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First Glimpse at Soap Factory Building Remake in East Harbour





It has been five long months since we last reported on First Gulf‘s transformative East Harbour development, and the design team has since been busy advancing plans for Toronto’s new ‘Downtown East’, presenting their most recent proposal to Toronto’s Design Review Panel last week. The massive new employment district on the site of the former Unilever soap factory proposes to add 50,000 new jobs, complete with expansive new retail, night life, and cultural venues. The rezoning application for the master plan received City Council’s approval back in June, and work is now being done trying to define the character of the neighbourhood, with some preliminary images of what that might just look like.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of East Harbour, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Since the master plan was approved, First Gulf has added heavyweight firms KPMB Architects and Copenhagen-based Henning Larsen Architects to their design team. KPMB is charged with taking on some of the conceptual architectural design as the master plan moves into more detailed refinement, while Henning Larsen has been brought on as an ideas-generator, bringing a fresh perspective to help define the broader character of the area. The two firms join Adamson Associates, Urban Strategies, and Janet Rosenberg Studio on the design team.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoSummary of master plan approved by City Council in June, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The efforts of the designers have been focused on Phase 1 of the project, more specifically the adaptive reuse of the existing soap factory and the surrounding public spaces. The proponent team sees the soap factory as the single most important character-defining element in the district around which the rest of the neighbourhood will develop.

Two small, but very significant adjustments to the master plan by Henning Larsen help to reinforce the industrial character of the district. First, it was decided to preserve rather than demolish the existing Glycerin Building and Boiler House – the two smaller industrial buildings located just east of the soap factory – which will form the northern border of the new Soap Factory Plaza.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoDiagram showing adjustments to the master plan, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The repurposing of these two smaller buildings, together with the soap factory, serve to create a distinct character around the plaza that preserves its history and creates unique spaces within the development, much like how the industrial nature of the Distillery District and Evergreen Brickworks have been preserved through their built form.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of Soap Factory Plaza, image courtesy of First Gulf.

As a result of the preservation of the Glycerin Building and Boiler House, the tallest proposed tower to the east of the soap factory was shifted northward and pushed up against the transit station to accommodate. This creates a ‘gateway’ moment when approaching the site, with the tallest tower marking the transit hub and the soap factory highly visible along the riverfront, creating an instant snapshot of the character of the neighbourhood.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoDiagram showing view toward East Harbour, image courtesy of First Gulf.

With regards to the soap factory, KPMB is proposing to retain the building in situ, while adding an additional 12 storeys floating above the structure in two shifted rectangular volumes. The extra 12 storeys will be supported by either a concrete waffle slab or a two-storey steel truss hovering above the existing soap factory building, with minimal adjustments to its structure and interior layout.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The Unilever soap factory, along with its two adjacent smaller structures, is not designated as a heritage building. However, the design team recognizes the unique quality of its cavernous interior spaces and their attractiveness for new commercial units, and KPMB’s main goal is preserving this unique atmosphere.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoPhotograph of the interior of the soap factory, image courtesy of First Gulf.

In a move that can be loosely described as reverse façadism, the bulky concrete structure of the soap factory will be retained, while the exterior envelope of the building will be replaced with an identical facade in order to increase its thermal performance.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The staggering of the stacked volumes was done to mitigate the effects of wind around the building, to minimize the building’s shadow impact, and to create attractive rooftop spaces looking west toward downtown. The architecture of the soap factory addition is only conceptual, as it is still in the very early stages of the design, but it is clear that the intention is to differentiate the upper volumes from the existing building with a more contemporary look.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Panel members were overall impressed and very pleased with the progress of the master plan, calling it a “fabulous project” and even exclaiming that it made them “so damn happy”.

The Panel was unanimously in agreement that the preservation of the Glycerin Building and Boiler House was an excellent move that added a lot of character to the proposal. They also strongly supported the approach to the repurposing of the soap factory, with unanimous approval of the preservation of the existing spatial qualities and the minimal intervention approach of hovering the new addition over top.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoView looking west toward the preserved buildings, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Panelists also responded positively to the focus on public space, but offered some suggestions to better enhance the spaces between the buildings. Commenting on the master plan, Panel members emphasized the importance of Broadview Avenue as the spine of the district, and encouraged the design team not to disregard the significance of the street. Some suggested that rather than having Soap Factory Plaza as the focal point, Broadview should be the central public space, with a well-executed street design. As well, they cautioned not to eliminate all of the proposed open space around the transit hub, which has now been greatly diminished since the tallest tower has been shifted northward to accommodate the retained industrial buildings.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of Soap Factory Plaza looking from Broadview Avenue, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Panel members also reiterated the importance of connections to the surroundings, a comment which they have often repeated at each review of the proposal. The Panel stressed that connecting the site to the Don River is integral to the success of the project, and that the design team needs to find a better way to integrate the greenery of the riverside park and flood protection embankments with the adjacent buildings and open plazas.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the ground floor plane of the soap factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

