healthy environment, so we created this community focused on mind-body wellness. We have the wellness retreat and the learning hotel — a series of life-learning programs with a housing component, which means you can stay for a week or a month. You can rent a room and go to school. That’s for what are called fellow travellers.

You describe Sangha as people-friendly. What does that involve?

We want to generate really great experiences for people, not only serving what they expect but giving them more than that. It’s friendly-plus. We did it by looking at the phenomena of human perception, movement, environmental integrity, psychological comfort. We designed from how people perceive and how they use an emotional aspect of the space, as well as the functional aspect.

Georgie Binks is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her at binksgeorgie@gmail.com



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Ideas abound at IDS2019 as exhibitors showcase their cutting-edge interior designs

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With kilometres to cover, and hundreds of exhibits to see, this year’s 20th annual Interior Design Show may seem overwhelming. Especially for those with firm home renovation goals.

But IDS19, billed the Power of Design, is the ideal place to start, says celeb designer Brian Gluckstein, himself a show fixture since its start in 1999.

Designer Brian Gluckstein and Lynda Reeves, of House & Home magazine, discuss elements of home design at last year’s Interior Design show.
Designer Brian Gluckstein and Lynda Reeves, of House & Home magazine, discuss elements of home design at last year’s Interior Design show.  (Arash Moallemi / TBD)

“Everything is handy under one roof, no running all over the city to see what’s available in terms of products. Plus, company reps who staff the booths want to speak with you and answer questions. That’s what they’re there for.”

Taking place this year in the south building at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the show kicks off with an opening night party at 7 p.m. on Thursday, and then is open to the public Saturday, Jan. 19 and Sunday, Jan. 20 until 6 p.m. Along with over 200 exhibits and booths are 10 public seminars, including a sit-down with Roots’ frontman (and creative force at large) Questlove at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

Before you go, hatch an idea of “what you need and want, such as how many bedrooms, baths, whether you need a bigger kitchen, a dug-out basement. That comes before the architects or designers,” Gluckstein says.

“What I do is quickly walk up and down the aisles taking pictures of booths I want to see again. Then I take a break, sit down, go through the images on my phone and edit where I want to investigate more thoroughly.”

Consider these key areas:

Engineered flooring, on view at this weekend's show, allows for extra-wide, long, plank flooring.
Engineered flooring, on view at this weekend’s show, allows for extra-wide, long, plank flooring.

Flooring: The lowly floor is an unsung hero in the property values equation. Hardwood is beautiful and enduring but not always ideal: the concrete subfloors of a condo, for example, as well as basements and cottages are better suited to laminate.

If your plans include a basement, PurParket floors offers laminates that are not “entry level price,” says Daniela Zaremba, the firm’s creative director, “because they are 100 per cent waterproof and have no formaldehyde. And since they have a semi-rigid core, they can be put down without levelling the floor.”

For condos, engineered woods have come a long way — particularly with wide, long, plank-style — that homeowners also consider them, Zaremba says. One reason is the plank design: wood isn’t stable past the 4.25-inch width, she says.

If hardwood is your goal, Zaremba suggests researching its origin and manufacture; for instance, white oak is denser and more durable when grown in the Pacific northwest than in the southern U.S. There’s also on-site vs. pre-finish to consider; medium finishes show dirt and dust much less than dark tones. And, she adds, texture is very popular — hand-scraped and wire-brushed, in particular — which are durable and conceal scratches.

  • Which rooms? Kitchen and bath renos translate into top resale investments. They’re also a focus for homeowners who want to stay put and make their homes more functional. Sandra Mendes, senior projects designer for AyA Kitchens, recommends starting with “a look at your needs. Do you have a large cookbook collection? Are you wine drinkers? Are you interested in ergonomics? Do you need a baking counter?”

The design show has a selection of experts for discussing what will work best for you. Mendes says space constraints and aging in place are currently the top issues.

Finishes, she notes, are trending toward light tones — white and pale colours, and light-stained wood. The same goes for bathrooms, she says, with a lot of white and natural stone.

  • Appliances: In the kitchen, says Kelly Lam, vice-president of marketing for Miele Canada, a renovation is about “considering needs. That is, whether you have a large family, what your shopping habits are, whether you buy in bulk or shop frequently at local stores, even whether you buy large jugs of milk or juice and need shelves to handle that.”

Another reno consideration is where to locate the laundry room, Lam says. And since space is always an issue, especially in condos, European manufacturer Miele has a history of making every inch count. The company has a new dryer that doesn’t require venting and plugs into a regular 120V receptacle, which means it can be placed in a hall closet. Its new heat-pump technology also renders the dryer Energy-Star efficiency — something previously not possible.

Aqua Moonlights, by AMStudio, offers a design for some subtle overhead bling.
Aqua Moonlights, by AMStudio, offers a design for some subtle overhead bling.
  • Lighting: It’s the first thing noticed but often left off the list for home renovations.

Orly Meyer, lighting designer and owner of AM Studio, recommends focusing on the kitchen island because it “truly is the centre of the house, and you need to determine how to illuminate the kitchen.”

Some spaces call out for artistry. “Dining is an art form in itself, and since there are often no walls for art, this is your chance to get colour and drama in that space. The same goes for the staircase.”

Wall sconces, adds Orley, are a space-saving way to add much-needed light — and atmosphere.

  • Cutting edge: Studio North features emerging designers and architects with work still in the concept stage — “young risk-takers,” says Taylor Jantzi, a show co-ordinator. Another section, called Maker, features talented artists who have graduated from Studio North and have begun small-batch production.