As well, access to the site was a concern for some Panel members, who emphasized the need for an additional pedestrian and cyclist bridge across the Don, perhaps connecting to Corktown Common. Currently, the City is proposing that the existing rail bridge be beefed up with pedestrian and cyclist pathways on both the north and south sides connecting directly to the transit hub, and it has remained steadfast that this will be sufficient. Panelists have repeatedly encouraged that additional pedestrian access to the district be provided, but this has yet to materialize.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building and East Harbour, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Finally, the Panel encouraged the design team to think about the future of employment in designing the district. Since this project is still many years away before being fully realized, they emphasized that the master plan and the buildings need to be adaptable to changing workplaces and suitable for jobs that may not even exist yet. They stressed the importance of being forward-thinking in the design of the district.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Overall, the Panel was pleased with what they saw and encouraged the design team to continue on their current path.

Though things are coming together for the East Harbour, it is still a long way off from being realized. It was stated that First Gulf is aiming for a 2023-2024 date for the first phase of the project, and it should also be underscored that this entire development is fully dependent on the necessary infrastructure being in place – namely the transit hub and the Broadview Avenue extension. When asked, the City said there is no official date for delivery of this infrastructure, but that they are working closely with the developer to ideally get everything in place for 2023-2024.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoArial photograph of the Unilever site looking north, image courtesy of First Gulf.

We will keep you updated as the East Harbour plan continues to evolve, but in the meantime, you can tell us what you think by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.

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Real Estate

The cost of renovating your bathroom in Toronto in 2021





Home renovations can be a big task, especially bathroom renovations where you have to work with either an awkwardly shaped space, or one with lots of pipework and very little natural light.

Nonetheless, getting a bathroom renovation by Easy Renovation to change your existing bathroom layout, improve the ambience or add more natural skylights can be worth all the trouble. But determining how much a bathroom renovation would cost is important while setting a budget.

The pandemic has changed a lot of things with social distancing rules, working from home, and for some, being made redundant. Therefore, having a complete grasp of the financial implication of a bathroom innovation is very important.

Owning your dream bathroom can be made a reality and the good thing is, regardless of your financial situation, there are always available options. If you also decide to put up your property for sale in the future, a bathroom upgrade would be a great investment—as it would add significant value to the property. Your bathroom renovation project, like every home renovation, can either be very affordable or extravagant, but one thing is certain, you’re bound to have a more refreshed, stylish and modernistic space.  

Looking through detailed sketches of luxurious and expensive bathrooms can be quite tempting, especially when you’re on a budget. However, your bathroom can be equally transformed into something that looks just as modern, stylish and refreshing but without the heavy price tag.

Conducting a partial bathroom renovation means you only have to change a little part of your existing bathroom rather than tearing it down and starting from scratch. If you intend to carry out this type of bathroom renovation in Toronto, depending on the size of your bathroom, you can spend between $1,000 – $5,000. With a partial bathroom renovation, you can save money by tackling smaller problems that exist in your present bathroom—or you can just upgrade a few of its features.

Partial bathroom renovations are quite affordable and would leave your bathroom feeling new and stylish without being time-consuming or a financial burden—which is important considering the economic impact of the pandemic. Repainting the bathroom walls, replacing the tiles on the floor and in the shower area are examples of partial bathroom renovations which is the cheapest to accomplish.

A more expensive and popular bathroom renovation is the standard 3- or 4-piece renovation. This renovation type involves a lot more services that are not covered by a partial renovation budget. To execute a standard bathroom renovation in Toronto you need a budget of about $10,000 – $15,000.

Unlike with a partial renovation, you would have to make a lot more changes to various elements of your bathroom without the hassle of changing the overall design. You can easily restore your current bathroom into a modernistic and classy space that fits your existing style. Making changes to more aspects of your bathroom is quite easy since there is more room in your budget to accommodate it.

A standard 3- or 4-piece renovation includes everything in a partial renovation plus extras such as revamped baseboards, installing a new bathroom mirror, buying new lights, installing a new vanity, changing the toilet, and buying new shower fixtures.

If you’re one of those looking to make a complete overhaul of your existing bathroom, then the option of a complete bathroom remodel is for you.

Unlike a bathroom renovation, remodelling means a complete change of your current bathroom design and layout for one that is newer and completely unrecognizable. The possibilities when remodelling a bathroom are endless especially when you have a large budget of over $15,000. That way, you can get the opportunity to create the perfect bathroom for yourself.

In addition to all that’s available with a standard bathroom renovation, bathroom remodelling allows you to make bathtub to shower conversion, relocation of plumbing, relocation of the toilet, reframing the bathroom and even relocating the shower.

In conclusion, a bathroom renovation can be a very important upgrade to your home and depending on the features that you decide to include, in addition to the size of your bathroom, this would influence the total cost of the project.

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Real Estate

7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary





Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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Real Estate

‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market





The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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