Alex Newman is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her at alexnewman@rogers.com

The Re-Wrk space is designed for a modern office.
The Re-Wrk space is designed for a modern office.  (Steve Tsai)

Space, the newest frontier

New to the show this year is Re-Space, with four areas demonstrating technology’s influence on our physical world. Sponsored by Microsoft and Giant Containers, the four areas are:

1) Re-Ply, designed by Harrison Fae, “reimagines the idea of your inner child” using elements of a child’s playhouse.

2) Re-Liv, designed by Polymetis, focuses on a retreat from the busy world with two rooms: the Forest, a lush horizontal space and the Clearing a light vertical space.

3) Re-Wrk, by SDI principles Noam Hazan and Joanne Chan, looks at an ideal environment for a new generation of office workers.

4) Re-Lrn, by Studio AC designer Andrew Hill, was created to consider how “living, working, playing and learning … are changed by the digital world we live in.” The area includes single, double and multiple areas that allow visitors — via computers, tablets and screens — to access others, showing how individual actions using technology affects the greater group.

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Cottage in a box? This company will ship your new cabin in a flat-pack

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A cottage in a box? See it to believe it at IDS2019 this weekend.

The 670-sq.-ft. Great Lakes Cabin, built in a modular “kit-of-parts” system and shipped in a flat-pack, will make its debut as this year’s Interior Design Show concept house. It will be open for visitors to tour at the show on Jan. 19 and 20

A pre-fab cottage in a flatpack by Backcountry Hut Co., is delivered — in this artist’s rendering — to a waiting site.
A pre-fab cottage in a flatpack by Backcountry Hut Co., is delivered — in this artist’s rendering — to a waiting site.  (Backcountry Hut Company)

“You assemble it almost like big blocks, or LEGO,” says Wilson Edgar who, with architect Michael Leckie, co-founded the Backcountry Hut Company in British Columbia in 2015. The model on display this weekend — which includes a loft sleeping area, bathroom and covered deck — is the company’s first to be flatpacked, and shipped.

“When it comes together, it’s extremely durable and has an extremely long lifespan.

The inspiration for the company’s designs, says Leckie, was to “break they myth” that custom architecture has to be highly expensive. It also allows buyers involvement in the design and build process of their projects.

“When you say ‘a flat-pack system that provides architecture, like a piece of Ikea furniture’ people immediately understand what you’re talking about,” he adds.

Read more:

Ideas abound at IDS2019 as exhibitors showcase their cutting-edge interior designs

The pre-fab cottage exterior is recyclined metal cladding.
The pre-fab cottage exterior is recyclined metal cladding.  (Backcountry Hut Company)

Manufactured in Courtenay, B.C., the three cabin models — including the Alpine Hut and the Surf Hut — are made from Douglas fir and recycled metal cladding. The 206-sq.-ft. base model, priced to start at $150 a sq. ft., comes with four posts, four beams and a roof. From there, the cabins can be customized for buyers.

“We don’t endeavour to be the cheapest prefab system in any way. Ours is a very high-quality, enduring product and we are building for permanence,” says Leckie of the structures. He notes that disposability doesn’t resonate with architects, and so their huts are very much designed to last.

“We were very sensitive towards the environment,” adds company co-founder Edgar. “So all parts of the hut and shell system are 100 per cent recyclable.”

Though IDS is the official launch of the Great Lakes cabin, the company has already scheduled five projects for this Summer, in Colorado, Oregon, Ontario, and B.C.

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Two heads may be better than one in selling the family cottage: Ask Joe

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I’m ready to sell my cottage. Can I work with both a Toronto brokerage and a local brokerage?

You can list your cottage with more than one brokerage — the arrangement you described is known as a co-listing agreement — but you may have to shop around to find two real estate brokerages who will agree to it.

If you want to sell your cottage using both a local and city-based real estate brokerage, ensure  one has experience with cottage issues.
If you want to sell your cottage using both a local and city-based real estate brokerage, ensure one has experience with cottage issues.  (Dreamstime)

It’s important that at least one of the salespeople working with you is experienced in buying and selling cottages, because there are issues that are unique to such transactions. For example, there are special considerations arising from waterfront properties.

Sellers enter co-listing agreements for a variety of reasons. Two brokerages could present different, but equally-attractive marketing strategies. Or a home may be co-listed when there are two or more owners of a property and each wants to use their own brokerage. This sometimes happens when a home is sold during divorce proceedings.

If you choose to co-list your cottage, make sure the final agreement specifies which brokerage is responsible for which service; that it’s clear how the listing brokerages are splitting the listing-side commission between themselves (the agreement may specify what that split will be, so there aren’t any disagreements later on); and that it includes the amount of commission to be paid to any co-operating brokerage that acts for the buyer.

For example, you may want the local brokerage to market the property locally, arrange showings, stage the home, manage open houses, and review the agreement, given their expertise in the local area. Meanwhile, the Toronto brokerage may market the property to prospective Toronto-area buyers. There are a variety of complimentary activities these brokerages could do to help get your property sold.

As I mentioned, there are some special considerations when you buy or sell a cottage. Here are a few questions you may ask yourself before you start the selling process:

  • Zoning: How is the property zoned? Does the municipality provide emergency services and snowplowing in the winter, and are you allowed to use it year-round?
  • Rights and access: Do you need to travel through a neighbouring property in order to access a road or a shoreline, and are there any formal agreements in place? Do you have a survey of the property’s boundaries?
  • Water: Do the tap water and well installation meet provincial standards? What’s the overall condition of the cottage’s septic system, and do you have written inspection and maintenance. I strongly recommend shopping around for a salesperson who best understands your needs and expectations and is experienced in buying and selling similar properties in the area.

If you have a question for Joe about the home buying or selling process, please email askjoe@reco.on.ca.

Joe Richer is registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) and contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @RECOhelps

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